Monthly Archives: October 2009

What can social bookmarking do for you?

(reposted from ‘Coffee with ILRT’)

What is social bookmarking and why would I use it?

Social bookmarking is a way of creating and collecting bookmarks on a website rather than within your browser. This means you can access your bookmarks from anywhere, classify and annotate them, and share them with other people. You can also see how popular your website is and what others are saying about it.

The most popular social bookmarking site is Delicious, which is the focus of this article. Social bookmarking sites tend to be coy about how many users they have, but Delicious passed the two million mark in 2007.

The basics

At the heart of Delicious is a database of URIs (web addresses) which have been bookmarked by users. You can search and browse this even if you are not a registered user of Delicious yourself. When you join Delicious and start bookmarking pages within it, the information you supply is added to this database, as well as being included in your own personal collection of bookmarks.

To get started, you set up a user account with a username of your choice and a password. You can start to create your collection of bookmarks from scratch, or you can populate your collection of bookmarks by importing existing bookmarks from your browser into your Delicious account. (Later, you can also export your Delicious bookmark collection to a file as a backup).

You can bookmark a page by following Delicious’ ‘Save a new bookmark’ link, or install a Delicious plugin on the toolbar of your browser which will bookmark the current Web page in the browser when you click on it. When you bookmark a page, you are invited to tag the bookmark with one or more tags of your own choosing, and to annotate it with a note. These notes can simply be some descriptive text taken from the site, or you can write your own. Many Delicious users don’t bother to write notes, but they can be very helpful when you later search or review your bookmarks. You may want to make some bookmarks private so that they are not visible to the wider world: for example, ‘work in progress’ on your current projects.

Configuring your bookmarks

The visual interface of Delicious is much more informative and configurable than the way bookmarks are displayed in browser menus. You can see at a glance how many bookmarks there are for each tag in your collection and group several related tags together into a cluster. You can also display your tags as a ‘cloud’. This method of bookmarking keeps bookmarks sorted by categories which mean something to you, but doesn’t divide them inflexibly into a hierarchy of folders. Unexpected connexions are free to come to the surface and rigid boundaries (such as between work and non-work) can be broken down.

screenshot of Delicious illustrating bookmarked web sites and annotations

An example of a page of annotated bookmarks on Delicious

As I mentioned before, there are buttons, bookmarklets and toolbars which can added to your browser so that you can bookmark with one click, and a variety of tools which will allow you to link your activity on Delicious to Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

The social side

So far this may not sound very ‘social’.  However, the combined public bookmark collections of Delicious users build up into a large collection of annotated Web pages, which you can consult even if you haven’t registered as a Delicious user. Once you register and have a Delicious username, you become part of a ‘network’ where you can follow other users whose bookmarks interest you, or they can in turn follow you. It’s rather like the way users can follow one another in Twitter. In particular, you can share new bookmarks with a group of friends or colleagues who also use Delicious, as several of us do at ILRT.

As well as organising your own bookmarks, social bookmarking can also be useful for getting feedback about websites which you run. If you are responsible for a public website, it may be worth taking a look to see which pages on it have been bookmarked on Delicious, how many times they have been bookmarked, and how Delicious users have tagged and annotated them.

Some other social bookmarking sites

The main alternative to Delicious is Simpy. This has some features in common with social networking sites such as Facebook: you can write notes and join groups of like-minded people to share bookmarks with them. It offers better and more flexible searching than Delicious; however, it has a much smaller number of users and so is less useful as a knowledge base. It is also more vulnerable to spam than Delicious is. StumbleUpon allows you to tag and make a collection of your favourite places on the Web, but its main purpose is to create a database of sites which have been recommended by its users, which it can in turn recommend to others interested in the same topics; Digg performs a similar function for news items.

Explore the bookmark collections of some members of the ILRT’s Internet Development team:

Ben Hayes – Web Designer –
Kieren Pitts – Senior Analyst/Programmer –
Virginia Knight – Senior Technical Researcher –
Matt Baker – UNIX Systems Administrator –