Thanks to Marnie Webb for setting up a space to collaborate on an article on Social Bookmarking at Consultant Commons - anyone can contribute if you're interested. I've already spent a little time not resisting the urge to edit someone else's copy (which Marnie says the whole point of the space anyway....)
The idea of taking a look at some of these tools and writing an article came out some complaining about the recent slowness of delicious, but with its new server upgrade it has gotten much faster. Also, there are some new tweaks to the functionality such as being able to alphabeticize your tags, sort by frequency of use, and simply click to add a tag (not type and misspell tags...)
So, I'm doing my little pre-writing procrastination which I might port over there ..... before I start spending time playing with the tools to figure out how to use them ... I first have to wrap my brain around how to explain the term social bookmarking without having them respond, "Why don't I just use my favorites list organized by folders in Explorer?" So, this is a tale of two nonprofit organizations staff members who need to organize, retrieve, and share web-based information with other staff, volunteers or clients ....
Sally is the part-time, paid staff member for a small community technology center computer lab which works in partnership with several social service agencies. She provides training and assists clients, many whom are homeless or living in transitional homeless shelters. These clients use the lab to access Internet information that can improve their life situation. (look for jobs, housing, food stamps, health care, etc.) The lab has a fairly consistent group of instructors who are volunteers and also teach classes or work one-on-one with computer lab users.
When she is not working directly with clients, she spends as much time as possible searching for information resources that could benefit her clients. She obtains information from many sources: print, poeple, and electronic. She spends a great deal of time on the phone talking to other staff members at the agency to learn of resources for a specific client situation or talking to the instructors to learn about resources they've identified. Electronic information comes from email, listservs, and web search engines. She uses folders in her Web browser to organize the information. If the resource is relevant to several subject areas, she might bookmark it in two or three places (if she remembers.)
She has to import the bookmarks file into other computers in the lab if she wants to share them with clients while teaching them to browse the web or share with the instructors. Sometimes when she is working with a client, she can't find a bookmark because the process of finding hundreds of bookmarks can be time consuming if you don't change the titles -- often she does a google search to refine it. Other times, she remembers a particular program that a staff member at one of the agencies mentioned, but didn't bookmark it and has to call the person again. Or, she sits a client down at a computer at the lab and remembers that she hasn't updated that list of favorites recently and needs to import her bookmarks. Instructors may be working with clients and they will find a new resource and bookmark to one computer in the lab, but if Sally isn't there she won't know about it and the other instructors won't either.
Lisa works for a very computer lab and has all the same needs as Sally. Lisa however, is using delicious, a social bookmarking tool, to manage her bookmarks. When Lisa finds a site that would be valuable to her clients, she adds to her delicious account with one click and "tags" it with a few meaningful keywords. Since her delicious bookmarks are public, she can easily direct the other instructors as well as clients to the list from any computer in the lab. Lisa is so enthusiastic about social bookmarking that she did a training session for interested staff members of the various social service agencies that send their clients there for training and assistance. This group realized that it was an efficient way to share organizational information and as Lisa jokes, "I won't have to call you all the time if I forget to bookmark or capture the resource you told me about!"
There are some other benefits as well. When Lisa bookmarks a site, she can see what other delicious users bookmarked the url. She can then look at their public collections of bookmarks. For example, Lisa needed to research keyboarding skills curriculum and software. She did a google search and in the first few pages found 4-5 links to software and a few lesson plans. She added them to her delicious account. When she noticed that another user had bookmarked one of the same URLS and decided to look at their bookmarks. She discovered another six web sites with lesson plans, including one specifically for working with low-income adults. In addition, she discovered that this user had used the tag "typing skills" instead of "keyboarding skills." Based on this, she decided search all delicious bookmarks using the tag "typing skills" and identified another eight web sites with lesson plans, teaching tips and aids.
Lisa has discovered the value of social bookmarking versus the model of keeping your own private information stash, organized by hierachical folders. She has also learned how to make connections to other resources through other people.
She also discovered some of the drawbacks to social bookmarking .... to be added in
Installment 2: drawbacks of social bookmarking
Installment 3: Lisa lies awake at night wondering whether she should stick with delicious or try one of other tools such as jots, furl, or spurl. Next step is to play with jots by organizing my bookmarks on social bookmarking and various other tools ...