16 May 2008

Do You del.icio.us?

Today I am going to start a two-part posting on using del.icio.us in genealogy research.

If you already use del.icio.us as one of your online tools, you know what I mean when I say that it really revolutionizes the way in which you access, bookmark and organize sites of interest you find on the web. Established users will be more interested in the second post of this series, when I'll talk about some features of del.icio.us aimed at the intermediate user.

If you don't already use del.icio.us, or are still stuck on wondering what in the world I am talking about, then this first post is for you!

Learning about del.icio.us isn't too hard; they bill themselves as a social bookmarking site, taking all those links that people used to keep to themselves within the confines of their browser, and aggregating them together to create a user-defined bookmark (or favorite) list of the entire web. del.icio.us uses the tagging features which are one of the hallmarks of web 2.0 (more on tags below).

The nitty-gritty is simple: instead of bookmarking (or favoriting) web sites you find along your online travels using your browser, you post them to your account in del.icio.us. When you post those links, you add descriptive tags. Those tags, and all your links (unless they are specifically marked private) are then available to be searched and browsed by anyone else using del.icio.us. Posting to del.icio.us is made easy (especially for Internet Explorer and Firefox users) by the addition of a button to your browser's toolbar (more on that later).

Let's learn by example here:

1. The first thing you'll want to do is sign up for an account at del.icio.us! Install the browser extension for your particular browser, or drag the bookmarklets into your toolbar.

2. Next, save your current bookmarks as a file on your computer, so that you can import them into del.icio.us:

In Firefox: Bookmarks > Organize Bookmarks > File (In the File Menu on the pop-up window) > Export.

In Internet Explorer
: File > Import and Export > Click the "Next" Button > Export Favorites > Export to File or Address > Choose a location to save your file > Next > Finish. You should get a confirmation message that your favorites were exported.

3. Upload your bookmarks to del.icio.us. Once you are logged in to your account, you will see a link to your "settings" page. On that page, under the "Bookmarks" heading, choose "Import/Upload" and follow the instructions to upload your file. Once you're done, you should see your bookmarks on your page!

Let's look a little closer at the anatomy of a del.icio.us link:

First you see the title of the bookmark (which is also the link); this title is generally taken from the title of the html page bookmarked. (This is editable when you post new links). Next to the title of the bookmark are links which allow you to edit or delete the bookmark you have posted.

Below the bookmark link you see the tags which have been attributed to this bookmark (in this case, genealogy and research).

Clicking on one of those tags will take you to a page which displays all of the other bookmarks you have posted and tagged with the same term. For instance, clicking on genealogy beneath the link above, takes me to a page (actually 1 page out of 17) with all links also tagged genealogy:

All items with the word "genealogy" as one of their tags appear here, regardless of what other terms they are tagged with. Now, back to our link:

Next to the tags, beneath the bookmark title, you will be able to see how many other people on del.icio.us have also posted the same bookmark. In this case, del.icio.us displays a link which tells me that 238 other people have also posted this link. This is where the "social" comes into social bookmarking!

Clicking on the "saved by # other people" link, we are brought to a rundown of all of the people who have bookmarked the site, any notes they have made regarding the link, and the common tags they have used to tag the site:

Now that we've covered the rudimentary basics of del.icio.us, let's take just a moment to talk about what really makes del.icio.us useful, unique, and a standard bearer of web 2.0: the interactivity and the ability to obtain and share information in non-linear ways.

What do I mean by non-linear? Traditionally, if I wanted to share a set of links with you, I would write up something, perhaps a list, which would be ordered (and therefore prioritized) in some manner. Web 2.0 (and its various hallmarks) is sort of like that fuzzy strange school that gives out stickers instead of grades and has the students grade the teachers: it shuns hierarchy and calls for the user to generate his or her own path through any particular set of information. This is exemplified by the tag cloud:

Each user has his or her own tag cloud. If you were to come to my profile on del.icio.us, this is part of the tag cloud you would see. Clicking on any one of these links would take you to a page of the bookmarks I have posted using that tag. For instance, clicking on the tag "louisiana" would take you to a page with all of my links using the tag "louisiana". On that page, del.icio.us will also show you, on the right sidebar, a list of "related tags", tags which I have used often in conjunction with the "louisiana" tag:

From these tags, you can explore whole hosts of other links, while also exploring the subjects which I am interested in, and for which I often find and bookmark sites. Assuming you are interested in the same topics, chances are you will discover one or two sites that you never knew existed! When you multiply the amount of information and different ways of browsing through a user's tags by the number of del.icio.us users (over 2 million) you can imagine the sheer volume of information and links you can find.


You can also follow a more direct path to finding other links, by using the del.icio.us search bar, which you can find at the top of every page:

A search for genealogy brings up nearly 45,000 different links from all users!

I hope this post inspires you to give del.icio.us a try, if you haven't already. In the second post in this series, I will cover some of the features available through del.icio.us that will take your usage of the site to the next level.

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