’N’ Sync ’n’ Sync ’n’ Sync

iSyncThe latest version of Apple’s iSync will synchronize bookmarks across multiple installations of Safari. So if you have a Macintosh at work and a Macintosh at home and you pay US$100 for Apple’s .Mac service, you can always have your bookmarks handy without even having to think about it. This new iSync feature is an attempt at solving a crucial problem with which I’ve been living for five years, but unfortunately it seems like a case of ‘close but no cigar.’

As I’ve mentioned before, I use at least three and as many as five computers during the course of any given workday. At the office I have an HP Pavilion and a PowerMac G4, and at home I have a Sony VAIO laptop and a PowerBook G4, and I will also occasionally do some surfing on my very old PowerBook 3400c (typically over a bowl of Cheerios).

On each machine, I will use some combination of the browsers Internet Explorer, Safari, Netscape, Opera, Camino and maybe one or two others. Off the top of my head, I count ten different sets of bookmarks scattered across those browsers and those machines. If pressed, I would wager that none of those bookmark files are in synchronization with one another, which is to say that I couldn’t count on finding the bookmarks that I need in every browser.

So simply being able to sync between two occurrences of Safari is nice, but it addresses just part of the problem. I need to sync between multiple browsers running on multiple platforms and in multiple locations.

Now I’m well aware that there are a few bookmark management utilities that will help with this problem, like URL Manager Pro and Bookit. They’re both well-engineered programs, but after using them cursorily, I was left unimpressed by their general lack of net savvy. That is, they are at heart really just little applications that run locally and with not much sense for the Web at large, in spite of the fact that they are dealing with pointers to Web sites.

What I really need is a true networked solution, an open standard for bookmarks management. It would work like this:

  1. One ‘master’ set of bookmarks would be kept on the Subtraction.com server, and made available by an XML-based Web service to any browser that can provide the proper credentials to that server.
  2. When I sit down at a browser, I log into a profile that includes credentials to access that master bookmarks file. When my login has been authenticated by the server, the browser copies the bookmarks to a local directory, and I’m free to use them just like any plain old bookmarks, right inside that browser.
  3. If I make any changes, additions or deletions to those bookmarks, the browser automatically syncs them with the master file.
  4. Next time I log in to any browser, whether it was the one I just used, one installed on one of my other machines, or even a brand new browser, I will have access to the bookmarks as I last touched them, since they will be downloaded from the master bookmarks file.

Really, that doesn’t seem so hard, does it? I’m actually a little befuddled by the fact that something like this hasn’t been built by now. I know that the public at large generally doesn’t juggle ten sets of bookmarks (though I would guess that a surprisingly large number manage at least two sets), but certainly Web professionals — the very people who decide what new, amazing Web features and services receive public attention and get built — certainly do. It’s surely a problem that lots of people have, but it’s a mystery to me why it hasn’t been solved.