A Beginner’s Guide to Pinboard

On Friday, May 4, 2012, I signed up for Pinboard, a website that lets you bookmark URLs.

My move to Pinboard was prompted when Yojimbo, unfortunately, got too big for its britches. In Yojimbo, I had more than 600 bookmarks, plus hundreds of other notes and files and things. Alas, because Yojimbo doesn’t weigh its search results by relevancy, it became increasingly difficult to find what I was looking for. In short, the more I was adding to Yojimbo, the harder it became to find what I was looking for.

A good filing system is one where you can find whatever you’re looking for in less than a minute. As of this sentence I have 2,334 bookmarks — I use Pinboard to collect any and every URL that is or was interesting to me — and I’ve never had trouble finding what I’m looking for when I go to search for a particular bookmark.

I wanted to share a few of the tools and services I am using with Pinboard. If you are wanting to get more out of Pinboard, then hopefully this will help you out.

Why Pinboard?

Pinboard is a great bookmarking service because it lives on the web, and so many of the apps and services I use every day can send bookmarks to my Pinboard.

For example: any article I “like” in Instapaper gets bookmarked to Pinboard; if a tweet that I “fave” has a URL in it, that URL gets bookmarked to Pinboard (you can configure this yourself in your Pinboard settings). And because Pinboard connects with IFTTT, you can set up a gazillion other ways to bookmark URLs.

In a nut, it’s very easy to add bookmarks into Pinboard. And it’s equally easy to find those URLs later by searching or by tag lists.

Why not native bookmarks?

I treat bookmarks on my Mac like permanent parking spots, and I treat bookmarks in Pinboard like books and magazines I’ve checked out from the library. The former are used for all my most common destinations (my blog’s login page, my bank’s website, etc.), while the latter are for all the places on the web that contain things I find interesting, clever, or potentially useful in any manner.

There are a few reasons I prefer to use Pinboard rather than the built in bookmarks folders in iCloud on my Mac and iOS devices.

In iCloud, you cannot tag bookmarks, you can only place them in folders. Tagging is a superior method of organization for this context because it means a bookmark in Pinboard can exist with multiple tags, whereas a bookmark on my Mac can only exist in one folder.

Pinboard lets me search by tags, by description, by title, and more. I’ve never had a problem finding exactly what I was looking for; I can’t say the same for bookmarks I’ve had on my Mac.

Moreover, if you use a Windows PC at work (or if you use Chrome as your browser on your Mac) then your iCloud bookmarks won’t sync to it anyway. Since Pinboard is a website service, you can access your bookmarks from any machine with an internet connection.

A Smarter Bookmarklet

Beyond going to the Pinboard website itself and clicking the “Add URL” button, the most basic way to save a URL to Pinboard is through a bookmarklet.

I use Joel Carranza’s “Particular Pinboard” bookmarklet to save links when I am on a web page in Safari.

Joel’s bookmarklet is a bit more clever than the default ones found on the Pinboard website. It does some cleanup to the tile of the web page, populates the description field with selected text or else with the page’s description from the header, and will auto-add tags you use if they are relevant to the article based on keywords.

There is one thing I changed in Joel’s bookmarklet, and that is the height and width of the popup window. At the end of the javascript I changed the width from 610 to 700 and the height from 350 to 550. For some reason the default dimensions were causing the popup window to display without a status bar and without a window shadow. The slightly larger dimensions fixed that for me.

A tag-specific quick bookmark

Let’s say there is a tag you use often in Pinboard, and you want a way to save a URL using that tag with the least amount of fuss possible.

Then use this bookmarklet.

This will take your current Safari tab and save it to Pinboard using a pre-defined tag that you choose, all without showing you a pop-up dialog window or anything.

Tab Collections

You know when you’re doing research on something and you end up with about 30 open tabs and then you don’t know what to do with them all?

Pinboard Tab collections are your friend.

This Safari extension will grab all of your open Safari tabs, organize them by windows (say you’ve got 3 windows with several tabs each), and then let you save them as a set.

Sometimes it’s nice to use this as nothing more than a placebo bookmark when all you want to do is quit out of Safari and save your work for later (maybe).

Mac Apps

There are some Mac menubar and desktop apps, but I don’t use any of them. I think the Pinboard website is very easy to use, so Safari is my go-to place for accessing Pinboard from my Mac.

Search via LaunchBar

If you use LaunchBar, you can set up a custom Search Template for Pinboard that lets you enter your search query from within LaunchBar and then launch the Pinboard site with that search term.

Bring up LaunchBar, click the “gear” icon that’s on the right-hand side, then go to Index → Show Index. Or hit OPT+CMD+I when LaunchBar is visible.

When the LaunchBar Index is up, click on the Search Templates label in the sidebar, and click “Add.” Name your Search Template something like “Pinboard,” and then place this code as the Details:


Now, bring up LaunchBar, type “Pinboard,” hit Space, type your search query, and hit Return.

Search Pinboard with LaunchBar

Search Via Alfred

If you use version 2 of Alfred with the Power Pack, which enables custom workflows, you can easily create a workflow within Alfred that does the very same thing as in LaunchBar above: type your search query into Alfred and then launch the Pinboard website with that query as the search term.

To create the workflow, open up Alfred’s preferences and click the Workflow tab. Then create a new workflow by clicking the “+” icon in the lower left → Templates → Web and URLs → Open custom URL in specified browser.

After you’ve named the template (something like “Pinboard”), place the custom URL as this:


Search Pinboard via LaunchBar

Or, if you like, you can download my copy of the workflow here.

If you want something even more advanced (such as a workflow that returns the Pinboard search results for you right from within Alfred itself), the Alfred forums are filled with various workflows and scripts you can install, though most of them require a bit of coding-proficiency to get working.

iOS Apps

I actually have two favorite iOS apps for Pinboard.

  • Pushpin: It has a clean interface, it’s a universal app that works on iPhone and iPad, it lets me browse through my list of bookmarks, tags, and notes, and it offers access to Pinboard’s Popular list and more.

  • Pinbook: This app has a more narrow focus than Pushpin does — Pinbook excels at search. Searching your bookmarks in Pinbook is fast, and you can search by Title, Tag, or Description. So if there is a particular tag you want to pull up, just search by tag.

Both these apps have URL schemes, so you can send bookmarks to them from other apps. Here is the Javascript bookmarklet I use to add a URL from Mobile Safari to Pushpin. It’s based on the very same Particular Pinboard bookmarklet mentioned above.

I realize it’s a bit nerdy to have two Pinboard apps. If I had to pick just one, it would be Pushpin. If you don’t want to spend $10 on a Pinboard app, and you just want a nice way to add and find your bookmarks from your iPhone and iPad, get Pinbook. You won’t be disappointed with either.

Using Pinboard

To get the most out of Pinboard it helps to have many easy ways to save bookmarks, and then to know that you can search them when you need. Hopefully what I’ve shared above gives you some ideas for how you can use the service better.