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Magazines > Online > July / August 2003
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Online Magazine
Vol. 27 No. 4 — July/August 2003
On The Net
Bookmarklets, Favelets, and Keymarks: Shortcuts Galore
By Greg R. Notess
Reference Librarian Montana State University

Shortcuts can help expedite searching and other common online activities, important given the countless hours spent online each day by most searchers. Since specific computer set-up and work patterns vary tremendously, each individual has very different shortcut needs and wishes. Knowing about some of the options available can help in choosing the shortcuts that will be most helpful in an individual work setting.

For years, bookmarks to frequently visited sites have been one very basic tool in the shortcut toolbox. The interest in and utility of bookmarks are evident by the development of bookmark management software to manage large numbers of bookmarks. Beyond simply providing quick access to a specific URL, bookmarks can be used in a more sophisticated way for creating shortcuts to a wide variety of other functions. This is where bookmarklets, favelets, keymarks, and personal toolbars can make a difference.


First of all, let's get the terminology straight. One of the outcomes of the browser wars has been differing terminology. What do we call the list of links saved by a Web browser? Mosaic called them Hotlists. Netscape (and now Mozilla and Opera) uses Bookmarks. Microsoft switched to Favorites for Internet Explorer. Although Internet Explorer now monopolizes the browser market, many people still use "bookmarks" to refer to "favorites."

The current browsers also have a customizable toolbar available for the most frequently used bookmarks. Internet Explorer calls it Links, while Netscape/Mozilla uses Personal Toolbar Folder, and Opera uses Personal Bar. Note that the Links bar in Internet Explorer has the "Links" label at the left. If the Links bar is not displayed in your Internet Explorer, go under View/Toolbars and make sure the Links is checked.


Bookmarklets are a special kind of a bookmark (or favorite). A standard bookmark consists of two parts: a URL and a bookmark name. Instead of a standard URL, a bookmarklet uses JavaScript to become a type of mini-program. These brief programs can do a variety of actions such as providing a pop-up calculator, changing the display characteristics of the current page, or taking selected text on the page and passing it off to some search engine. Bookmarklets can work in most any common browser or may work only for a specific browser and version number.

Even though they are programs, no programming skills are required to use them. It is a simple as find, drag, and click. First find a useful bookmarklet from one of the many lists. Then drag it to the personal toolbar or just bookmark it. That is all it takes to set one up. Then when you are ready to use it or are at an appropriate page, just click on the bookmarklet or select some text and then click.

Favelets are basically bookmarklets, but the name is based on the Internet Explorer "favorites" label. The name does tend to imply that they were written specifically for Internet Explorer, but this is not a hard and fast rule.


One little-used aspect of bookmarks is that shortcuts can be assigned to specific bookmarks. In Internet Explorer 6, go into the properties for a favorite and click on the shortcut key box. Enter any number or letter and the shortcut key is automatically set at Control-Alt plus the chosen key. So if Gigablast is already a favorite, go into the properties and enter G as a shortcut key. Then anytime in Internet Explorer that you want to go to Gigablast, just press Control-Alt-G. Unfortunately, the shortcut keys will not work with bookmarklets or favelets. Also, IE may give a "You are adding a link that may not be safe. Do you want to continue?" warning when you are adding bookmarklets, even though most bookmarklets are quite harmless.

Keymarks, only available in Mozilla/Netscape 7 at this time, are a combination of bookmarks and keywords. A keymark establishes a prefix that can be used in the address bar to invoke a variable within a bookmark. What that means is that a HotBot search can be invoked by entering something like 'hb searchterm' in the address box. These are a bit more complex to set up, but well worth the effort for Mozilla/Netscape 7 users.

For example, after searching the American Factfinder from the Census Bureau for a city such as Houston, bookmark the resulting URL, go into the properties for that bookmark, put "pop" in the keyword box, and replace "houston" in the URL with a %s. Then just enter "pop place name" in the browser address box to go straight to the American Factfinder list of records for that place name. See for more details.

Since keymarks are set up for use within the address bar, there is no need to put them on the personal toolbar. Instead, it makes more sense to set up a separate bookmark folder just for keymarks in case you forget the keywords and services set up in the past.


One of the real advantages of bookmarklets is that many work across browser platforms. They are also extremely easy to set up and try out to make sure they work on the particular operating system, browser, and browser version that you have available.

Take a look at some examples from Figure 1. Click on the List All Links bookmarklet and a new page will pop up containing just a list of all the linked URLs on the page being viewed. The Remove Background Image helps get rid of a distracting background image on a Web page. The Groups bookmarklet takes a selected term or terms and runs a search at Google Groups. If no term is selected, then it will pop up a box asking for search words.

