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Social Bookmarking Even When You’re Not Social: Why I Use Delicious

bookmarks[This is a guest post by Derek Bruff, assistant director at the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and senior lecturer in mathematics at Vanderbilt.  You can follow Derek on Twitter (@derekbruff) and on his blog, where he writes about educational technology, student motivation, and visual thinking, among other topics. At ProfHacker, he has written about Multiple Choice Questions on Exams, Pre-Class Quizzes on WordPress, and Motivating Students with Application Projects and Poster Sessions.]

On Jennifer Imazeki’s great Economics for Teachers blog, Jennifer recently asked for suggestions why one might make the jump from “regular” bookmarking (saving interesting websites using the bookmarks or favorites tool in your browser) to social bookmarking (using an online service like Delicious or Diigo to save those interesting websites). Jennifer’s post got me thinking about why I’m a fan of Delicious, the social bookmarking service I use regularly. (Caveat: Some people rave about Diigo. I tried it only very briefly and found it too confusing, but perhaps I didn’t give it a fair shake. At any rate, I can only speak with experience about Delicious.)

  • Ubiquity: Instead of having all my bookmarks trapped in one particular browser on one particular computer, I have them available from any Web-connected device. This means that whether I’m using my work laptop, my home desktop, or my Android smartphone, I have access to my bookmarks. More importantly, I can save bookmarks to Delicious on these various platforms quickly and easily, using platform-specific tools that Delicious and others have made, like the Firefox browser add-on.
  • Tag Suggestions: Not only does Delicious suggestion “auto-completions” to tags as you start typing them (just like Firefox does), but it will often also suggest several tags for a website all on its own based on how other Delicious users have tagged the site. For instance, when I bookmark Jennifer’s Economics for Teachers blog, I’m told that popular tags for the site include blog, blogs, economics, and education. Moreover, I’m given a few recommended tags from my own tag collection: blogs, education, and teaching. All you have to do is click on the tags Delicious suggests to use them. This makes the tagging process fast and consistent and often leads to helpful tags I wouldn’t have thought to use.
  • Tag Drilldown: I’ve been doing a lot of reading about visual thinking lately. As a result, I currently have 85 bookmarks with the “vizthink” tag on Delicious. Let’s say I’m putting together a workshop on visual thinking, and I’d like a nice example of using visual techniques for taking notes during a talk. From my “vizthink” tag page, I can see all the other tags I’ve used along with the “vizthink” tag, including “notetaking.” When I click on “notetaking,” I see only the 9 bookmarks that have both tags and can quickly scan them for useful examples. Since I have 12 “notetaking” bookmarks in all, this drilldown is truly useful—it lets me eliminate the 3 “notetaking” bookmarks that don’t also have “vizthink” tags./li>
  • Easy Sharing: Notice how I linked to different sets of my bookmarks in the last paragraph? Since my Delicious bookmarks are online, it’s easy to share them with others. This came in handy last spring when I collaborated with a couple of colleagues on a couple of workshops. And since Delicious automatically generates RSS feeds for just about everything, it’s easy to embed Delicious bookmarks in other settings. For example, in the sidebar on my course blog, you’ll find the Delicious feed for the “fywscrypto” tag I’m having my students use to tag resources in the first-year writing seminar on cryptography I’m teaching this fall.

ProfHacker Brian Croxall has said that for him, Delicious is a place “where links go to die,” so it’s probably worth mentioning a bit about how I tend to use Delicious. One way I’ve already mention—I’m putting together a workshop or lesson on a particular topic and I want to know what’s caught my eye lately on that topic. Sure, I could try to remember what I’ve seen lately on the topic and Google my way back to those resources, but my memory just isn’t that great. (Often, I’ll remember that I heard a story on a podcast, but I won’t remember which podcast it was!) Another use for Delicious occurs when someone asks me if I know of any good resources on a particular topic. Since I work as a teaching consultant, I get questions like this all the time. Again, instead of trying to remember what I’ve seen lately, I can just send a link to my Delicious tag page for that topic.

I don’t use Delicious as a place to save things that I really want to read later. At Brian Croxall’s suggestion, I’ve been experimenting with Read It Later for that. (I’ve gotten much more mileage out of Read It Later since I bought my Android smartphone, using it to make more productive use of my down time when I’m out and about—and not driving.) Instead, I use Delicious to organize resources I might find useful down the road. Sure, I could use my browser’s bookmark tool for that, but the features I’ve described above make Delicious a clear win over a browser-based tool.

What’s your experience with social bookmarking, even when you’re not feeling social?

[Image by Flickr user chotda; Creative Commons licensed.]

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