Over the last year lots of applause has been given for the new “social bookmarking” services on the internet. Unlike ordinary bookmarks which are stored in a file on our PC’s, social bookmarks are uploaded and stored on a central server. They are social because users of the service can see what each other are posting about.
Social bookmarking tools are a powerful tool for discovery. A link posted will refer to other users who have bookmarked that same link and links can also be tagged arbitrarily for users to categorize themselves and share like-tagged links with others. Monitoring another user’s postings is easy given that each category of a user’s links has a corresponding RSS feed.
While discovery is important I think social bookmarking services are also useful for sharing and collaboration within smaller groups. My wife and I were recently looking for new place to rent in San Francisco. Sending emails back and forth was tedious to say the least. Sick of back and forth email I started using the bookmarking service del.icio.us to tag links of interesting listings.
In the comment field I would put a quick line about what I thought about the place. I also set up a Live Bookmark in my wife’s Firefox browser linking to my delicious account’s “place” tag. In that way all my wife had to do was was click on the bookmark to see what listings I was looking at. (Live Bookmarks are a feature of the Firefox browswer that display RSS feed postings).
In the same way that my wife and I used the service, business teams can also social bookmarking services to share and collaborate. At work my fellow team members and I share interesting items pertaining to the job (and outside the job). Some have set up individual tags so they can post items interesting to the whole group as well as to individual members only. Because these bookmarks services fully incorporate RSS monitoring postings is easily done in anything that can accept RSS feeds like an RSS aggregator, a My Yahoo page, or Live Bookmarks.
And while big business software will soon be pushing expensive sharing and collaboration tools using social bookmarking and RSS, the tools I have described are cheap and simple enough so that even the smallest business can leverage them.
A few additional thoughts:
–Most of the free social bookmarking services are not secure. So, if you are posting sensitive information you may want to look into a service that offers a secure account. Although, anonymity within the large community, esoteric tagging, discretion in the comment field will probably provide enough security for many.
–It’s interesting to see how social bookmarking services are changing the way we use our browsers. Most of the bookmarks that are in my browser are in effect tool buttons linking to web-based tools and frequently used reference information. Links to news, interesting items, and things I’m likely to share, are best kept out of my browser and online where I can always get to them.
–Big business’s adoption of web tools like social bookmarking for sharing and collaboration are a great example of “bottom up innovation”. In a powerfully networked society we’re seeing innovation arising from the masses rather than the problem and innovative solution being dictated by big business. When it comes to dealing with information, open software standards allow the community at large to create maleable tools which allow for individual solutions to individual problems.