Social Bookmarking a Zeitgeist

by Simon. Average Reading Time: about 4 minutes.

Zeitgeist The spirit of the time; the taste and outlook characteristic of a period or generation.

Zeitgeist is a term that refers to the ethos of a cohort of people, that spans one or more subsequent generations, who despite their diverse age and socio-economic background experience a certain worldview, which is prevalent at a particular period of socio-cultural progression.

The Web 2.0 trend, as first postulated by Tim O’Reilly, is now being discovered and championed by a new era of internet entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs and companies have already attracted interest from more established players in the online arena. This is exemplified by Yahoo’s purchase of Del.icio.us, Flickr and Upcoming.org. Sites branded “Web 2.0” are experiencing phenomenal success on the wave of enthusiasm associated with the social, sharing nature of the new paradigm.

A subset of the Web 2.0 ‘Zeitgeist’ is the concept of Social Bookmarking.

What is it?

Social bookmarking is a popular way to store, classify, share and search links through the practice of tagging them with informal assigned, user-defined keywords that describe their content, and saving these bookmarks to a public website. This is in contrast to the classic idea of bookmarking, which is the practice of saving the website address to your web browser.

To create a collection of social bookmarks, it is necessary to first sign-up to one of the many providers, add tags of your choice and designate whether the bookmark is public or private. Some of these providers periodically verify the links to ensure they are still available and verify users if the URL no longer exists.

Most social bookmarking services allow users to search for bookmarks which are associated with given “tags,” and rank the resources by the number of users which have bookmarked them. Many social bookmarking services also have implemented algorithms to draw inferences from the tag keywords that are assigned to resources by examining the clustering of particular keywords, and the relation of keywords to one another.

Who is doing it?

Social bookmarking websites are now numerous and include, but are not limited to: Del.icio.us, digg, furl, blinklist, blinkbits, blogmarks, reddit, fark, de.lirio.us, newsvine and ma.gnolia.com.

Social Bookmark Logo Strip

How does it work?

The creator of a bookmark assigns tags to each resource, resulting in a user-defined method of classifying information. Tags are one word descriptors that don’t form a hierarchy and as a result a resource can have as many tags as is necessary, with these tags being modified and deleted as required. So, tagging can be a lot easier and more flexible than fitting your information into preconceived categories or folders.

If you save an article about how to make a certain kind of cake, you can tag it with recipes sweets yogurt or whatever other tags you might use to find it again. You don’t have to rely on the designer of a system to provide you with a category for French cake recipes. You make up tags as you need them, and use the tags that make the most sense to you.

This is a great method for organising data. When someone else also classifies their resource with the same tags the result is a collaborative repository based on similar ideas and creative thoughts. This concept has become known as a “folksonomy”.

Why is it significant?

Social Bookmarking allows different users the opportunity to express different perspectives on the classification of a particular resource. The process also allows like minded individuals to form communities that continue to influence the evolution of folksonomies and common tags for a particular resource. Therefore, using folksonomy tools, relationships between different subjects are created in interesting and previously unrecognised ways. For example, if you are researching television, other users may have seen the connection with video podcasting, taking you to new, potentially valuable directions. These tools also encourage return users as the folksonomy of a particular topic is continually changing and evolving in interesting and exciting directions.

What are the downsides?

By definition, social bookmarking is carried out by amateurs therefore there are no standard set of keywords (also known as controlled vocabulary), no standard for the structure of such tags (e.g. singular vs. plural, capitalisation, etc.), mistagging due to spelling errors, tags that can have more than one meaning, unclear tags due to synonym/antonym confusion, highly unorthodox and “personalised” tag schemas from some users, and no mechanism for users to indicate hierarchical relationships between tags (e.g. a site might be labeled as both sport and rugby, with no mechanism that might indicate that rugby is a subset of sport).

Where is it going?

The shift from formal taxonomies to a folksonomic approach to classification has important implications for how users interact and how communities are developed. As more users come online, more blogs, wikis and other resources are created, this new form of classification will mature, ultimately influcing how information is stored, how those storage engines are designed and developed, and indeed how that information is found.

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