Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Delicious questions I can sink my teeth into

My current course is covering tagging this week. As such, I posted this blog's prior del.icio.us primer to my class forum. There were two responses that offer interesting concerns about usefulness and safety of del.icio.us.

Value of del.icio.us
From S.C.:
I used to be a information junkie and file folder fanatic, the literal sort, collecting information in case I ever needed it. But then I realized that I was a collector and not a user, so I threw away my files and downsized my cabinet ... all except my favorite ten. So this phenomenon really intrigues me and would love to know how the info that is tagged gets used, as opposed to collected.

My response:

First, I agree that a lot of people tag things on del.icio.us that they will in all likelihood never retrieve again. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have value.

For one, conventional tree-system bookmarking via your browser gets limited very fast, particularly if you have a lot of bookmarks, bookmarks hard to classify, or, like me, you think more in terms of keywords rather than rigid classification structures. Even if you only return to very few of your bookmarks, knowing you can find them again fairly easy is worth the effort. Of course, if you're fairly good at googling you can retrieve things that way - but sometimes I forget everything about a bookmark, except a vague sense of the topic, so keyword tagging is great for that. Also, del.icio.us gives you a search engine for your bookmarks, which no browser has.

Second, when you bookmark via del.icio.us you automatically share your bookmarks with the rest of the wired world. You can opt out of each individual tag by clicking the "do not share" option, but that defeats a lot of the value of it, which is social bookmarking. You contribute to the classification of scattered, overly-abundant online information when you tag on del.icio.us. So others can benefit from your findings and one day computers will be able to read these tags effectively and then we'll have a search engine that will probably beat Google for its accuracy.

You can do other things with your tags too. My favourite is sharing a specific tag automatically on my blog. So I get a Reuters-type feed of Internet news on my blog automatically by reading the news (as I normally do) and tagging them. A friend set up a del.icio.us account for all research by their communication team, so that they can all share their findings.

So there's lots of uses for del.icio.us even if you don't retrieve your bookmarks very often.

Privacy concerns
From S.T.:
When I show (and show off!) my del.icio.us site to my co-workers, the first question that comes back at me is 'what about security and privacy?

My response:

Security concerns would be along the lines of can someone hack into your account and if you have a good, long alphanumeric password then I wouldn't worry any more than I would when registering with any online service.

Privacy is a more complicated concern. When you bookmark on del.icio.us or many other similar sites , you are by default (which can be changed), making all your bookmarks available to the public. Furthermore, search engines index your bookmarks page and this will bring more exposure to your bookmarking.

So if you do not want all your bookmarking public,ere are some tips:

  1. When bookmarking/tagging in del.icio.us, you can always click the "do not share" button for any or all your bookmarks and it is private. You lose some of the benefits of social bookmarking, but then you do get better privacy and can still use the service for your own bookmark organizing.
  2. If you still want to participate in social bookmarking but are a bit concerned, don't chose a username that can be identified with you.
  3. Choose to make any bookmarks that can be identified with you or your life (eg. your hometown website, your portfolio, the company you work for, etc) as "do not share".
  4. Under account settings "edit profile", indicate that you don't want your name or a url used.
  5. If you don't want to others to see those in your network - you can choose to have that not display. This is also done in account settings under "network privacy".
I don't want to scare any one off as I have never had any problems with del.icio.us and I am as open as possible on it. But I wanted people to know about the privacy options as they are important considerations.

To close, I'll include a quotation from a classmate on my del.icio.us knowledge that was cyber-candy to me:
Your knowledge of del.icio.us is astounding! I am learning so much, thanks! You could be a tagging consultant, make oodles, retire at 40 and live in the Caymans!
I intend to start a custom tag, "Tagging_to_Caymans" and put all the ways I can make money from this trivia.

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