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Yahoo Updates Toolbar and Bookmarks

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Yahoo is releasing a new version of its toolbar with a powerful new bookmarking feature that integrates seamlessly with Yahoo web search, and features a "radical" new user interface.

The new Yahoo toolbar has an improved search function that uses an auto-complete feature to make suggestions as you type. Yahoo has also made it easier to create your own custom buttons on the toolbar. If you want to create a button that takes you to a particular site, enter its URL and Yahoo will automatically search for the site's favicon logo and use it for the button, if one is available.

The new toolbar goes beyond simply saving the title and URL of a web page, which is what most bookmarking tools do. Instead, the new Yahoo bookmarks service stores a thumbnail image of a page, and optionally save the full text of a web page.

Adding a thumbnail image to a bookmark helps recall—it's easier for people to remember an image of a page than it is to recall what a page is about from a simple title and URL, in most cases.

Yahoo has also made it easier to organize your bookmarks with this new version. "If you have a huge list of bookmarks, the new version of Yahoo bookmarks allows you to organize those in a very convenient fashion," said Tomi Poutanen, Yahoo's director of product management for social search.

The bookmarking feature uses folders as an organizing scheme. You can save a bookmarked page directly into an existing folder, or create a new one on the fly as you're saving a bookmark. You can also manage your bookmarks later and create as many new folders as you like.

You can also add tags to your bookmarks, again either when you initially save one or later. If you check the "use tags" box as you're saving a bookmark, Yahoo will suggest tags to associate with a page, but I found these suggestions ranged from unhelpful to downright worthless as meaningful tags for most of the pages I bookmarked.

Alternately, you can save pages without worrying about categorization or tagging. By default, bookmarks not saved into a folder are placed in an "uncategorized" folder. To organize bookmarks, you can simply drag the thumbnail image of a page into a folder, or mark selected pages and move them all with a single command. There are also folders that display recently saved bookmarks and frequently used bookmarks.

You can edit bookmarks, adding additional information such as tags, a description, or comment.

The folder organization scheme is handy, but Yahoo has also integrated bookmarks into the search functionality of the toolbar. This means you needn't take the trouble of organizing bookmarks into folders—you can simply rely on the search box. This works well, since Yahoo is storing the full-text of web pages when you bookmark them.

When you enter a search query into the toolbar, the auto-complete feature includes potential results from your bookmarks, displaying both title and any description you may have added.

While all of your bookmarks are available via the toolbar, you can also sign in to your bookmarks page on Yahoo and do other interesting things with them. This page offers different views of your bookmarks, including a full view, which shows thumbnails and the information you've associated with each bookmark, list view, which is just a simple list of titles, or grid view, showing thumbnails only.

You can sort these views by title or date. You can also create sorted views using folders or tags. The point is to make it easy to manipulate your bookmarks according to the particular task you have at hand.

Unlike Yahoo's Del.icio.us and MyWeb, bookmarks saved using the new bookmarking feature are not intended to be made public and shared. While you can share bookmarks with others either by email or instant messenger with other individuals, they aren't public in the way that a Del.icio.us bookmark is, for example.

That's deliberate. Poutanen said that the upgraded Yahoo bookmarks functionality is intended for the 20 million registered users of the Yahoo toolbar that have been using the system since it launched in 1997. Del.icio.us, by contrast, has just 1 million registered users, and appeals to "early adopters" who are more comfortable with the idea of tagging web pages.

"Tagging still has a learning curve for mainstream users," said Poutanen.

Nonetheless, Yahoo is working to make the two approaches operate from the same underlying technology, and over time, the two approaches to saving web content will likely merge.

In all, I like the new bookmarking feature—it's clean and crisp and makes organizing bookmarks or searching for I find Yahoo's toolbar less useful than Google's toolbar, but I do like the integration of bookmarks into the search box.

The new toolbar is free, and is available for download at toolbar.yahoo.com.


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