Social Bookmarking – A Powerful Research Network

February 10, 2008 at 2:18 pm (social bookmarking) (, )

Chris Harris asks a very important question: Why is social bookmarking so important?  More specifically I wonder why is social bookmarking important to teaching and learning in classrooms, schools and lifelong learning in general? 

The answer I believe is in the potential that social bookmarking has to be, what Harris calls, a very “powerful research network.”  I emphasize potential as this won’t happen by itself.  Students and their teachers must have a basic understanding of how it works and be active participants. 

The obvious next question is how does it happen?  What does it look like and what can it look like in a school setting?  Until I saw examples of what I was reading about I didn’t know the power of what was being described. 

Social Bookmarking as A New Search Engine
Harris identifies social bookmarking as a human powered rather than a predominantly math powered search engine.  Will Richardson describes it as not just information, but information in the context of a network:

“In a nutshell, the operating principle behind [social bookmarking, tagging and folksonomies] is this: if I find something interesting enough to save, odds are good that you will, too.  And together, using these tools, we can build comprehensive lists much more effectively than any one of us could working alone.  Exemplifying the wisdom of crowds, these applications are fast becoming an important resource for relevant information.”

Richarson says that it’s important to be able to find information but it’s even more important to find people who can connect you to the information.  For example, if I am looking for something related to next weeks topic of podcasts, I can search through Jenn and Joanne’s del.icio.us bookmarks, those of my classmates or the bookmarks of other reputable individuals in the field (whom I’ve noticed sometimes link to their bookmarks, have a feed identifying recent additions in a sidebar regularly post new links from their bookmarks to their blog).  I could also search the social bookmarking service experts use and scan for names of people that I recognize who have saved links.  If my colleagues are looking to learn more about how to use a Web 2.0 tool, they could search my bookmarks knowing that I have explored the tools.  When collaborating with a colleague on a unit or professional development topic, we could Furl websites into one folder on that topic, describe, annotate or ask thought provoking questions of students or colleagues, then print it as a handout or resource list. 

If you create a uniqe tag that students can save bookmarks to, like apcalc06, which is then dropped into the sidebar of the class blog using an RSS widget or blogged as a separate post identifying new links, students can then contribute to a bank of resources to turn to when they need support or enrichment in a class.  (The drawback in this example, when using de.icio.us, is it is possible that inappropriate sites could be tagged and listed and then fed or posted on the blog.)  Penn Tags does what apcalc06 does on a larger scale.  It acts as a central location for many topics or projects that students can contribute to and access.  Students choose the content of interest to them which best meets their needs.  This is powerful stuff! 

More On RSS Feeds
Rather than searching through social networking sites, RSS feeds can be set up on tags of your choice, from specific users or the social networking community at large, from one social bookmarking site or many.  Richarson says its like having others do the research for you, going so far as to compare his aggregator to a textbook.  Could student textbooks one day be a thing of the past?  Instead, a class RSS feed or individual student feeds could provide up-to-the-minute information on curricular topics for class discussion, debate and analysis.  Talk about connecting learning to real life!  I agree with Elizabeth that when using an RSS feed there is potential for information overload (I have to get over the fact that I have 88 messages in my aggregator that I haven’t read) and with Jess that you still need be able to search and filter though the information (I can actually skim and scan them very quickly and mark pertinent ones as unread).  For me, the benefits of social bookmarking far outweigh the costs. 

Active and Critical Reading
With some social bookmarking sites, such as Diigo, it is possible for students to highlight text for specific purposes such as finding the main ideas, identifying key vocabulary or discussing bias.  Students can also add “virtual” post-it notes.  Using this technique, students are able to demonstrate active reading and use of reading strategies: questioning, clarifying, predicting, summarize, connecting to text, self and world, and tapping into prior knowledge.  It is kind of like a ThinkAloud but on paper!  The best part is that on a return visit the highlighting or post-its will still be there and they can be forwarded and added to by someone else.  Students can collaborate, adding post-its of their thoughts and questions to those of their peers and teachers or teacher-librarians can provide digital feedback.  This way, as Dave Ehrhart identifies, you are able to differentiate instruction by “ensuring that students actually read, understand, and comment on the text.  Through their feedback, I can check their research and respond directly or pose a question of my own.”  There is an IE or Firefox Trailfire plugin that can keep track of the sites users visit (your “trail”) and add post-it notes (called “marks”) to webpage.  I haven’t tried this one yet but I want to as it would help me to remember what I was thinking on my internet “road trip.”

