Question: When are 2.6 million bookmarked Web sites not enough? Answer: When you can’t find the site you’re looking for, of course. It’s a great big Web out there—worldwide, they say. When everybody has a niche interest, why, even a collective brain sometimes falls just short of omniscient. And so, odds are, the 2.6 million Web sites listed by the Open Directory Project won’t be enough for everyone.
The Open Directory Project, if you are unfamiliar, claims the title of the largest, most comprehensive, human-edited directory of the World Wide Web. It’s Wiki-like, curated by a globe-spanning community of volunteers. And it’s mighty big, with close to 3 million sites catalogued under 410,000 categories, give or take.
Bookmarks for the iPhone and iPod touch aims to put the Open Directory Project in the palm of your hand. The app is more flawed than the Open Directory Project itself.
Bookmarks features a spare and unlovely but perfectly straightforward user interface. You can browse thousands upon thousands of categories at your leisure or use the app’s integrated search engine to look for specific pages or topics.
You can view any site through the app’s internal browser, or launch the page in Safari where you can, of course, save the page to your own list of bookmarks. You can also e-mail any URL or copy the address to your device’s clipboard. And the app lets you separate your favorites—or, rather, your favorites among that narrow and limited group of 2.6 million sites. Naturally, the app requires a Wi-Fi, 3G, or EDGE connection to function.
An app such as Bookmarks is not so much a Web browsing utility, as it is a dare to those of us whose favorite pastimes include finding omissions and poking holes. I was surprised to discover in the virtual infinity of the Open Directory Project, the Infinite stopped at the letter H. Turns out, the limits of the Infinite appears to constrain only the Bookmarks application. A search at www.dmoz.org returned 305 sites beginning with the word “Infinite,” compared with just 50 in a search through the app. If it looks like a bug and acts like a bug, it’s usually a bug.
Bookmarks suffers from a dearth of options—and not just the number of sites that a search returns. The watchword for anyone developing an iPhone application such as this one should be “customizable.” That isn’t the prettiest word in the English language, but as a technical matter, users should be free to add and subtract content as they see fit.
Sure, you could join the cadre of Open Directory Project editors and fill in the holes you discover. But why make that kind of commitment? The Bookmarks app could simply include a feature that lets you add your own bookmarks to your own list of favorites. Honestly, how difficult would that be?
[Ben Boychuk is a columnist and freelance writer in Rialto, Calif. Feel free to e-mail him.]