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Online Edge

Odvard Egil Dyrli on Web Furling

This free service simplifies saving, searching and sharing online content

After a demonstration of Furl at a professional conference, Jim Wenzloff was so taken with the powerful new online tool, he wrote a Guide to Furl for his district Web site. "Furl allows you to save anything you view on the Web and share it with teachers or students," said the interactive media consultant for Michigan's Macomb Intermediate School District. "And you can use it for so many educational purposes." Indeed, Furl is a hot topic on school-related blogs such as Wenzloff's Visit My Class, yet most educators are not familiar with the term.

Furl--the name means "File URLs"--is a free service that solves the problems of tracking, retrieving and sharing countless Web resources you hope you can find again. However, searching hundreds of bookmarks for articles, news reports or Web sites is usually inefficient and frustrating. This is especially true when bookmarks are not annotated, poorly named, or the links no longer work.

In contrast, Furl keeps online copies of selected resources and will retrieve them instantly, so you don't need to bookmark sites, print Web pages or e-mail copies to yourself. And, since it is a Web-based solution, files can be accessed from any Internet-linked machine. Think of Furl as your personal online filing cabinet.

How It Works

Furl works with PCs and Macs, and with the major Web browsers including Internet Explorer, AOL, Firefox, Mozilla, Netscape, Opera and Safari. When you sign up at, you get five gigabytes of storage space and choose a screen name and a password. You also install a "Furl It" button in your browser, and from then on you "furl" resources you want to keep--the term is also used as a verb--by clicking the button when the item is on the screen. Titles and URLs are added to the citations automatically, and selections can be annotated with keywords and detailed descriptions.

Furl then groups saved copies under topic headings that you specify, such as budgeting or staff development, and you can rate the quality of items on a scale from one to five. Your archives can be kept private, or made public so the resources are accessible to others.

Since Furl will find words or phrases that appear anywhere among the pages of your saved resources, individual items are retrieved easily. You can also search the entire public archives database, and see what others thought were worth saving on various topics. For example, a recent search on the word "furl," turned up more than 8,000 items.

The service also reports the popularity of specific documents by indicating how many people have furled each item, and suggests additional links based on the content that you selected previously. While there are other options for sharing bookmarks, such as,, and the strangely named, so far only Furl offers the groundbreaking features that are rapidly turning it into an online movement.

Furling in School

Jim Wenzloff uses Furl to do professional research and encourage the development of online student projects that can be accessed at home and at school. Similarly, Craig Nansen, technology coordinator for the Minot (N.D.) Public Schools, uses Furl to distribute annotated curriculum materials inside and outside the district on topics such as volcanoes and the Lewis & Clark expeditions. You can use the links in the resources section to explore these archives, and try sorting the content by date, title, furl popularity and user ratings. You can also search the archives by keyword, and use the "filter by topic" menu to see the categories represented in each collection. But the best way to appreciate the huge advantages this technology brings to schools is to set up personal accounts and start furling.

Odvard Egil Dyrli,, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.