A Quick Guide to Social Bookmarking

This is the first post in the series A Quick Guide to Collaborative Media Tools. The purpose is to give an introduction to tools that are helpful when doing collaborative work. The first post is about social bookmarking.

What’s the problem?
We have all experienced the horror of a computer hard-drive crash. Documents, images and videos, all gone. You start looking for backup drives, perhaps you manage to restore all the important documents. But what about those meticulously organised bookmarks that were stored in your web browser? They are lost, forever. Years and years of dropping breadcrumbs to sites you want to find your way back to are lost.

This risk alone is reason enough for you to start saving your bookmarks in a way that is safer to you, but also storing them in a way that might benefit your co-workers.

This post is about collaborative and social bookmarking. It’s about publicly storing links to web pages that are important for you to find again, with the added side-effect that your co-workers can find out what pages you have recently been bookmarking. Sharing a bookmark is sort of like a low-threshold recommendation.

How does it work?
The two major (free) services for storing and sharing bookmarks are Delicious.com and Diigo.com, but I would recommend Diigo.com for its greater flexibility and that you do not need to sign up for a Yahoo account. The workflow for using these services can be adapted to the user’s specific needs, but the simplest way is to install an “extension” if you’re using the Chrome browser or an “add-on” if you’re using Firefox. Whenever you visit a webpage that you want to save, just click the icon in the toolbar and add the tags you think are suitable (more on tagging below).

Isn’t tagging painful?
Most social bookmarking services provide suggestions to what tags you should use. These are suggestions based on either other users tag-preferences of a particular webpage, or automatically generated tags based on the content of that webpage. However, you might want to experiment with finding your own way of tagging.

Personally, it took me about a year to come up with a tagging system that I managed to remember. It looks like this: if i find a website writing about a tool for collaborative text production, I will tag it ‘collaboration-tools-text-production’ to differentiate it from collaborative video- and audio production tools. The reason for this is that I want to be able to share a link containing ONLY the tools that are related to text production. If a tool does both text, audio and video, I’ll save it as all three. Another example is the tag (and the list) ‘crowdfunding-services-movies’ that collects a list of links to crowdfunding websites that are that are mainly being used for financing movie productions.

Finding your personal ontology takes time and I suggest that you write down (on a post-it on your desk or desktop) the tags that you really want to base a library on. Note that you can add as many tags you want.

Why? Minimize the time you spend on looking for “lost” documents
Scenario: a co-production partner asks you if you know any good examples of projects that have been working on the same topic as you do. You could start looking through old PDFs on your hard-drive, you could also (more easily) send a link to a webpage listing all links you have tagged, for instance, ‘digital-books’ – this is a collection of links about research and art projects that have been experimenting with the book format and what a “book” should be in the 21st century. You just saved yourself a lot of time.

Being part of the bigger picture – the ambient awareness
You’re not alone. You have co-workers and fellow scholars at universities all over the world. The way you feel their “presence” is through publications, through presentations and by meeting them at seminars. You communicate mainly through e-mail and sometimes the telephone. But you don’t know what they read on an average day, and you wouldn’t send them an e-mail to ask what they are reading.

Networked media, like social bookmarking, gives you the opportunity of having an ambient awareness of what is currently going on in the community you are part of. Facebook and Twitter are great examples of technologies enabling this ambient awareness, and so are social bookmarking tools.

The flipside of this ambient awareness is, of course, infostress. The never-ending stream of information needs filtering and curation to separate the wheat from the chaff. Great work where this problem is addressed is currently on-going, see e.g. this post on social curation of news.

The greater good – sharing is caring
You, as an academic researcher using social bookmarking, are a filter through which good content is separated from the bad and the ugly, a filter that helps people understand what you do and understand the world we live in a little better. You “sharing links” might sound superficial and unimportant, but having 20 researchers sharing two links per day could prove to be a great resource to what people from our research fields are currently finding interesting.

What happens when these services shut down?
It’s likely that both Delicious and Diigo will cease to exist in a 5-10 year period, but it’s even more likely that you have a hard-drive crash that erases all your saved bookmarks, without notifying you in beforehand. The online services will give you notice several times and they will also give you the option of migrating your bookmarks and tags to another service, a process often as simple as downloading an XML-file that then is uploaded to a new service.

Finally, have a look at my collection of currently 1200 bookmarks on http://www.diigo.com/user/topgaard – collected over a period of nearly two years.

Read this excellent post on social bookmarking by Shannon Mattern in essay collection Learning Through Digital Media.

Image credit: pengrin CC:BY-NC