Social bookmark, taxonomy

I have started to use (former, I guess) to keep my design/writing/inspiration related bookmarks in one place. I was nervous: I have never used a social bookmarking service before and I rarely bookmark a website even in the browser in my computer. Here is the link.

Setting up an account in Delicious and bookmarking the first website were completed in 5 minutes. No Help, User Forum, “Expert” Blog was necessary. This is what I LOVE about Web2.0 services. Good-bye to my days of tap-dancing at installation step No.3 for hours, filling my stomach with rage and barely suppressing the desire to grab a hammer.

Sometimes we only realize our behavioral patterns when they are laid in front of us. The screenshot on the right shows the top 10 tags of my bookmark. Do I see any pattern here? (Aside from the top two tags “msptc605” and “design”, which basically are titles of this bookmark)

The answer is yes; my bookmark is heavily front-loaded with ideas. The four top tags — Inspiration, creativity, idea, and ux (user experience) — they are some of the most overrated, hyped marketing buzzwords of all time. They also present a surprisingly accurate portrait of what interests me. I can say I am fairly obsessed about understanding the fundamental trend that moves our society rather than following what comes out of it.

Tagging, or folksonomy (folk + taxonomy = casual labeling),  is what social bookmarking is about. The original taxonomy focused on systematically organizing complicated information, such as species and atoms. When taxonomy acquired popularity among us mortals, it turned into folksonomy. After all, collecting favorite items and labeling them are one of our basic desires. We collect shoes, photos, quotes, and, er, stamps. I confess. I did.

Recently, another twist has been added to folksonomy and its application: the Web. What did the Web allow us to do?

  • To collect information, not only physical objects
  •  To share and connect with others easily

A bulk of our collections has become information-oriented, publicly shared in a massive scale, which has never occurred before. Folksonomy, or people’s labeling behavior, has adjusted to this trend by standardizing the tag to a set of common keywords to be recognized by as many people as possible. We can summarize this trend as follows.

  1. Taxonomy meant systematic classification of information by professionals.
  2. Collecting information became easier, therefore taxonomy became personalized and folksonomy was born.
  3. Sharing information became easier due to the Web, therefore folksonomy has evolved into a standardized tagging structure (still ongoing).
  4. Streamlined tagging encourages creation of huge tag database, which will create its own application (see next paragraph).

Is social bookmarking a democratic taxonomy that allows the community to peer review the content of the Web, or is it a disorganized collection of personal preferences?
Both are true, as in any “big question”. There, we can go to bed; we have two more days until Friday evening.

But seriously, I believe both are collect. We do collect our personal preferences in disorganized manner. but nevertheless social bookmarking works as a peer review system by counting the number of people who tagged a piece of information using the same keyword. If we frame this question as “either or”, we will miss the whole picture. The strength of social bookmarking lies in its filtering mechanism, the power to present trends and statistics out of “disorganized personal preference”.

Do I believe that social bookmarking is:

  • Democratic taxonomy? – Yes. We now “own” labeling.
  • Peer review of the content of the Web? -Yes. In general, the more bookmark a web has, the more useful the content of the website is. Here, the work “useful” does not mean “to anybody” or “historically” or “scientifically”. If people want to read more about Paris Hilton, and provides a detailed report of her recent life and acquries 10,000+ bookmarks, then it is a “useful” information at that moment. Maybe even historically: “This day 30 years ago, a record number of bookmarks were recorded over Paris…”
  • Disorganized collection? -Yes. We all start collecting information that way. One of the great features of social bookmarking application is automatic filing: we put tag, the software stores the information in organized manner. Once we as users find it out, we become even more lazier about organizing information in the first place…
  • Personal preferences? – Yes. What else?

We see that the social bookmark enhances our personal life. How about our professional life? In the earlier paragraphs I found my social bookmark pretty accurately reflected where my interest lies, even though the bookmark only contained 18 sites. I believe the same will apply to other people. We can peek into a person’t interest and professional world through his social bookmarks. Social bookmarks works as an indirect approach to duplicate his thinking pattern, knowledge base, even wisdom, and more – we can expand our own idea based on his experience.

The most obvious application of “social bookmark as a professional tool” is training — to let students, interns, or any sort of newcomer to an organization to catch up with its philosophy or business. Unlike traditional textbooks and seminars, bookmarking is cheap, accessible, and can be upgraded easily. But it is also a static, Web1.0 usage: learners mainly receive information, only occasionally contributing with new items.

I think if we push the envelope further and use social bookmarking’s collaboration and peer review feature (to shift the focus from the “source” side to “users” side) more extensively, we might come up with a new application for our work life. One trend I would like to see is the “democratizing” nature of social bookmarking affect the traditional, top-down corporate culture and turn it into team-oriented, flat organization. Today, being “flat” is used as a keyword for double-standard: on the surface, it means democratizing the society and workplace; deeper inside, it means taking advantage of other people more systematically.

Can social bookmarking (combined with other forces) socialize our culture?