A Few Thoughts on Refind [Update]

You are here

Update 2016-05-17

A few days I got an e-mail from Dominik, founder of Refind, with an answer to my comments I made here.

The short version? They pretty much fixed all my gripes, which is not that surprising giving the fact that they churn out new features on a weekly basis by now:

  • Twitter links are no longer automatically imported, and even if people I follow import theirs, they won’t automatically show up in my feed.
  • It is now possible to add more than three tags.
  • It is possible to add free-form descriptions (that are publicly viewable, I guess?) as well as personal notes.
  • The link title can be edited.

With these changes, Refind grows into a serious alternative for me – and it does start to deliver on its promises: Whenever I visit Refind these days, I do return with a few new links and ideas that are relevant to me.

I also appreciate Dominik reaching out to me and taking my criticism seriously. It shows that they are listening to their users. Kudos!

See below for the original version of my post – and as I just said: the part with my gripes has been rendered obsolete by the fine folks at Refind.

A few weeks ago I received an invitation to try and use Refind, a new startup that tries to (re-)invent social bookmarking. By tapping into your social network, it is supposed to surface relevant information.

If that sounds a lot like Delicious, then … well, it sounds a lot like Delicious.

I have used Delicious for several years, and it worked pretty well - before it got sold to Yahoo, which pretty much forgot about it almost before the ink dried on the contract, and then resold to another company, and afterwards to another company, which is now busy adding more and more ads into the site.

I consider it sheer luck that I haven’t lost my collection of bookmarks so far, and I’m constantly on the lookout for an alternative. Refind at first seemed to be a nice contender, but there are a few points that make it work not so well for me.

You Said “Less Noise”?

Refind’s declared goal is “More signal, less noise”. They do that by collecting the links from you and your friends, aka people you follow on Twitter that also have a Refind account.

Discover what interesting people read and save on the web — on the topics that matter to you. […] Our ambition is to make this feed the one feed on the web with the highest signal-to-noise ratio for your (professional) interests — by design: Refind’s unit is the URL, it ranks by importance rather than time, and you can follow interesting people and topics.

This adds a few problems:

I post a lot of links on Twitter that I find interesting / funny / weird, but I know I won’t need in the future. Still - Refind collects them, adding noise not just to my bookmarks, but also to those of the people that follow me on Refind. I’m pretty sure other people will use Twitter in a similar way. Hovering up all this information mostly adds more noise.
I follow a lot of people on Twitter mostly for business reasons, not necessarily because they are my friends (for that I have more specific Twitter lists). Still, their links will be added to my Refind account: even more noise. Will those links be relevant to me, or just more stuff to wade through before I find that one link I’m looking for?

The Signal is Weak at Best

And while we’re talking about finding a link again: Refind allows you to tag your links when you save them using the browser extension.

So far, so Delicious - but you’re limited to just three tags. That’s all. I presume the idea is that other people will save the link on their own and add more relevant tags. While I understand that this might have been introduced to combat tag spam (remember Instagram?), it’s just way too little for me to accurately categorise that link in order to find it again. Paradoxically, that again means a lot more noise to cut through in order to find that bookmark I’m looking for.

Additionally, Delicious allowed free-form descriptions of the link - which I often used to describe in more detail what a service offered. This did not just give me (and other people in my network) a quick overview what a link was about, it added even more relevant keywords, making it even easier to resurface it once I searched for it. Refind does not offer that.

Refind also does not allow changing the title of the bookmark, relying entirely on the title tag of the web page - making you entirely dependent on the site’s author to provide a meaningful title. Which is wishful thinking at best.

These three design decisions alone turn your search for the right link into a submarine hunt: all you can do is click on those mystery meat links and hope for the best.

Different use cases

I guess it turns out that I use Twitter and a bookmarking service for two very different purposes.

On a bookmarking service, I save reference material, services, documentation: things of which I am sure that I will have to reference them later on again. If I find those potentially interesting for some of my Twitter followers, I will post them on Twitter as well. However, this is not the only time I post links to Twitter.

On Twitter, I also post links to opinion and think pieces, to reports; I post cat pictures, I retweet cartoons – all things that might delight my followers for a few minutes when they stumble over them, but won’t want to treasure them forever.

But it’s exactly those things that are so easily shareable and retweetable, making them re-appear on Twitter feeds over and over again. With Refind’s reliance on the Twitter feed as main data source, these will be the things that are deemed “important” and first to surface. But are they relevant?

Do I want to click through opinion pieces on why CSS is doomed and SASS is supercool and how Microsoft implements everything all wrong when I’m looking for the reference code of that one CSS technique I once read about?

Not really, I’m afraid.

So, as long Refind relies on Twitter, it won’t be for me. My hunt for a Delicious replacement goes on. The good thing is that writing this blog post allowed me to reflect on what my priorities for a bookmarking service are, which might come in handy at some point …