Social networking draws upon individual strengths, interests and passions.  By saving links to a common location or making them public it has the potential to help everyone find the best information available.  A further benefit that I see is that the researcher can spend more time reading and analyzing then seeking and finding potential sources of information.  The ability to comment or question pushes people to think critically about the information that they are encountering and consider information and perspectives that they may never have found otherwise when completing independent research in isolation. 

The speed at which tagging has permeated all types of content available on the web means that it is here to stay.  Social bookmarking capitalizes on this.  It is transforming the face of research from using formal academic taxonomies to informal, individualized, user-controlled, spontaneous, non-linear “browsing, searching and finding based on user perceptions and needs” (The Horizon Report, 2006).  In order for this world to be opened up to students and for them to be able to access it as it continues to undergo transformations, students should be introduced to it in schools.  As Richarson says, “we have to help them experience the value of being embedded in communities of practice that can sustain their lifelong learning needs.”

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Social Bookmarking: Search, Save, Annotate & Connect?*

February 10, 2008 at 2:14 pm (social bookmarking) ()

Being a very visual person, I thought I would begin with a quote from Will Richardson’s Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (2006) that, for me, makes a very clear picture of where social bookmarking fits in Web 2.0:

“…social bookmarking sites complete the circle: RSS lets us read and connect with what others write; now we can read and connect with what others read as well.” 

Like Katie, before this week, the only thing that I knew about social bookmarking was what a peer had mentioned in my last online course, something about saving your bookmarks to a web location, rather than on your PC, so that they can be accessible from anywhere and shared with others. 

As a colleague pointed out to me this week after reading some of my other posts, I think part of what is intimidating about a new tool, or a Web 2.0 one in particular, are all these new names – social bookmarking, folksonomies, tags, feeds and crowdsourcing to name a few.  I can’t help but think back to the green light, yellow light, red light lists of terms that I made at the beginning of January, terms I knew, thought I knew or believed came from outer space!  When I look back at all of them now, it’s amazing how many are now familiar and are becoming a part of my regular vocabulary.  Social bookmarking should have been in my repertoire long ago.  It makes sense for teachers, teacher librarians or technology specialists who collaborate in different classrooms, library spaces or computer to be able to access their links from anywhere.   

Social bookmarking also makes sense for students, particularly when it is unlikely that they will be using the same computer on a return trip to the computer lab or library resource centre.  And even if they are, the computer might reset to its original settings each time a person logs off, erasing any changes that may have been made including the addition of any favorites.  Browser bookmarks can be saved or exported to a memory stick, for example, but online social bookmarking eliminates the need to do this, although a frequent back up of your social bookmarks is highly recommended as you just never know what could happen.  No matter where a student is they could access their online bookmarks: at home, school, friend’s house or public library. 

I’ve wanted to go through the bookmarks I have saved on my computer for a long time but it was not a job that I looked forward to doing.  I figured that once I did I would be switching to one of the social bookmarking tools available.  However, before doing so, I wanted to explore what was available. 

Before starting, I read about social bookmarking in two books.  Gwen Soloman and Lynne Schrum’s (2007) web 2.0: new tools, new schools provided a brief overview in less than a page but I was looking for more.  Will Richarson’s Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (2006) dedicated a whole chapter to social bookmarking.  I read blogs and articles by Will Richarson, Chris Harris and Steve Hargadon through the School Library Journal.  I also searched in social bookmarking websites to supplement the print resources.  In the world of technology, and edtech in particular, a book published a year or two ago isn’t obsolete but websites references have come and gone, new websites appear and users have discovered new ways of using the tools that were unexplored at the time of publication.  Blogs and social bookmarking sites let me know what people are saving and how people are using social bookmarking in their classrooms and schools today

Social bookmarking allows favorites to be organized, ranked, shared, tagged, classified, annotated, searched and subscribed to through RSS feeds.  How does it work?  Well, by clicking on a button you’ve added to your browser toolbar (referred to as a browser plugin) or, ironically I think, clicking on a link that you’ve added in your browser’s favorites, a popup window, also called a bookmarklet, will appear.  It automatically fills in the title and URL of the website.  It is the users job to describe and assign tags and other options depending on the social bookmarking site that is used.  On some it is possible to add quotes to the description or comments section.  This is a real-life example for students of the importance of being able summarize and identify main idea, concepts and/or theme(s). 

