Notes and Tips for Better Social Bookmarking

For those of you still hiding your bookmarks within the dark confines of your browser’s “favorites” menu, may I suggest stepping into the “here and now” with a fresh new approach: social bookmarking. Hopefully, most of my readers are already familiar with the many wonders of managing and sharing your bookmarks online, but for those who may still be questioning the whole idea, allow me to expound briefly on several of the immediate benefits:

Universal access to your bookmarked sites
Forget about time-wasting browser extensions that fumble to synchronize your business; manage your collection online at a great site such as del.icio.us and enjoy quick access to a definitive set of bookmarks from virtually anywhere in the world.
Better organization of your bookmarks
Drop the resource-hogging browser extensions that supposedly enhance the organizational efficiency of your collection; many social bookmarking sites employ user-defined tagging architecture to provide unlimited flexibility for organizing your bookmarks.
Don’t be tight with your bookmarks
Sharing information is the wave of the future! Help others locate the information they need by sharing your favorite sites with others. Social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us provide a simple way to keep select sites private, so get over yourself and get sharing!
One-click backups of your entire collection
Last but not least is the drop-dead simple method that most social-bookmarking sites provide for backing up or exporting your entire bookmark collection. For example, with a single click, del.icio.us exports your entire collection via a nice little html file. Fresh. Delivered.

Ahh.. so much better. If you still don’t believe me, then just stop reading here and go home. However, if you are totally feeling the whole social bookmarking movement, then read on, my friend — I have a few sweet little tips that I would like to share with you..

Getting Serious

My bookmark-migration story goes something like this:

Accumulated a hellish labyrinth of old-school browser bookmarks
Folders within folders.. it would take five minutes to unearth some of the most deeply nested sites. As the maze bacame more chaotic, I began seeking an alternative method..
Read up on del.icio.us and decided to register
What the heck, right? Everyone else was doing it, and even though I didn’t really understand the site’s potential at the time, I added a few stragglers to start my collection, added a bunch of crazy tags, and then just kind of lost interest.. apparently I was still too attached to the “dinosaur” method of archiving bookmarks offline..
Eventually got serious about being able to access my bookmarks from anywhere
This is the catalyst that sparked the full migration. As my online empire continued to evolve, I realized that I needed a reliable, consistent, no-hassle way to quickly find and access sites from virtually anywhere. I fiddled around with a few of the god-awful bookmark-synchronizing extensions, and even tried using the WordPress Blogroll for online bookmark management, but quickly decided to rethink my strategy.. and then, as if someone had suddenly switched on the lights, I realized that maintaining my bookmark collection at del.icio.us was indeed the perfect solution..
Transferred my entire bookmark collection to del.icio.us
Once I had made the dec.isio.on, it was all or nothing — I became obsessed and moved every bookmark that I could find. I didn’t want a single trace of offline bookmarks tainting my newfound online-bookmarking purity. After finally transferring my entire offline browser collection, I dug through my archives, blogrolls, and everywhere else I could think of, importing everything into del.icio.us.

So there I was, with my entire bookmark collection available online, and it was a mess. The previously designated tags with which I had riddled my account were now complicating things immensely. Even worse, during the migration, I sporadically added even more esoterically unique yet practically useless tags and bundles. If I remember correctly, I think I had preceded every tag with a plus-underscore (+_) or something bizarre like that. The entire tagging system caught me off-guard — I would tag some links with ten or more tags, and create categories almost at random, with absolutely no realistic or useful system whatsoever..

Getting Organized

Finally, I had had enough. It was time to get serious about this entire affair and organize my collection of 700+ bookmarks in a consistent and logical manner. Although it def.inite.ly took some time to accomplish, I eventually began making process and finally arrived at a simple, scalable, useful system for organizing my ever-expanding collection of online bookmarks. Fortunately, I managed to learn a few things along the way. Perhaps a few of these tips will help others improve their own social-bookmarking collection..

