I have just heard from one of the systems seminar participants (“seminarians” would save a word; alas…) that there is some consensus that the readings for this week are “on” del.icio.us. In fact, they probably are, but they haven’t been tagged in a way that is immediately obvious, and no one in the class has yet tagged them there. The readings this week, and moving forward, are provided only as citations, with the intent that you will exercise your library skills (skillz?) to seek them out. At some point, bringing up an article based on its citation should only be slightly more difficult than clicking on a hyperlink. (Actually, I haven’t tried it for this week’s readings, but if you go to scholar.google.com, you may be able to click to all of them–particularly if you are on an on-campus or library computer.) The articles and other readings this semester are all either (a) available on the web, (b) available through a journal that the university library has an electronic subscription for, (c) available in the library as a physical document, or (d) available through inter-library loan. For practical reasons, I don’t plan on using anything that requires ILL this semester.
So what is del.icio.us, besides a pain to type? Del.icio.us is a “social bookmarking” site. I imagine that most of you already keep bookmarks in you browser for sites that you visit frequently or that you want to be able to find again. But what happens when you are at work and you don’t have access to those bookmarks? Del.icio.us solves that problem by allowing you to log on from anywhere on the web and use your list of bookmarks.
To use the service, you need to set up a free account. Then, you need to drag the bookmarklet to the quicklinks section of your favorite browser. (You can use del.icio.us without the bookmarklet, but you won’t.) Then, whenever you are surfing the web and see a site you want to bookmark for later, just click on the bookmarklet and you will be taken to a special page on del.icio.us. There, you write a quick note to yourself about why you decided to save this link, and what categories it falls under (“tag” it). Voila, you have a bookmark you can access later.
But wait! That’s not all! You also get…
There is an added bonus here, in that you can stalk your friends and others. You can see what they have been finding interesting during their own tours around the web. So, if you want to know what George Bush finds interesting lately, just look up his del.icio.us account. (If you know what it is, drop me an email.) For now, you could just check out mine. I have a handful of people who I track to see what they are bookmarking lately. (Not surprisingly, this is made easier through RSS, but we can hold off on that for later…)
But wait! That’s not all! You also get…
When you bookmark something, you assign it a “tag.” At a basic level, this is like putting a bookmark in a folder on your browser. But tagging is a little different, because you can put any number of tags on a single bookmark. For some time now, when I found a site that I thought would be useful for new graduate students, I tagged it with “advice.” That way, I can find it later when I need to.
But what happens when you can gather a whole bunch of bookmarks that people have freetagged (frietagged) together? Well, “advice” is a terrible example. I probably should have called it “grad_advice” to be a bit more specific. But if you look at the page that includes everyone’s advice tags, which is at http://del.icio.us/tag/advice you find all the advice the web has to offer, from how to pick up women to how to best settle insurance claims. Likewise, for almost any tag, or any bookmark, you can find dozens or hundreds of people who are collaboratively sorting out the web. Although there isn’t much there, people who are attending the Internet Research conference this week will be using the tag aoir6.
Moreover, when you bookmark something, you can find out who else has bookmarked it. For some bookmarks, you may be the only one to have found it interesting, and for some, there are thousands of others who thought it worth remembering. But what is interesting is when only two or three people have bookmarked a site. Even if you don’t know these people at all, you share at least this small interest, and you can go and see what else they have bookmarked.
The tag for the systems seminar is inf507. If you check out the page for that tag you will see that I have been bookmarking some things that I think are related to the class, and some of the other participants have started doing the same. Go, sign up, and start tagging.
As we will discuss in the coming weeks, this kind of tagging process is not limited to del.icio.us. Flickr lets you tag photographs, technorati lets you tag blog posts, and 43 things lets you tag life goals, for example. This creates a set of emergent organizing indexes, what some have been calling folksonomies