In a previous column, I mentioned several pieces of software and Internet tools that are no cost. One of those has proven to be especially popular here with teachers and students -- the online bookmarking site del.icio.us. In many ways, its the poster child for what is commonly called Web 2.0 -- the social web, the read-write web.
At its most basic level, del.icio.us is simple tool that can be used to store one's bookmarked Web sites online. Accounts are free and one may open as many as one wishes. (Why one may wish to do this is coming up.) That is a major convenience for anyone who uses multiple computers or uses public computers. When I explained this site to a teacher recently, she was excited. Do you mean my students can store their bookmarks there and have access to them even after the computers in the lab are re-imaged?" Yup. Students just add a bookmark to del.icio.us by logging in and then clicking on the link "post" near the top of the main screen and pasting the URL in the provided blank.
There are other very nice features about del.icio.us that make it more than a simple storage area. When a bookmark is added, the user is given the opportunities to add "tags." Tags are descriptive words that identify the subject of the site being bookmarked. The users can use their own terms or del.icio.us will suggest some. And there is no limit to the number of tags one can use for a page. One popular use I make of tags is to give a code tag for Web sites I think might be useful when doing research for a particular article. With a simple click of the mouse, every online article, every blog post, and every Web site is displayed for that article.
One way your tags can be displayed is in a cloud. Topics that have more links are larger and bolder. I am not quite sure why that is useful, but it is rather interesting. My "cloud" is below.
Since del.icio.us doesn't restrict the number of accounts that can be created, not only can individual students have accounts, but accounts can be created for workgroups or entire classes with each student in the group having the password to the account so he or she can add bookmarks. Useful!
But Web 2.0 is about sharing as well. When one adds a bookmark to the del.icio.us page, one chooses also whether to make the bookmark public or private. That way, people with like interests can search on key tags or topics to find what others have bookmarked. No matter how esoteric your subject, there are always at least a few others who share your weirdness. Sort of nice to know. Here is my account: http://del.icio.us/doug0077.
Finally, you can subscribe to a tag. When someone else posts a bookmark with your topic, you are notified of the new entry on your subscriptions page. del.icio.us also contains an RSS feed. You can add your del.icio.us subscriptions page to your RSS aggregator (Bloglines, Google Reader). I keep track of issues like cyberbullying that way.
There are a dozen or so Web sites that more or less function like del.icio.us. If you want to find some others and try them out, google del.icio.us and click on the "Similar pages" link following the first search result. Furl is popular because it stores not just the URL for the site, but the site content itself. If a webpage is removed from its original site, the user still has a copy for reference.
Like most technology applications, I feel I use about 10 percent of del.icio.us's capacity. But even at its most basic level, this is an easy and useful tool to use. And it puts even the most Web 2.0 nervous among us on the path to social computing. Give it a try.
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