Some possible problems that I thought may arise or that I encountered in a school setting are blocked installation of the tool bar, blocked popups and the need to add the toolbar or favorite to every computer that you use, only to have it wiped out when you log off.  Solving these may require involving the school tech who could unblock the popups and add the required button or favorite to all school computers.  Some social bookmarking sites offer you the option of linking to the bookmarklet from the same browser or opening in a popup so this is another way that this could be solved.   

I never knew how many different social bookmarking options there were and I never expected, but it does make sense, that there would be different communities based on different topics such as the sciences or academics.  According to Steve Hargadon in “Cool Tools: Best of Social Bookmarking,” Yahoo! owned del.icio.us first coined the term “social bookmarking.” When I visited del.icio.us, I thought that because it was so simple there must have been a catch so I passed over it only to revisit it later.  Backflip and Furl build on the simplicity of del.icio.us.  I like the idea, organization and layout of the daily routine that Backflip offers.  It suggests linking to all the sites that you visit everyday then coming to Backflip to take you there.  Unfortunately, the colors remind me of a pro-basketball team and I can’t imagine going there every day.  I think PageFlakes is more to may liking and appears to have this same capability although I haven’t explored it fully yet.   

Chris Harris recommends Furl for middle school for its fit with the research process including it’s abilty to group, follow many topics and offers a citation tool.  I’d have to try the citation tool before I’d know if I would recommend it but it is an idea that makes sense.  Furl also came highly recommended by Will Richarson and it was visually appealing to me so I decided to give it a try.  However,  Elizabeth and I are in agreement that it is not as user-friendly as it could be.  This could have to do more with the age of my computer than anything else because I couldn’t go as fast as I would have liked to.  I also wish that there was an RSS feed button at the end of every page like there is on del.icio.us.  I spent way too much time trying to get it to feed to my blog only to decide that I’d invested enough time in it without success.  I will have to use it more at school to find out although I suspect that is is due to the fact that WordPress does not allow Flash, another short fall of my blog of choice. 

Diigo, short for “Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff,” actually dubs itself as “social annotation” site.  Not all social bookmarking services offer the option of annotation but Diigo is certainly not the only one which is what I felt it was trying to lead me to believe when I first visited.  I visited Fleck, ShiftSpace, Stickis and Trailfire, four other annotation services described at Gonzalez’s Five Ways to Mark Up the Web.  At weblogged-ed, Richardson describes Diigo as a combination of del.icio.us and Furl.  It offers the same things as del.icio.us but like Furl, it saves, what Richardson calls a “snapshot of the entire page” (also called a cached copy) for you to pull up at a later date.  This is helpful, should websites be restructured and links no longer work, content is posted for a limited time like newspaper articles or user accounts with passwords and fees become a requirement.   A copy is still available to view in your archive.  What about copyright?  Diigo explains in their FAQ that because the registered user is the only one viewing the cached page it is not an infringement on copyright.   

In terms of privacy or security, del.icio.us links are all public.  There is no accomodation as with many of the other social bookmarking services for selected links to be private. 

Other social bookmarking services like Connotea and CiteULike are geared more towards academic circles.  What is available for younger students to use?  Harris recommends the userfriendly Ma.gnolia which offers you the ability to control who is a part of a group and as a result who can add or view links. It also returns fewer links when completing a search decreasing the likelihood of information overload.  I wonder if this is an actual design feature or a product of the limited number of users.  

If students are working together on a project, they can save bookmarks from individual searches to one account or folder, then revisit them together to see which ones have the best information to suit their needs.  They can also search and visit pages tagged by others users.  By doing this, they are looking through sources that have been gleaned by others.  However, students still need to be critical of what they are seeing because others have different expectations for quality, have tagged for different purposes and interpret tags differently.

Like so many other Web 2.0 tools such blogs, photo sharing or video sharing, social bookmarking makes use of some form of tagging for searching.  Before students or teachers begin using a social bookmarking service to save or search, they will need to know how tags, or folksonomies, work.  

*Valenza suggested Journalism 2.0: How to Survive and Thrive.  In it a comparison is made between headlines of blogs and newspaper articles, both of which should indicate what a piece is about and hook the reader. 

