Monday, January 02, 2006

Academic & Social Bookmarking--Sloping to Web 2.0

In the last year social bookmarking, one of the distinguishing features of Web 2.0, has really taken off. Although exemplified by del.icio.us and flickr, other websites are beginning to fill niches. The key to the success of social bookmarking is the simple art of tagging. Tagging is a form of metadata; it is a way of giving multiple personalities to websites you consider of interest. Suppose you are interested in coffee, as I am. I am looking for an espresso machine, preferably automatic. I do my research through the web and I come up with a number of sites that review machines, recommend different types of coffee, provide tutorials on the best way to steam milk, and most importantly give me the cheapest sources for coffee machines. I then post these sites to del.icio.us and tag them with a set of keywords, such as, "coffee, espresso, coffee machines, etc". Anyone who then searches for coffee or espresso will find my tags and therefore my websites as part of their search. It means your web searches are more focussed and are assisted by others with similar interests, hence the social aspect.

Fortunately, academics--impelled by the push towards open access publishing--have created their own form of social (or academic) bookmarking. Two websites are worthy of mention: CiteULike and Connotea. As you browse the web, gliding through JSTOR, SSRN and SOSIG and others, you encounter papers and articles you want to refer to, let others know about, download later, and so on. As with del.icio.us, you post the papers to CiteULike or Connotea, you tag them with your keywords, and so you begin to create an online bibliography that not only serves your purposes in obtaining papers, in creating bibliographies, but also to alert colleagues as to those papers you consider important. You can actually pool resources. If you are collaborating, it would help prevent you and your co-authors from duplicating sources. Suppose you have a colleague who is lazy about recording citations--I've had one or two and it's a pain--if they get into the habit of posting their finds, the problem is solved. And since it only requires a couple of mouse clicks, it's simple and easy for them to do. They don't have to worry about remembering to note the citation. Essentially collaborating moves from a set of individuals who occasionally interact in order to sort out inconsistencies towards a set who continuously affect each other's moves in indirect ways. It's subtle, it doesn't cajole, it hints, it suggests, it leads by example.

It's clear from what is happening in the blogosphere, the UK has a long way to go before it catches on. In the sciences it is happening with greater rapidity, but then scientists have resorted to the web as a mode of communication long before other academics. Indeed, they are behind the push to open access publishing. But others...well. Legal academics in the US are active bloggers. In the UK, frankly I don't know.

So will social and academic bookmarking and blogging catch on in the UK. I hope so, but it will take time. The shift in cultural attitudes required will be big. Let's hope we get there.
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