Google is working on a new bookmarking service for Chrome codenamed ‘Stars’ — but what does it do and why might you want to use it?
Browser bookmarking has changed very little since it was introduced in the Mosaic web browser back 1993, a time when most webpages were text-heavy and a lack of finessed search engines made finding content much harder.
‘Bookmarking has changed little since it was introduced back 1993’
In the intervening years bookmarking a webpage for reference later has remained a largely consistent experience across web browsers on all platforms: you visit a page, click whatever bookmarking icon or link your browser has, and the page is appended to a menu folder for quick access at a later date.
With my own bookmarks folder now stuffed to the seams with years of random links, imgur photos, YouTube videos and other media, the current title-centric model is showing its age.
Based on what we know of it thus far Google Stars is not looking to reinvent the wheel, rather make bookmarking a more modern, immersive and social activity.
Google Stars Features
Over the weekend an internal testing version of Google Stars briefly appeared on the Chrome Web Store. While it was quickly pulled down, plenty of folks managed to save a copy of the add-on for local installation — including us.
And so, with some time to kill, I took the add-on for a spin to see how it works and evaluate the features Google is hoping will help break the traditional bookmarking mould.
Bookmarking Pages Remains the Same
Bookmarking a webpage in Google Chrome is easy, requiring nothing more than a single click of the ‘star’ icon to the far right of the omnibar.
Google Stars replaces the star icon with its own yellow-boxed icon. Clicking the Stars icon in the URL bar instantly saves a link to the page you’re on into the general bookmarks folder.
But whereas the old method made reference to this through a “Bookmark added” shoutout, you’re now told that the item has been “Starred” — a change in terminology that remains consistent throughout use of it.
Editing options available when adding an item are rather different. You can now select an image and add a description in addition to customising the title and URL.
A drop-down selector lets you choose a folder to add it to. You can select an existing folder by clicking on its titles or create a new one by entering a name for it and clicking ‘create’.
Browsing your saved links can be done in a number of ways: using the traditional bookmarks app menu, saving items to the bookmarks toolbar or by using the Google Stars bookmark page.
The latter is easy to reach using a button positioned next to the Apps shortcut.
Clicking on the toolbar button opens up the main dashboard. Visually, it’s a huge improvement over the old manager view. Gone is the spreadsheet-style listings and in comes a Pocket-style grid with item thumbnails, descriptions and filters for sorting.
Organising and Sorting Bookmarks
The Pinterest/Pocket-styled gridded UI is the starting point for searching, sifting and sorting through saved sites.
On the left is a sidebar with quick links to create and view folders or return to the main ‘All Items’ view.
Starred content can be quickly arranged into folders by dragging and dropping them into the appropriate sidebar folder:
Using the feature when signed into your Google Account enables so-called ‘personalised filters’. These are auto-generated tags based on the type of content of the pages you favourite and should make zeroing in on content spread through several folders a bit easier.
For example, I have several Ubuntu-related webpages starred. Google notices the common theme between them, even though they’re in different folders and adds an ‘Ubuntu’ filter to the sidebar.
The main dashboard has a search box. Entering a term in this will search the entire page content of starred items and offer up suggestions with autocomplete.
Also on hand are a set of smart lists that are useful for filtering favourites based on their type, specifically webpages, images and videos.
One of the truly innovative features Stars brings to the table is the ability to create public bookmark folders so that others can benefit from your natty net saves.
While the majority of my own are random nonsense from imgur and Reddit (most of which I can’t even recall adding) there is a good chunk that is either informative, insightful or just out-and-out useful — I’m excited by the thought of being able to share collections of my saves publicly.
Google is yet to formally acknowledge the existence of Stars, deferring to their usual blurb about ‘can’t comment on ongoing experiments’ when asked.
Based on what’s been shared so far Stars does a pretty stellar job of bringing rudimentary features bang up to date. There will no doubt be further refinements made before Google gives it the nod for a proper release.
But I’m already willing to give it five stars.