Favorite websites. We’ve all got ‘em, and we want to share them with everyone who cares to know (and occasionally push them on those who really couldn’t care less). In this post, I’m going to discuss a couple of interesting ways to advertise your most beloved destinations on the web with your adoring fans, along with the pros and cons of each.
Send Links via E-mail
Sending a link via e-mail is the classic way to share a favorite, and it’s also just about the worst method imaginable. First, it’s a one-shot deal; if you want to share favorites with lots of people over the course of time, it can get quite cumbersome to manage all of the e-mail traffic. It’s also rather “pushy,” when you consider that recipients may have neither the time or inclination to deal your daily recommendations. Would you appreciate someone filling up your inbox with unsolicited advertisements? Neither does the rest of the world, bub.
If you do feel the need now and then to share favorites via e-mail, most browsers (including Internet Explorer) provide and easy way to do it. In IE, you just navigate to the page, and click Page > Send Link by Email.
That will fire up your default e-mail client and automatically create a new message with a link to the page. Address it to whomever you like and send it on its merry way. As you might also notice above, there’s another link that allows you to send the entire page via e-mail; this is considered bad form – like farting when someone is eating – and is enough to earn you a vicious beating in some parts of the world.
Next comes Twitter, which is a great service in and of itself, but when used for sharing favorites, it can become quite evil as well. To me, tweeting (it’s a verb, look it up) about your latest “fav” to all your followers is about one step up from broadcasting it via e-mail. At least these folks are following you by their own accord, I suppose. Please remember that just as easily, they can stop following anytime, especially if you become an annoyance.
The big hurdle with Twitter, of course, is message length; since it was designed around the SMS platform, it only supports messages of up to 160 characters. Many URLs exceed this limit, let alone any sort of descriptive text that you might want to add. So to effectively shorten the URL, you can use a service like TinyURL or Bit.ly, which takes your long URL and spits out a much shorter one that you can easily share with your followers. When they click your link, they’re directed to the service, which seamlessly resolves the final destination and forwards them onward.
Use a Syndicated Blog Post
On your blog, you’re allowed to be as long-winded as you like (as you can see, I’m a testament to that fact). You can ramble on about your likes and dislikes, and include links to just about anything. Thanks to IE8’s default web accelerators, you can even quickly add a blog post about a website by clicking Page > Blog with Windows Live Spaces.
That will open your Windows Live Space (in a separate tab or window, so you don’t lose your place), and create a new blog post with “Talking about…” and the name of the page as your post’s title. Unfortunately, the accelerator is just “that short” of true greatness, because it just gives you a big empty post with no link to the aforementioned page. However, I suppose it’s simple enough to create it manually. By the way, if you use the imminently more functional Windows Live Writer application for blogging, then you can instead click the Blog This toolbar button to launch Writer and create a new post there (which does include an automatic link to the page, go figure).
Syndication of your blog via RSS is a great idea, because it allows those who decide to follow you to be notified on their terms. It’s also way better than e-mail, because you can edit the post again and again to make changes or corrections, and you can send a permalink to anyone who requests it from you.
The downside is that blogs are not designed to be exclusively used for sharing favorite websites (nor should they be used in that capacity), so unless you’re really clear about which posts contain links and which contain your latest diatribe about how much Heroes has “jumped the shark” this season, it’s liable to just get really confusing.
List It on Windows Live
Windows Live provides a couple of unique (albeit somewhat disparate) options for creating lists that contain links. If you’d like to report on a favorite book, movie, or musical artist, then you can add them to an appropriate “favorite things” list. To manage your favorite things lists, navigate to your Windows Live Home page (http://home.live.com), look in the right-hand column, and click Do More > Add Favorite Things.
On the Favorite Things page, click Edit below each list to add or modify items. Each type of favorite contains slightly different options, but all provide some form of web address, where you can create a link that points your visitors to more information. Just fill in the fields, and click Save to add your item to the list.
Your favorite things appear on your Windows Live Profile page, and newly added favorites also grace your ”What’s New” feeds (as well as your friends’ “What’s New with My Network” feeds).
Your friends can even click the little icon to copy one of your favorite things into a favorite of their own.
If you maintain a space on Windows Live, then you may also be interested adding a custom list to point your visitors to important links. Custom lists are more generic and versatile than the aforementioned “favorite things” lists, but they basically work the same way. To create a custom list, navigate to your Windows Live Spaces page (http://spaces.live.com), and click Create a List. Choose Custom as the list type (FYI, the “favorite things” lists are available here, too), give it a name and description, and click Save to get started fleshing out the list items.
While custom list changes are reported on “What’s New” feeds, they are primarily accessible using the Lists link atop your space’s page. You can also display the list items using a custom module on the main page of your space (like my Blog Roll custom list, pictured).
Use a Social Bookmark
Social bookmarking is the practice of reporting your favorite websites to any of a number of popular services, including del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, and our own beloved Windows Live (more on this last one in a bit). These services typically allow you to decide who can see your favorites, tag and rate them, and search for similarly tagged websites. On most social bookmarking services, websites are ranked based on how many people have marked them as favorites.
Adding a website as a social bookmark is pretty easy. Most larger websites (such as CNN.com, pictured) provide a series of links somewhere on the page that help you share it with the service of your choice.
If that’s not an option (because it’s not feasible to provide links to every service on every page), then you can visit the service directly and add your links there. Most also offer toolbars or other browser add-ons to simplify interacting with the service.
The downside to social bookmarking is that to the new user, it can seem a little overwhelming. You have to join the service, set up (yet another) profile, possibly download a toolbar, and then actually remember to use it. With millions of people participating in social networks, and each service set up a little differently, it’s also quite difficult to find bookmarks that have been posted by people you want to follow. Social bookmarks tend to benefit the promoted websites more so than the people who promote them. Some social networking sites, such as Facebook and Windows Live (via Web Activities), offer the ability to post your favorites directly on your profile, so at least your close friends know about your latest favorites. Still, it’s kind of a crapshoot.
Use Shared Favorites on Windows Live
My emerging pick for sharing favorites with my friends is to use Shared Favorites on Windows Live. Each Windows Live user with a SkyDrive account gets a special folder called Shared Favorites (not to be confused with Favorites), which is specially designed to house links to websites that you want to share with others.
There are a couple of ways to create a shared favorite. One option is to download the Windows Live Toolbar. Now, I’m no fan of browser toolbars in general, but this one is well worth a look, especially if you do a lot with Windows Live. In addition to its many other versatile features, the toolbar provides a Share button, which automatically adds the current page to your Shared Favorites folder on SkyDrive.
Short of the toolbar, you can also open the Shared Favorites folder on SkyDrive, and click Create Favorite. Paste in the URL, give it a friendly name and description, and click Create.
Shared favorites are shared with your Windows Live network by default, but you can easily adjust permissions to open them up to anyone who wants to pop in for a look. Other Windows Live users can even comment on them, just like a blog entry. While Shared Favorites can’t be directly syndicated (yet), your shared favorites will appear with a distinctive little icon on your Windows Live Profile page, as well as your friends’ “What’s New with My Network” feeds, which can be followed via RSS.
So there you have it. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to share a favorite, although some strategies are decidedly less annoying to your adoring public. Whatever method you choose, be sure to use it consistently. Now get out there and share!