02 September 2008

Losing Your (web) Mynd [Site Review]

WebWare recently covered new auto-browse-archive service WebMynd, and it seemed intriguing, so I decided to check it out and see if it had any value to the online genealogical researcher.

Two Services in One

Essentially, WebMynd monitors and tracks your online activity and creates a running script of the pages you visit in order to turn your web history into a searchable archive of what you encounter online. You install an add-on to your Firefox browser, and WebMynd runs quietly behind the scenes while you do your normal thing. WebMynd tracking (or "recording" in their parlance) can be stopped or started with one click in the lower-right hand corner of your browser:

WebMynd allows you to access and use your recordings in two ways: providing a web "playback" feature that allows you to visually browse your web history, and by returning search results from your browsing history (and delicious bookmarks) when you run Google searches.

The Visual Archive

Perusing your visual archive, or "stacks", in WebMynd is simple. To go to playback mode you just click the play button located in the lower-right hand side of your browser, next to where recording is stopped and started.

The playback site allows you to click and drag through your browsing history, complete with snapshots of the pages you saw and read:

WebMynd's interface is smooth, and attractive. But it's usefulness we're really here for, and to that end, I wonder what WebMynd does that a well-seasoned online researcher couldn't do themselves. With services like browser-based bookmarks, delicious, magnolia, even "snip" services like Google Notebook, how hard is it to mark and save something of interest or use online? Not to mention that the those services don't require me to create and send-off complete logs of my online activity... something that may make many users cringe.

To be fair, WebMynd does allow you to stop and start the recording, as noted above. They also allow you to completely block certain sites from being recorded, meaning that recording will automatically cease when you visit any pages under a certain domain. This is all well and good, but I find the online experience to be much more fluid and dynamic than perhaps the WebMynd folks seem to realize. The nature of the internet is flow from one sort of context to another. Always having to remember to stop recording whenever you do anything you don't wish to be tracked can be difficult if not impossible. I'm not even that hyper-vigilant about my online privacy, and WebMynd's collation of my data still makes me worried. And if the visual archive service was all they provided, I honestly wouldn't give WebMynd the time of day.

On the Bright Side
One interesting thing WebMynd does is run Google search terms through your recorded web history and your (and everyone else's) delicious bookmarks, displaying these results on the main Google results page. The delicious bookmarks search is especially useful if you are looking for quality information on a particular subject; chances are someone else has already found and bookmarked it.

When you run a search through Google (this search results function works only in Google search, so if you use another search engine, you're out of luck), WebMynd summarizes the results from the delicious bookmark and web history on your main results page. Two clearly distinguished boxes in the upper-right-hand corner tell you what they've found:

Results also fall along the right-hand side of your regular Google search results. They default to delicious search results:

Clicking on the WebMynd box above the search results will show you results from your web history, including a screenshot of the top site result:

What I like most about this is that it integrates a valuable research resource (delicious) into what amounts to a go-to search engine for most online users. If you're anything like me, when you start thinking "must search for..." your fingers are already taking you to Google to do a search. With WebMynd's integration of delicious bookmarks, a whole peer-reviewed, self-regulated world of germane online information is put into the context of your search. You don't have to remember to try searching delicious for something you are searching for on Google, because WebMynd does it for you.

Now THAT is a useful service.

Suggested/Not Suggested

Suggested for:

  • Researchers who are bad about bookmarking items of interest online
  • Visually inclined researchers
  • People who like a good dose of eye candy in their daily browse
  • People who enjoy using delicious as a research resource
  • Those not especially touchy about web privacy

    Not Suggested for:
  • Privacy Fanatics
  • People who hate services running in the background sucking up juice
  • Anyone using Digg or Magnolia as their preferred bookmarking service

If you have the Google Extra userscript running, your Google Search results pages will be seriously mangled if you run WebMynd search results as well. Best to use one or the other.


Laura said...

I enjoy reading your blog. I was wondering if you could help me - I often find small genealogical tidbits on the internet. I usually print it out and put it in a binder for future use. I don't use bookmarks in this case. What I really want to do is save the webpage as a searchable pdf and store it on my hard drive for future use. Can this be done w/o printing and scanning?

Jennifer said...

Hi Laura, Thanks for the nice comment. I'm assuming you have some sort of PDF-creation software on your system, like Adobe Professional? If so, you could use Professional's "PDF from Web Page" feature to do just what you are specifiying. If you're on a Mac, you can save files to PDF format in most applications, via the print box. If you don't have any appropriate software, there are options online; I've never used any online PDF creation tools, but they may be worth investigating for this case. Otherwise, have you thought about something like Google Notebook? GN allows you to clip and save items online, and is also entirely searchable. Hope this helps!