Pearltrees is a new visual bookmarking tool that utilizes a mind map-like interface to help you to organize your web page shortcuts in a much more intuitive way than the typical browser bookmark list. It also enables you to connect with other users who share similar interests, which places it in the same camp as other social bookmarking tools. But Pearltrees is different – very different.
Before I can explain how it works, we first need to get a bit of terminology out of the way:
Pearl: A pearl represents a link to a web page. It’s more than that, however. It’s an interactive object that you can move around your visual map. You can also share it with others who “pearled” the same content and discuss it.
Pearltree: A pearltree contains other pearls. The closest analogy is to think of it link a folder that you can use to store pearls/URLs. Like a folder, you can expand and collapse it.
How to add content to your Pearltree
When you first set up your Pearltrees account, the application gives you the option of adding several toolbar buttons to your browser: Add a new pearl for the web page you’re currently viewing, choose where to put the pearl (in an existing tree or a new one), and go to your Pearltrees account. While looking at an article about Pearltrees on Mashable.com, I clicked on the “add a pearl” button. Next, I clicked the second toolbar button to tell the application to place it in my main Pearltree. This functionality seemed a bit odd to me, because it was a two-step process. Why can’t this be accomplished with one toolbar button? In its present form, it’s not exactly intuitive.
You can also create new pearls and pearltrees manually, using a horizontal window pane at the bottom of the screen that contains buttons to view details about the current pearl, create a new pearltree or create a new pearl. The weird thing is that if you choose to create a new pearltree, the application opens a pop-up window, in which you type the name of your new “branch.” It then inserts this item into the dropzone at the bottom of the workspace, from which you can drag and drop it anywhere in your visual bookmark map. But the problem is that the pop-up window obscures part of your map – which means you first need to close it before you move the new pearltree into your map. Again, just a little too clunky for the average user.
Whenever you click on a pearl, the application pops up a window that displays information about it – such as who has connected to it and who is discussing it. It also contains a screenshot of the web page; to navigate to that page, you simply click on the screenshot. This dialog box also contains buttons that enable you to share, copy, cut, delete or rename the current pearl. While this was informative, it got annoying after a while, especially if all I wanted to do was to expand part of my bookmark map to view the links it contained.
When you navigate to the web page that the pearl refers to, the toolbar always remains visible at the bottom of the screen, enabling you to easily return to your “home” map. You can also use “prev” and “next” buttons to visit each web page in your pearltree, one at a time – ideal if you want some random stimulation for creative thinking.
Social aspects of Pearltrees
What is especially intriguing is that you can view other users’ pearltrees. In order to see other users, you must collapse the root level of your pearltree. A bunch of other users’ icons then move into view (see screenshot – my account, in the center of the image, has a blue halo), which you can expand and explore at will. The problem is that it’s not a very intuitive way to access others’ pearltrees. I only discovered that you could do this by accident. There’s nothing obvious that says “click here to view others’ pearltrees.” I think there needs to be something like that to help the average user to access this functionality.
Also, I’m not sure why these users appeared – were they selected at random by the application, or because they contained pearls that were closely aligned with the ones I created in my account? I assume it’s the latter. I’d still like to see a keyword search capability, so you can quickly locate other Pearltrees users who exactly match what you’re looking for.
Also, when I was viewing someone else’s pearltree, I couldn’t figure out how to return to mine. I finally discovered, through trial and error, that if I clicked on the blue “Pearltree” logo in the upper left corner of the workspace, it would return me to my account. I think this application needs some sort of a “home” button that you can use to quickly return to your own account.
If you find links of interest while browsing other users’ pearltrees, you can drag and drop them from that tree to the “drop zone” at the bottom of the screen. You then return to your own account, and drag and drop this pearl into your own pearltree. Very interesting, but it’s a little hard to understand this process at first.
If you’ve built a pearltree that you’re proud of, the application enables you to share it in a number of ways, including:
- Via Twitter
- Via Facebook
- Embedding it in your blog or website
- E-mailing it
You can also request the permalink URL of your pearltree, so you can share it almost any way you want.
A few final thoughts about Pearltrees: For some reason, certain pearltrees I created displayed a pearl that had the same name as the pearltree, but with the word “end” next to it. What does this mean? It’s a mystery to me! Also, after I was using Pearltree for a while, I started to get error messages when creating new pearls. Like any web-based application, this one has a few rough spots that hopefully will be eliminated as its developers improve it.
As a visual bookmark manager and social bookmarking tool, I think that Pearltrees has a lot of potential. But before it can be successful, its developers need to fix some of the quirky things about it. Pearltree is free; you can set up your own account here.