Optimality in a Bookmarks Bar

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Of the many ways I’ve managed to make my computer a smarter, cleaner, more easily navigated space (within the limitations of my non-programmer ability), the loveliest is probably the bookmarks bar in Safari. With its thirty-two distinct, distinctive, uncluttered and entirely private links, it is my most useful workflow improvement—and a mother lode of lessons in efficiency.

Consider, for instance, that too much efficiency can be a very inefficient thing, if you get lost in an overgrowth of failed shortcuts. So don’t go running to replace your bookmarks bar content with upwards of two dozen random* abbreviations unless you also have a way of committing the content and order of your new bookmarks to memory. Start with longer, descriptive shorthand and a few highly transparent characters, such as the equals sign (great for a translator) and “@” (a good choice for e-mail or one’s router configuration page). Don’t hesitate to bookmark multiple pages of a single site if that will speed your workflow. Delegate some or all login paths to to your password manager, thus freeing precious space for your other destinations. And assume the trial and error approach will take time: it has taken me half a decade to gradually build the “code” for my optimal browsing machine, and it’s going to keep evolving in step with my internet use.

Using standalone text is a necessity if one wishes to maximize space or finds the visual noise of colorful favicons highly distracting. Hence my loyalty to Apple’s Safari, which is the only browser that provides a favicon-free interface. When Mozilla or Google roll out analogous built-in or extension-based support that actually runs on my system, I’ll consider using both Firefox and Chrome more consistently (and I’ll probably be thrilled to finally be able to take advantage of their many advantages). Meanwhile, the streamlined Safari it is. But someone less averse to stray color may in fact prefer to go the favicon-only route, which can be just as space-saving and functional, provided one is comfortable with replacing some of the default, empty or repeated favicons.

Remember that optimal solutions aren’t necessarily the most efficient ones. Rather, they’re the ones that balance efficiency with useability. The result isn’t so much a perfectly devised system—but an actually functional one.

* In fact, nothing about the shorthand I’m using is random: each entry is a micro-naming-project unto itself. (The brief? Be clear and unambiguous. Use three characters max. Make the sequence of bookmarks your friend.)