One way to look at 40 sites trying to achieve Web 2.0 is that each site only contributes Web 0.05.
There’s alot of stuff going on with Web 2.0 in “social” computing, some with implications about my own primary interests in the semantic Web. Indeed, though all of us can link to Wikipedia for definitions, I doubt other than first checking out that source that most of us would agree with what Wikipedia defines as Web 2.0 . That’s OK.
Nonetheless, we can see there IS something going on in the nexus of new interoperable Web standards with collaboration and application frameworks specifically geared to shared experiences and information. I think we can all agree that Web 2.0 is meant to achieve that, and that “social bookmarking” is one of the foundational facets of the phenomenon.
Like other things that take you in tangents while pursuing research stuff over a weekend, I’m actually not sure what got me trying to track down and understand “social bookmarking.” But tracking it down I did, and this post is the result of my cruising through the byways of Web 2.0 driving a “social bookmarks” roadster.
Quick Intro to Social Bookmarks
According to Wikipedia, a “social bookmark” is a:
. . . web based services where shared lists of user-created Internet bookmards are displayed. Social bookmarking sites generally organize their content using tags and are an increasingly popular way to locate, classify, rank, and share Internet resources . . . The concepts of social bookmarking and tagging took root with the launch of a web site called del.icio.us in approximately 2003.
Often, [social bookmark] lists are publicly accessible, although some social bookmarking systems allow for privacy on a bookmark by bookmark basis. They [may] also categorize their resources by the use of informally assigned, user-defined keywords or tags from a folksonomy). Most social bookmarking services allow users to search for bookmarks which are associated with given “tags”, and rank the resources by the number of users which have bookmarked them.. . . . as people bookmark resources that they find useful, resources that are of more use are bookmarked by more users. Thus, such a system [can] “rank” a resource based on its perceived utility.
Since the classification and ranking of resources is a continuously evolving process, many social bookmarking services [may also] allow users to subscribe to syndication feeds or collections of tag terms. This allows subscribers to become aware of new resources for a given topic, as they are noted, tagged, and classified by other users. There are drawbacks to such tag-based systems as well: no standard set of keywords, no standard for the structure of such tags, mistagging, etc. . . . . The separate (but related) tagging and social bookmarking services are, however, evolving rapidly, and these shortcomings will likely either be addressed in the near future or shown not to be relevant to these services.
The idea of experts and interested individuals sharing their discoveries and passions is clearly compelling. What has been most interesting in the development of “social bookmarking” software and services on the Web has been the assumptions underlying how those obejctives can best be achieved.
Of course, the most powerful concept underlying all of this stuff has been the ideal of “community.” We now face (have the opportunity) for electronic tribes and all that means in breaking former bounds of space and circumstance. Truly, the prospect of finding effective means for the identification, assembly, consensus-building, and sharing within meaningful communities is breathtaking.
Listing of Social Bookmarking Services
To get a handle on the state of the art, I began assembling a list of social bookmark and closely related services from various sources. I’ve found about 40 of them, which may mean there are on order of 50 or so extant. The icons and links below show these 40 or so sites, with a bit of explanation on each:
— 43Things — this site is geared for individuals to share activity lists, ambitions or “thngs to do” with one another.
— Backflip — this is a bookmark recollection and personal search space and directory. It has received a top 100 site from PC Magazine.
— blinkbits — this is a social bookmarking site that has about 16,000 “blinks” or topic folders.
— BlinkList –this site also allows bookmarks to be filtered by friends and collaborators.
— Bloglines — beyond a simple social bookmark service, this site more importantly provides an RSS feeder and aggregator; owned by Ask Jeeves.
— Blogmarks — there is not much background info on this site; it is a somewhat better designed but offers typical social bookmarks services.
CiteULike — this site is geared toward academics and the sharing of paper references and links. Many references are to subscription papers. Generally, all submissions have an edited abstract and pretty accruate tags provided.
— Connotea — while the functionality of this site is fairly standard for social bookmarking and activity is lower than some other sites, Connotea has a specific emphasis on technical, research, and academic topics that may make it more attractive to that audience.
— del.icio.us — this site is the granddaddy of social bookmark services, plus tagging support, plus is the first to use a very innovative URL. Amongst all the sites herein, this one probably has the greatest activity and number of listings.
— Digg — the Digg service is similar to others on this listing by providing social bookmarking, voting and popularity, and user control of listings, etc. It has received some buzz in the blog community.
— Fark — while this site has aspects of social bookmarking, it is definiitely more inclined to be edgy and current.
— Findory — geared toward news and blogs aggregation.
— Flickr — the largest and best known of the photo sharing and bookmarking sites; owned by Yahoo.
