What do you do when you find yourself frustratedly repeating the same Google searches, looking for that article you know was there before? Yes, that’s what bookmarks are for. But what if you use several computers, and also want to share those links with friends?
There are multiple solutions. Some people use Delicious, some prefer Evernote. But real men build their own social bookmarking websites. That’s what Richard Jackson did with his hobby project Garage Barge, a social bookmarking website optimized for his research activities.
How did you come up with the idea?
I wanted to create a simple site where I could find my previous links without doing a Google search. I actually like Google for its randomness but I think its general search is not always the best fit for research projects. That is why I often refer to my own list of favorite sites. This started as an Excel spreadsheet, then an Access database, and now it is a full-featured website with its own search engine for bookmarked sites (no crawler).
What motivated you to work on this, despite being busy with other tasks?
Well, there are some export features that vary from browser to browser but nothing was as easy as saving my favorite links in the cloud (Internet).
What were your qualifications? Did you use your experience, or learn new skills?
What was your time budget? How did you allocate it and plan the tasks? What schedule worked best for you?
I took a vacation to learn. This was actually in parallel with my schooling. This also assisted my work, because I could reuse a lot of experience from my hobby work for implementing projects in my job as a developer.
Did you do everything by yourself, or did you hire help, paid or volunteer? Any advice on this for others?
Strictly on my own, not even advice was needed or taken. I guess I am a bit too stubborn for that…
How did you manage the project? Any specific tools and techniques that others can use?
Reading a book from O’Reilly, a few YouTube videos, and always testing new editors. I try to stay away from IDEs, although they are good in some cases. I also would recommend using virtual machines as a development environment.
Any productivity tips to share? Tools, techniques?
I would like to recommend Notepad++, using a simple method before trying to implement a complicated one, because all source code should remain readable. For example ‘echo’ or ‘printf’ your output before trusting any embedded debugging features.
Is the project in active use? Actively supported and extended? Any achievements to boast?
Currently it is in active use, perhaps not as much hype as I wanted, but it has achieved its intended purpose. More improvements are set to come in the future, and I expect to merge it with another social networking site in Europe by the end of 2013.
What were the biggest benefits for you from this project, what brings you the most joy?
The biggest benefits where the efficiency of the research and the mobility it provides. I can also send links to my team members.
What lessons did you learn while working on this?
Never take backups for granted, never brag about what you are doing unless you are asked, and keep the project alive. Never use Open Source code in your web project, because it can have widely known vulnerabilities to hackers! (e.g. phpBB)
What would you do differently if you could get back in time?
Plan the concept of the site before implementation. Then promote the finished product. I was so happy I had a working site that I told people who were expecting no bugs; and this was the first disappointment in the beginning.
What book would you recommend to someone starting a hobby project?
I have a small library; some of my books are textbooks and some are hobby books. I would recommend the following: WROX Beginning Programming (aff.), O’Reilly Books, “Murach’s PHP and MySQL” (aff.), and The C Programming Language (aff.) is a must have, but this list is just my favorites. Of course some textbooks are great for understanding why this technology works.
Anything else you would like to add?
Sure. I really would like to be known as a student of science first, and then as a programmer, developer and network administrator.
Feel free to ask Richard about more details, or share your own experience in the comments below.
This post was written by Valentyn Danylchuk, the editor of Five-Hour Projects. You can also publish guest posts here, suggest projects to write about, or get interviewed – contact email@example.com