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The “F” Word – Folksonomy

February 10, 2008 at 2:03 pm (social bookmarking) ()

When I first read about the importance of tagging at the beginning of this course I made note of it as I had no idea how to do this.  Every time I came across an option when blogging or at photo or video sharing sites I skipped it.  Now that I know that the tags are there to help me, or someone else if I chose to make the link public, it would be irresponsible of me not to tag!  Now I have to break what has become a bad habit of skipping the tagging step.  

Even though Terry Freedman’s article “Photo-sharing and clip-art” in Coming of Age: An Introduction To The NEW Worldwide Web focuses on images, he does stress the importance of discussing with students the most appropriate words and phrases to use when tagging.  My interpretation of this when I read it at the beginning of the course was that it would be another system that I would have to learn like cataloguing library books.  What I didn’t realize is that I have to think about what tags I add so that I can find it later!  I can’t help but be reminded of the most important lesson I took away from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.  You don’t have to remember everything or even where to find it.  You have to know who to ask.  Social bookmarking helps me with knowing who to ask.  Sometimes I will ask/search my own bookmarks and sometimes I will ask/search someone elses.      

Last week I watched two SlideShares about social bookmarking at Web 2.0/Video/PPoint.  The first was what Valenza calls a “reformed PowerPoint” by Jason Rhode that provided a general overview with images and minimal text of what social bookmarking is.  The other – “Tagging In Your Web World” by Thomas Vander Wal – helped me to understand tagging.  (Unfortunately, permanent links are not available.) 

Part of the reason that I kept skipping over adding tags is that I didn’t know how to do it and I wanted to ensure that I did it properly.  I thought I had to somehow limit the tags I added and select the best ones.  Those would actually be categories.  I was happy to know that I’m not the only one with this problem as I found it described by Rashmi Sinha as “analysis-paralysis.”  However, my analysis-paralysis didn’t only apply to categorizing as Sinha describes.  It also applied to tagging! 

What finally helped me to get past this was knowing that (a) there are no limits on how many tags I can add and (b) only I am an expert at my own tags or tag vocabulary .  They can be mashed together like socialbookmarking or an underscore can be inserted in the middle (social_bookmarking) and as Elizabeth mentioned, they are not case sensitive.  Lastly, (c) you are not locked into a tag forever like you are with a category.  You can add, delete and change tags as information needs and language changes.  You can even get other people to tag for you.  Some long time bloggers who didn’t tag to begin with can offer this option to their blog readers.  I think this becomes a symbiotic relationship.  The reader learns from the blogger and gives back in the form of comments and tags.  The blogger then alters their tag vocabulary to use terms that readers have used and may even revise old tags to meet reader needs.  This open collaboration is an example of what Jeff Howe first called crowdsourcing in 2006 (Journalism 2.0: How to Survive and Thrive).

So, what is this folksonomy thing?  When I first read the word on the blog of someone in our class I thought “boy that’s a strange word.”  In the 2006 Edition of The Horizon Report, it describes folkonomies like this:

“An emerging aspect of social computing developing alongside communities is the way that formal taxonomies for information are gradually giving way to “folksonomies.”  Instead of a scholar designing a taxonomy for, say, describing web resources on a given topic, a folksonomy–a collection of tags defined by people in the community of interest–emerges spontaneously from members of that community.  Simply by applying tags that make sense, using tools that allow commonly applied tags to float to the surface, the community develops its own sort of ranking and criteria for material of interest.” 

It goes on to say:

“Of interest for the near future is the potential of folksonomic tools to transform the way we label and find articles, resources and other materials.  Just as tools like Flickr, Facebook, del.icio.us and others have replaced taxonomies and ontologies in social networking contexts, it is anticipated that folksonomic tools will allow researchers to dynamically create coding and classification schema that reflect the collective wisdom of their community. “

This last bit reminded me of an article that I had read in topic one by Nelson that talked about how systems can become more efficient in helping people find the information that they want.  When I read the article I wondered if it was even possible.  Here I am two weeks later, learning about how it is already happening through a social system. 

Further,

“As the amount of material available on the Internet expands, it is increasingly valable to be able to quickly determine the relative value of any particular piece of information or media.  One way to do this is to review the opinions of trusted friends and colleagues; folksonomic tools make this possible.  By tagging the good and ignoring the bad, the community makes it easier to find useful material.” 

Why did I spend so much time exploring one little word –  tags?  At the speed and rate at which information and other content is growing on the internet I need to know how to harness the power of tags so that I can find what I need but more importantly so I can help my students and colleagues tap into this rich resource as well. 

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