A good starting point is a site that provides a list of bookmarklets to try out such as (no surprise here) from Steve Kangas. In addition to providing basic information about bookmarklets, the site includes over 150 different bookmarklets as examples and even has scripts to make more.

Look under the See the Bookmarklets link for several categories of bookmarklets such as Page Data, Navigation, Page Look, Calculate, Design, and Search Tools. This last category may be of more interest to information professionals. But note that the bulk of the bookmarklets in the Search Tools category are under the Other Search Bookmarklets heading.

Under the Search Tools section is also a Make Search Bookmarklet, a bookmarklet for making more bookmarklets. Since the listed bookmarklets date from a previous Internet generation, there are some still listed for older, defunct search engines like the Mining Company, Northern Light, and DejaNews. And there are none listed for newer search engines like Teoma, AlltheWeb, and Gigablast.

With the Make Search Bookmarklet, just run a search in one of your favorite search engines with all of the preferences and limits set that you most commonly use. Then click the Make Search Bookmarklet link. A form will come up which asks you to enter the search term you used and the name for the new bookmarklet. Fill it out, press Enter, and the resulting search bookmarklet can be dragged to the toolbar for future use.

Bear in mind that there is one prerequisite for a search system before a bookmarklet can be made—the search term must be in the URL. Many searchable databases do not include the search term in the URL. So the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), for example, will not work with the Make Search Bookmarklet because the resulting URL of an IMDB search is Although the Make Search Bookmarklet will not work, that does not mean that you cannot find a bookmarklet for the IMDB. Just try a search for "IMDB bookmarklet" to find several from people who have figured out how to get around that limitation.

For those with a bit of programming experience, bookmarklets offer many options. For more technical details about how to build them, see the "Doc JavaScript" column []. As an example of what they actually look like, here is the entire Send bookmarklet for e-mailing the URL of a page:



Search engine bookmarklets are certainly one reason for searchers to be interested in the little code snippets. With some creative thinking, there are many other library functions that could use the technology as well. InfoWorld analyst and writer Jon Udell started creating bookmarklets for library catalogs that would grab an ISBN out of the URL at a site like Amazon or Barnes and Noble and search it in a library catalog.

The accompanying screen shots show how, using the library lookup bookmarklet, it takes only one click to move from the Amazon record display to a lookup in the Dartmouth library catalog.

Not all library systems will support this, but Udell has quite a list on his Library Lookup page [] for several main library systems along with links for hundreds of libraries. If yours is not listed, he even has a Library Lookup Generator that may be able to create one that works.

While the number of library lookup bookmarklets available is quite amazing, there are some caveats. For one thing, these only work for ISBN searches from pages that contain an ISBN somewhere in the URL. So while bookmarklets can work quite nicely for users at the Amazon or Barnes and Noble sites, they are not very helpful at the many Web pages that may only cite a book with a standard citation or even less information. If it is just a book title, and the book is no longer in print, it may be difficult to find a page with its ISBN at the online bookstores.

Even more problematic is the variety of ISBNs available for a single title. For one publication there can be separate ISBNs for the paperback, hardback, deluxe leather-bound, book on tape, and many other versions and editions. Consequently, a search just on a single ISBN may not pull up a copy of the work that is available in the library but in a different format.

Because of this, it may be best to consider Udell's laudable effort as a very useful beginning point. The bookmarklets can be adapted to do a catalog search with other criteria. James Howison, a graduate student at Syracuse University and blogger, modified the library lookup bookmarklet for the Syracuse University library catalog so that it could do a keyword search of the catalog on selected text on an existing Web page [], but realize that "Bird" is the name of the main library at Syracuse and not an ornithological search limit.


Consider some related uses. In browsing the Web, a citation to an article shows up on a page. Select the periodical title and click on the local library bookmarklet that will do an accurate search for a print or electronic version of the periodical. Or from within a library's bibliographic database or a commercial online service, a bookmarklet could check against a list of full-text subscriptions.

Any library or lab that has public computers could set up bookmarklets for printing, e-mailing, accessibility, Web searches, catalog checks, full-text availability searches, and other linking. The potential is there even though the bookmarklets still need to be written and adapted to local situations for most of these examples.

I must admit that I've come across a variety of bookmarklets over the years. Perhaps because of the name or perhaps because I saw no overwhelming need for them, I tended to ignore them. But do not be put off by their diminutive name or even by some of the many examples that have absolutely no interest to you. Instead, search out the ones that can expedite your own searching and browsing, ones to make presentation examples easier, and those that can help our users. Incorporate the best into your own shortcut toolkit.

Greg NotessGreg R. Notess (; is a reference librarian at Montana State University and founder of

Comments? Email the editor at


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