  1. Limit the number of tags used to describe each bookmark. I try to use only one tag per link. This is a minimalistic approach that reduces redundancy and eliminates complexity. Simple is better ;)
  2. Create meaningful tags. If you have a smaller number of bookmarks, use only a few, broadly defined tags. Likewise, if you are growing a large collection, use a greater number of more-specific tags. Either way, choose tags that are meaningful to you (and others) so that adding and tagging new sites is as easy as possible.
  3. Limit the number of tags included in each tag “bundle.” Again, I assign each tag to one bundle only. Extreme simplicity is the name of the game.
  4. Create meaningful bundles. Essentially, bundles serve as summaries of the links which are contained therein. For example, I bundle all blogging-related tags in a bundle named “blogging.” Of course, as your collection becomes more diverse, the specificity and number of your bundles should increase.

Switching to an online, social-bookmarking method of organizing your collection requires a change in the way you think about organizing content. Storing bookmarks offline in a browser, for example, utilizes an archive of increasingly nested folders to organize content. Offline, the organization of bookmarks may involve any number of “subcategories” in order to classify specific types of links. For example, here is a typical series of “paths” used to bookmark links offline:

favorites/food/fruit/apples/delicious/link
favorites/computers/peripherals/scanners/epson/link
favorites/travel/locations/countries/cities/newyork/attractions/link

On the other hand, when classifying links at online bookmarking sites such as del.icio.us, links may be classified (tagged) across many categories and then included (bundled) in many categories. This creates a “flat” directory structure that is at most two levels deep: /bundle/tag/link. Organizing your links using such a system requires proactive categorization, as opposed to reactive categorization. Traditional (offline) bookmarking involves adding new subcategories to incorporate new links. Conversely, social bookmarking (tagging) requires proactive organization, as the luxury of infinitely nested subcategories simply does not exist. Thus, the trick to organizing your links online involves balancing the specificity of tags with the inclusiveness of bundles.

As a general rule of thumb, scale your specificity to match the current or anticipated number of bookmarks. For example, if you are bookmarking fifty sites, one for the capitol of each state, you might tag each site with the name of the state (or “state:capitol”) and then bundle the collection as “states” or “state-capitals”. On the other hand, if you are planning to bookmark a thousand sites, one for each of your favorite songs, you would tag each site with the name of the song (or “author:song”), and then bundle songs according to their respective composers. Regardless of your approach, remember that the goal is findability: you want to be able to locate sites quickly and easily.

Getting Tough

Okay, I have really gone toooo far with this article. It’s time to get down to brass tacks, as they say. Here are a few more sweet little tips for your organizational adventures in social-bookmarking land.

Get specific. Despite a relatively flat directory structure, a little tag-naming creativity will provide all the specificity you should ever need. For example, using a valid character such as the colon ( : ), it is possible to create such descriptive names as “free:mac:audio:software”, “open-source:linux-based:operating-systems”, and even “my:installed:extensions:firefox”. You get the idea ;)

Be creative. There are many ways to classify links and categorize content. Instead of overly complex tagging schemes, try using creative sequences of valid characters and alphanumeric sequences. For example, wildcards associated with topic names (e.g., *topic) are frequently used to denote collections or lists of content. Likewise, the equal sign ( = ) may be used to equate content with a particular type of resource; for example, “=blog” or “=wiki”. Other examples of creative tagging include:

  • +sweet — for totally sweet sites. The plus sign moves them to the top of the list!
  • +daily — for frequently checked sites or sites that don’t provide feeds, etc.
  • !task — to mark sites that require further attention or action of some sort.
  • !temp — to mark sites that are temporary or that will eventually be deleted.
  • .filetype — to denote a link to particular type of file (i.e., not a web page).
  • *** — use any number of asterisks to rate a particular site or series of sites.
  • in:wikipedia — denotes the location of the original resource.
  • from:ronaldo — denotes the sender of the link.

As you go, remember that developing and maintaining your online link library requires time, practice, and constant pruning. Even so, after enjoying several months of online bookmarking, I can sincerely express my absolute satisfaction with the entire practice. Moreover, now that I have experienced the benefits of social bookmarking, there is no way I would ever return to the dark ages of offline browser favorites. So, if you will please excuse me, I am off to surf my delicious collection of online bookmarks.. ;)