Homesteading a Decade's Worth of Shared LinksPublished on .
For the last two months, I’ve been working on an IndieWeb-friendly content management system to replace my current Jekyll-powered website. There’s a lot of ground to cover there and I’ll be detailing my thought process, the technologies I chose, and the many things I’ve learned in an upcoming series of posts.
Right now, though, I’d like to turn attention to content. Bookmarks, specifically. Links. Those things that make the Web a web. I wrote a chapter about the mighty hyperlink in Foundation HTML5 with CSS3, but as the book is an instructional guide and reference manual, I wasn’t able to pen an appropriately gushy love letter to my most-favorite-of-all HTML elements.
Social Bookmarking: A Brief History
For nearly ten years, I’ve been sharing and saving links on social bookmarking sites. And my word what a decade it’s been. Back in 2005-ish, Web 2.0 (kids, ask your parents) changed everything. Interest in social content sharing via blogs, RSS, photos, APIs, wikis, events, and bookmarks reached a fever pitch, minting a new generation of millionaire founders and fundamentally changing the way we participated online. The Web was exciting again!
Delicious (née del.icio.us), one of Web 2.0’s early darlings, is predicated on a simple notion: move your web browser’s saved bookmarks onto the Web and share them with anyone. Slap a lightweight social network on top and you’ve got a product that Yahoo! would acquire for somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million.
If my records are correct, I started saving bookmarks to Delicious on the evening of March 31st, 2005. According to this tweet, I jumped ship to Ma.gnolia in February 2008, leaving the stagnating Delicious for the newer, shinier upstart. Sadly, Ma.gnolia was destined for catastrophe. The service met its maker in late January 2009, courtesy a system-wide failure resulting in the total corruption and loss of all user data.
I felt terribly for Larry. I still do, in fact. Ma.gnolia was a wonderful service that pioneered and embraced many open standards. While it flamed out spectacularly, Ma.gnolia remains notable for its embrace of open standards and serves as a reminder of the importance of owning ones own content.
Shortly after Ma.gnolia went down, I wrote on Twitter (in the third person as was the style at the time):
[@jgarber] just spent his entire evening rescuing a fraction of his old bookmarks from ma.gnolia. It involved NewsGator, PHP, jQuery, and Delicious.
Back to Delicious it was. Until two years later when an internal Yahoo! presentation implied the service was on the chopping block. Delicious dodged that particular bullet thanks to a late-in-the-game sale to AVOS Systems. The new owners breathed some life into the site until May of this year when the property was sold to the generically-named holding company, Science, Inc.
“Bright” is not a word I’d use to describe Delicious’ future.
I’ve written previously about the importance of preserving one’s own content. “Own your data” is the first principle of the IndieWeb and I’ve been preaching this particular gospel since attending 2013’s IndieWebCampUK. It’s time I practice what I preach.
Delicious kindly offers a bookmark export tool, providing an HTML file marked up using the ancient Netscape Bookmark File Format. (And yes, that documentation is on Microsoft’s website. Oh, sweet irony of ironies.) While antiquated, the Netscape Bookmark File Format persists for one simple reason: it is parsable by any web browser. It is otherwise—as best as I can determine—a dead format.
Take a look at that markup. It’s atrocious by modern standards. Hell, it’s probably atrocious by the standards of its time.
Regardless, the Delicious-exported file contained the raw data I would need to bring these links into my own website. I next needed a better structure for working with that data; ancient markup and proprietary attributes do not make for easy or reliable database imports.
I spent a couple hours hacking away at the problem and came up with a Delicious Data Convertor. Written in Ruby and using Rake, the code is fed a Delicious-exported HTML file and spits out a well-structured JSON representation of the bookmarks data. The resulting JSON file can then be easily imported into whatever database you choose.
The convertor takes this:
and transforms it into this:
While using the Delicous Data Convertor introduces an extra step in the process of going from data to database, I feel much better working with well-structured JSON than I do with crusty old Netscape Bookmark File formatted HTML.
The Delicious Data Convertor is available over on GitHub. Feedback and contributions are always appreciated.
I found this bit of code to be really useful as I work to homestead more of my content. I hope it helps you take back control of your content as well!