Pins: Solid Bookmark Management

Delicious. No, I haven’t just finished a meal. I’m recalling a time, not so very long ago, when we all used bookmarking services to keep track of our favourite parts of the web. It seems strange, then, that most of us have moved on. It is undoubtedly the case that we still save plenty of bookmarks. Equally, the link capturing tools at our disposal have barely changed in the nine years since Delicious stepped onto Yahoo’s slippery, corporately-greased slope.

Of course, Delicious wasn’t the only option back then — there were native bookmark library apps available, too. With the advent of modern-day cloud syncing, the concept of keeping bookmarks somewhere other than in your browser seems weird. For folks who make a lot of bookmarks, however, the abysmal bookmark organization tools with which browsers are still lumbered is a problem which a third party app can solve.

So, it would appear that there’s still a place for apps like Pins — a native OS X bookmark manager priced at $14.99 in the App Store. It offers to attach tags and notes to your links, it provides cloud syncing, and it even captures page previews, but can Pins really provide a compelling, Utopian alternative to your browser’s in-built bookmarks manager?

Getting Started

For those of us who’ve been using OS X since the days of Tiger, Pins is like a nostalgic trip back in time. It isn’t actually a legacy product, but your eyes will probably disagree. The interface is in no way ugly, cluttered, or dysfunctional, but it has the same look as other productivity apps which were peaking in popularity circa 2006 — I’m thinking of Yojimbo and Delicious Library. I suppose that there just isn’t a feeling of visual freshness here. However, as Pinboard clearly illustrates, à la mode beauty is hardly the most important facet of a high quality link-keeper.

Pins' UI — uncluttered, practical, but rather stale.

Pins‘ UI — uncluttered, practical, but a little stale.

Critically, Pins is pretty simple to navigate. There is a list of folders to your left, the bookmark inspector to your right, and your links are down the middle, with a few simple controls scattered around the edges. Install the Pins browser extension (Safari, Chrome and Firefox versions are available), and a single click is all that is required to start pushing links in the direction of your Pins library.

Capture and Storage

Links captured in this way — or, indeed, via the manual addition option which Pins offers — are automatically provided with a headline and a preview thumbnail, and they initially arrive in the Inbox (I’m getting Yojimbo flashbacks again…). This is, essentially, a temporary holding area for links you’ve yet to sort.

When you do come to sort these capture links, you’ll find that several types of data can be attached to each bookmark for filing purposes: an out-of-five star rating, some tags, a note and any relevant login details. It’s not a comprehensive list, but it’s good enough, although the inability to add this data via the extension is an irritating oversight.

The range of data which can be attached to bookmarks isn't comprehensive, but it's enough.

The range of data which can be attached to bookmarks isn’t comprehensive, but it’s enough.

It’s also worth noting that Pins is quite happy to accept the exports of Safari and Delicious (among others) if you want to take your old bookmarks with you. Thankfully, you can make all the data edits, as mentioned above, in batches.

Organization

All that input is only useful if it actually aids the subsequent retrieval of your saved links, and whilst Pins doesn’t provide anything particularly innovative, it does do a respectable job of keeping your bookmarks at hand.

The easiest way of finding links in Pins is simply to use the search bar. It’s not clever enough to spot misspellings, but it does take notice of both link titles and tags, and it provides results at speed.

For a more manual approach to rediscovery, you can create your own folders of bookmarks, and these reside in the left-hand sidebar. Further down the sidebar are the smart folders that Pins includes by default, offering swift access to links which meet certain criteria, such as those you’ve visited most often, duplicates, broken links, and the bookmarks to which you’ve assigned a five-star rating. Inexplicably, however, you can’t create your own smart folders. Clever, automatic sorting should be one major advantage that a native app has over an online service. In this case, it’s not to be.

The tags view is one clear advantage Pins holds over its browser competition.

The tags view is one clear advantage Pins holds over its browser competition.

Flicking the relevant switch at the base of the sidebar changes its contents completely. Now, you’ve got access to an alphabetical list of tags, making it a great deal easier to locate bookmarks relating to certain subjects.

The sorting options look insignificant, but they're actually amount to a key feature.

The sorting options look insignificant, but they’re actually amount to a key feature.

Bizarrely, I think the most useful feature of Pins is the in-folder sorting options it provides. A-Z and date of addition aren’t anything new, but the ability to sort links based on rating, or on the regularity with which you’ve visited them, is actually a feature with which no major browser can currently compete. Pins also provides two distinct flavours of list display — headlines only, or complete with thumbnail and any attached notes.

Cloud Syncing

Pins is not integrated with any third party bookmark storage services, but it does offer free cloud syncing. Sign-up can be effected from within the app, and the process is swift, requiring nothing more than an email and a password. At present, the service simply allows you to sync your bookmarks between any Macs on which you have a copy of Pins installed. Looking to the future, I’m told that an iOS version of Pins is in early development; presumably, the mobile app will be integrated with the current cloud backup service.

Conclusion

I approached the reviewing of Pins with optimism. I still believe that a great app, particularly when linked to an established web service for syncing, can provide a better bookmarking experience than is available in the four major browsers. Here’s a new kid on the block, ready to show how it can be done.

Pins isn’t a dynamic new offering, though. It’s certainly competent — it keep bookmarks in order, it provides better organization tools than any browser, and it backs up your bookmarks to the cloud — but it’s not going to wow anyone. Can I recommend it over and above online-only services such as Pinboard? Probably not. Equally, however, I can’t recommend services such as Pinboard over and above Pins.

Overall, then, I’m not going to suggest that you rush to purchase Pins, but if you’re looking for a bookmark manager, it’s worth adding it to your list of options.


Summary

Competent, if uninspiring, bookmark management.

6
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