— Furl — this site, part of LookSmart, has what you would expect from a bucks-backed site, but seems pretty vanilla with respect to social bookmarking capabilities.
Hyperlinkomatic — a beta service from the UK that has ceased accepting new users.
Jots — a small, and not notably distinguised, social bookmark site.
— Kinja — this is a blog bookmarking and aggregation service.
Lookmarks –this is a social bookmarking service with tags, sharing, search and popular lists, with images and music/video sharing as well.
— Ma.gnolia –this service is a fairly standard social bookmarking site.
Maple –this is a fairly standard social bookmarking service, small with about 5,500 users, that uses Ruby on Rails.
— Netvouz — this service is a fairly standard social bookmarking service that also provides tags.
Oyax — this is another fairly standard online bookmarks manager.
RawSugar –this site has most of the standard social bookmarking features, but differentiates by adding various user-defined directory structures.
— Reddit — the site has recently gotten some buzz due to a voting feature that moves topic rankings up or down based on user feedback; other aspects of the site are fairly vanilla.
Rojo — this is a very broad RSS feed reader with hundreds of sources, to which you may add your own. It allows you to organize feeds by tags, share your feeds via an address book, and tracks and ranks what you view most often. This site has been getting quite a bit of buzz.
–Scuttle — this is a fairly standard social bookmarking site with low traffic.
— Shadows — this social bookmark site is attractively designed and adds a different wrinkle by letting any given topic or document to have its own community discussion page.
Shoutwire — this site adds community feedback and collaboration to a “standard” RSS news feeder and aggregator.
— Smarking — this site is a fairly standard social bookmarking site.
— Spurl — this site is a fairly standard social bookmarking site.
— Squidoo — this site is different from other social bookmarking services in that it lets you create a page on your topic of choice (called a lens) where you add links, text, pictures and other pieces of content. Each lens is tagged.
Start — an experimental Microsoft personalized home page service, powered by Ajax; capabilities and direction are still unclear.
— TailRank — this site allows about 50,000 blogs to be monitored in a fairly standard social bookmarking manner.
— Unalog — this is a fairly standard social bookmarking site.
— Wists — this is a social bookmarking site geared to sharing shopping links and sites.
— Yahoo’s MyWeb — this is the personalized entry portal for Yahoo! including bookmarking and many specialty feeds and customization.
Zurpy — this social bookmark service is in pre-launch phase.
In testing out and assembling this list, however, I do have some general observations:
- Most sites are repeats or knock-offs of the original del.icio.us. While some offer prettier presentation and images, functionality is pretty identical. These are what I refer to as the “fairly vanilla” or standard sites above
- Systems that combine bookmarking with tagging and directory presentations seem most useful (at least to me) for the long haul. Also of interest are those sites that focus on narrower and more technical communities (e.g., Connotea, CiteULike).
- Virtually all sites had poor search capabilities, particularly in advanced search or operator support, and were not taking full advantage of the tagging structure in their listings
- Development of directory and hierarchical structures is generally poor, with little useful depth or specificity. This may improve as use grows, as it has in Wikipedia, but limits real expert use at present, and
- Thus, paradoxically, while the sites and services themselves in their current implementation are very helpful for initial discovery, they are of little or no use for expert discovery or knowledge discovery.
I suspect most of these limitations will be overcome over time, and perhaps very shortly at that. Technology certainly does not appear to be the limiting factor, but rather the needs for scales of use and the network effect.
Can We Get to Web 2.0 by Adding Multiple 0.05s?
Another paradox is that while these sites help promote the concept of community, they seem to work to actually fragment communities. There’s much competition at present for many of the same people trying to do the same social things and collaboration. One way to look at 40 sites trying to achieve Web 2.0 is that each site only contributes Web 0.05.
Specific iinnovative communities on the Web such as biologists, physicists, librarians and the like will be some of the most successful for leveraging these technologies for community growth and sharing. In other communities, certainly competition will winnow out only a few survivors.
The older, centrally imposed means for communities to determine “authoritativeness” — be it peer review, library purchasing decisions, societal recognition or reputation, publisher selection decisions, citation indexes, etc. — do not easily apply to the distributed, chaotic Internet. What others in your community find of value, and thus choose to bookmark and share, is one promising mechanism to bring some semblance of authoritativeness to the medium. Of course, for this truly to work, there must be trust and respect within the communities themselves.
I think we should see within the foreseeable future a standard set of functionalities — submitting, ranking, organizing, searching, commentating, collaborating, annotating, exporting, importing, and self-policing — that will allow these community sites to become go-to “infohubs” for their users. These early social bookmarking services look to be the nucleates that will condense stronger and diverse communities of interest on the Web. Let the maturation begin.