Monday, June 30, 2008

Del.icio.us: Sharing the Best Web Resources

Some of you may recall that I conducted a grand experiment with the del.icio.us tagging service - http://del.icio.us - about two years ago. I learned a lot from that experiment but ultimately had to abandon it because of some technical problems I ran into. Well, as I have been working on my current crop of Aesop materials, I realized that del.icio.us was the only way I could really manage to keep track of everything, so I've started another del.icio.us experiment, and it is so much fun! Based on the tricks I learned from my previous experiment, it is going great, and I am really excited for how this will help make my Aesop materials more accessible. So, in this post and in the next few posts at this blog, I'll explain how I am using del.icio.us, and perhaps you will see some ways in which it can be useful to you, too.

What is del.icio.us? The del.icio.us service is basically a way to "tag" webpages with keywords that make it possible to index the page. All the people who use del.icio.us add tags to webpages, and then del.icio.us takes that information and compiles it, so that you can get a collective picture of how people are tagging different webpages. The power of del.icio.us derives from the fact that it has thousands and thousands of users, tagging millions of webpages. The tagging information provides a "smart" index of the Internet, as opposed to the brute-force indexing which a search engine like Google provides.

Using the del.icio.us website. You don't have to create a del.icio.us account in order to take advantage of all the work people have done in tagging pages. Anybody can access the del.icio.us website, and see what pages have been tagged with words that are important to you.

For example, here is what you see if you go to the del.icio.us website. There is a list of the webpages that are "hot" (that is, lots of people are adding tags to these pages), and there are also "tags to watch" (the tags that people are focusing on at the moment.


Searching for specific tags. There are actually many ways to search del.icio.us, including a search engine box you will find at the top of each page. What I most like to do, however, is to search for tags by simply typing the URL myself or using the tag box at http://del.icio.us/tag:

For example, I can simply access directly all the pages tagged with "aesop" - and those pages are listed here: http://del.icio.us/tag/aesop


Even better, if I want to search for a combination of two tags, I can just add the other tag with a plus sign, "aesop+latin," for example: http://del.icio.us/tag/aesop+latin


Or let's say you want to make cucumber salad: http://del.icio.us/tag/cucumber+salad


I notice immediately this recipe which has been tagged by 112 other people!

Searching with del.icio.us tags is quite different from just searching with Google for the phrase "cucumber salad," because what comes up on the first page of Google is a mysterious product of Google's page rankings and all kinds of mysterious factors. Fortunately, del.icio.us is still a more recognizably "human" environment - it is not as vast a collection of information such as that managed by Google, but in return for the smaller size, you do get the human touch.

Other people's tags. If I click on the "saved by 112 other people" phrase in that entry for the cucumber salad recipe, I can see who they are, and any notes they have made about the page, in addition to the tags. If something gets my attention, I can click on the user name and see their other saved pages. One comment gets my attention, and when I click on the link to her user profile, I discover all kinds of great recipes which this woman has saved!
http://del.icio.us/genevieve.gill


Isn't that cool? The different tags she has used (see list on right) are categories I can click on, in order to keep exploring the pages she has tagged.

RSS feed. I can even get an RSS subscription so that I will be notified when this user adds a new item. I can even specify that the RSS feed be only for items saved by this user tagged "recipe" (since it is often the case that people tag all kinds of pages based on all the different things they do online). I just go the del.icio.us page for the user genevieve.gill with the tag recipe: http://del.icio.us/genevieve.gill/recipe

To subscribe for updates, just look for the RSS button down at the bottom of the page:

Here is what the RSS feed for "Genevieve Gill/recipe" looks like in Safari; depending on what RSS feed reader you are using, you may see the contents differently.


Web 2.0 and social networking. I hope this has provided a good introduction to the social networking power of del.icio.us, one of the most successful "web2.0" services. I've never met "genevieve gill" but thanks to her saving 35 recipes here with del.icio.us, I may have found a great cucumber salad. It sounds like it might even tempt my salad-averse husband! I'd love to try the peanut soup, too, but I don't think I can get my husband to go along with that one.

In my next posts, I'll explain some of things you can do by creating a del.icio.us account (totally free) and using it to organize and tag the webpages that are important to you in your work life or school life, or just for fun.


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