I tried many titles for this post. If I had used "Why del.icio.us Is Better Than Sex" I might have upset someone. So I didn't. Either way I got you reading...
The value of del.icio.us is often misperceived, and it's potential underestimated. del.icio.us is a social bookmarking application - an tool you can use to record your WWW travels so that they're not stored on your local machine. Instead of storing your favourites in your browser, where they can easily get lost if your machine crashes or you lose data, your bookmarks are much safer on del.icio.us. Accounts are free and it's horrendously easy to set up - I'm going to show you how...
You see, just being able to store your bookmarks remotely is not sexy enough. Being able to share them with millions of other users, and in turn being able to interrogate the collective bookmarking efforts of those millions of other del.icio.us users in a very powerful way, is.
Let me explain it this way. Imagine Einstein was alive today. Chances are he'd use the Web. Chances are he'd have found his way to del.icio.us, using it every day to record his Web surfing patterns - all the information he finds interesting, thought-provoking, inspiring, innovative and most significantly, of high quality. Wouldn't you do anything to get your hands on that pile of information? Einstein's collective wisdom delivered to your door?
del.icio.us allows you to see the bookmarks (the thought repositories, if you will) of any other del.icio.us user on the planet. It also allows you to filter all that collective bookmarking wisdom and effort to find the most significant, relevant results for your personal consumption. The more users creating more bookmarks filtered by more searches and more tags, the smarter the collective group wisdom is.
TAGS? What the hell are those? Well, quite simply tags are defined as (from the del.icio.us homepage): a word (or words) you use to describe a bookmark. Unlike folders (or prescribed categories), you make up tags when you need them and you can use as many as you like. The result is a better way to organize your bookmarks and a great way to discover interesting things on the Web. Wikipedia has a very comprehensive article on the subject if you want to dig deeper...
So let's get to the good stuff. I want to show you how the most ordinary user out there can create an extraordinary library of content with del.icio.us.
1. Create an Account
Load http://del.icio.us in your browser (there's no 'www' in the address). Yeah, I know it looks busy, confusing and not very pretty. But then neither did Einstein. Click on the 'register' link in the top right hand corner. You'll see this...
Fill out the necessaries and click 'register'. You'll need to verify your email address and then you're ready to rock and roll.
Now most people simply use del.icio.us, as I mentioned earlier, to record and categorise bookmarks. But I want to show you how to build up a knowledge fountain before you bookmark a single thing by leveraging the power of the existing del.icio.us user/knowledge base.
2. Build Your Network
Every del.icio.us user has a unique URL or Web address) for their account. My personal one is http://del.icio.us/mikestopforth. My company's one (the one I just created with you), is http://del.icio.us/cerebra. On that page we can currently see nothing. Neither will you on your account home page.
This is because you will only start to see bookmarks here once you begin to manually add them. And this, friends, is where most user's experience of del.icio.us ends - realising the schlep of getting into the habit of bookmarking with del.icio.us instead of using browser bookmarks and as a result, chucking the concept out the window.
What they don't realise is that you can build a mountain of info before ever adding a single bookmark manually. The first way to do this is to grow your del.icio.us network (mine is at http://del.icio.us/network/cerebra. The network concept is really simple - find other del.icio.us users who you trust, or believe will read quality content, or are thought leaders - add their names to your network and with a single click of a button receive all of THEIR bookmarks in your networks section. Wow!
So let me tell you how this was useful for me. Andrew McAfee is one of the most influential thinkers in a new movement dubbed Enterprise 2.0 (or social software in business), and just happens to be an associate professor at Harvard Business School - not a bad resource. I read his blog often and have downloaded his whitepapers. Now imagine being able to get a glimpse of what someone like Andrew is reading on a daily basis - what influences him, what he regards as important, what he believes is influential, bleeding-edge thinking. I figured if I could guess his del.icio.us username I could SEE that - and any one else I considered important or influential. Andrew doesn't advertise his username publicly, I do, and there are no rules about whether you should publish your username or not, but there is nothing wrong or illegal about adding him to my network - by using del.icio.us he is automatically publishing his 'thought stream' - his IP - to the WWW. To cut a long story short, I eventually guessed his username, added him to my network and have been enjoying inspiration from his brain ever since. If only Einstein had del.icio.us...
You can add colleagues, friends or complete strangers to your network. You can read what Steve Rubel reads. Or what Seth Godin reads. Provided you can guess their usernames (or email them and ask, or search del.icio.us for it) and that they use del.icio.us in the first place, you're sorted.
Once you've added a name to your network, their bookmarks will appear in the body of the page:
Hey presto - you have built a library of knowledge and resources based solely on the usernames of other del.icio.us users whose brains you admire
3. Build Your Subscriptions
You can go a step further than adding people to your network and instead tap into the del.icio.us zeitgeist by subscribing to specific tags.
Click on the 'subscriptions' link at the top of your page - it's next to the network link we just worked on. Now think for a second... every piece of information every human that has ever used del.icio.us is tagged with freely chosen keywords. At the time that I published this, the del.icio.us tag cloud (the aggregated tags from every bit of info ever put on the site), looked something like this...
The bigger tags are more popular than the smaller tags (more bookmarks are categorised with those tags in other words).
The subscriptions section allows you to add individual tags so that as soon as anyone, anywhere in the world tags anything at all with YOUR subscribed tag, it'll get sent to your del.icio.us/subscriptions page. Example - you love windsurfing, so you subscribe to the tag 'windsurfing'. Anytime anyone anywhere in the world finds a resource on the Net they think is relevant for windsurfers or windsurfing, and they tag it with 'windsurfing', you'll receive it automatically. I'll say it for you... Holy moly, that's pretty cool.
4. Manipulating the Library
Now you've built up a tidal wave of links to resources and sites that are being generated by people you admire and trust, and with tags you find interesting or relevant to you. You still haven't used del.icio.us to bookmark one single thing yourself, mind you...
You can now draw RSS feeds from anyone of the subscriptions individually, or as a group feed, or from individuals tags, or groups of tags. In del.icio.us each page has an RSS feed so go wild with syndication. Remember too that you can use these feeds to generate content. Example - we run a site for a customer that is themed around customer service. So we've drawn an IP library together in del.icio.us that is a mashup of thought leader's in the customer service space in the networks section, and of relevant tags in the subscriptions section, and deliver that as one, pretty, shrink-wrapped feed with shiny ribbons on it. And a candle.
And the client loves it.
5. Corporate Social Bookmarking Solutions
So if you're smart you're thinking to yourself, "damn, I could use that in my company to harness the collective intellectual capital of my people. One time..."
If you're not thinking that, you might still be smart but a little slow. You see there's nothing stopping you from applying the principles of social bookmarking to every piece of information in your organisation. Be it emails, reports, policies, books, minutes - everything can be tagged and collated and compared and mashed up with tags. If you don't get Web 2.0, then at least understand that tags are the Holy Grail.
del.icio.us does not yet offer a behind-the-firewall solution (oh and how I wish they did) but do not fear, all is not lost, if you're interested in using a social bookmarking service like del.icio.us behind your firewall then try out Cogenz or Connectbeam.
As a last note to those of you in the social media consulting space, I use this demonstration (the demo of setting up a free del.icio.us account and adding subs and a network) in presentations to clients as a very succint, powerful way to explain how wisdom of crowds theories come into play, how tags work, how social networking works and how it all affects knowledge. Every single time to date, they are blown clear out of the water. It is my most effective sales tool by miles.
Sorry for the thesis-like post, hope it adds value somehow...
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