Trailmeme creates retraceable, social Web history

New company creates way for users to save and share sites beyond a single bookmark. Its tool clusters sites that have been linked together to tell a story.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
Trailmeme logo

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--When it comes to bookmarks, most browsers use the same system for organization: folders and tags. A new Xerox-incubated company called Trailmeme is taking a different approach by putting Web pages in a nested hierarchy that can show how they're related. The goal is to create a browsing experience with context, and one that can be shared with others.

Trailmeme, which launches as part of the Demo conference taking place here this week, is not a replacement for your browser's bookmarking system though. It's more of a tool for creating self-guided trips of Web sites. Trail creators can link together subgroups of sites, and subgroups of those subgroups with as much complexity and order as they see fit. Users can then share those trips .

As part of the 400-some person beta test, users have created some pretty interesting things. In a demo with CNET, Trailmeme's project manager Venkatesh Rao showed me a particularly nutty one detailing sites that tracked the cause and effect of the Gulf oil spill. The user that had put the trail together had shaped them together to look like an off-shore oil rig. The same had been done with the periodic table of the elements:

Periodic table of the elements
A creative use of Trailmeme's linking system, with each of these element items linking to Web pages that describe them. Trailmeme/CNET

The way trails are created is not a passive process--a decision that was not made lightly. "People have taken different approaches. One of those is the record player: you hit record and it saves everything," Rao said. "In our experience you end up collecting things that aren't relevant. So with our system, it becomes an intentional act. Otherwise it's just too easy." The result of that is before you're even able to save a site you're visiting, you first need to install a software toolbar. It also won't track where you go unless you implicitly save each site you're on and organize it using the provided HTML5-powered drag and drop tool.

Viewing, on the other hand, is a completely different experience; anyone can view a trail without the toolbar. Trailmeme sticks a frame bar on the top of your browser page, which shows you where you are in the trail, as well as providing links to go back and forth, or jump to a deeper part. All the while, new sites get loaded up underneath. Rao compared this to reading a book, which is a comparison that works only if you're on very focused pages, but not so well on pages with a lot of content, where the original linker may have envisioned you only viewing just a few paragraphs somewhere in the middle.

Rao said that beyond users who discover trails through Trailmeme's site, which will list some of the most popular or topically relevant trails, that site publishers stand to gain from integrating the technology. The company is starting out with a Wordpress plug-in that will do away with the frame bar in place of an on-page widget that takes users to pages within your site--just like a guided tour would. The difference, Rao said, is that this will eventually be a part of a larger system that takes those linked pages and wraps them together into a downloadable e-book that said publisher could sell.

The service is now open to registrations, most of which Rao thinks will be from education users looking to link together research and share it with colleagues. "Once early adopters discover it and find it useful, you'll find it on a lot of other domains as well," Rao said.

Trailmeme competes with a handful of other companies including Pearltrees, JigJak, and Zigtag.