Delicious imagesJoshua Schachter once sent me an email. At the time, I had no idea who he was – his response had come from a request I’d sent to the del.icio.us ‘support team’. Del.icio.us is a social bookmarking site, I needed some help figuring out how to use it (being new to the concept) and support@del.icio.us seemed a good place to start.
His email was dated 11 October 2005. Not two months later, on 9 December, Joshua announced on his personal blog that Yahoo! had snatched up his fledgling Web 2.0 startup as part of their extreme 2.0 makeover. Nobody is really sure what was paid, but considering the bulk of the rumours estimated the price at USD30 million, give or take ten percent, Joshua did ok.
I’m not sure what it is about del.icio.us. It certainly isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s arguably one of the ugliest darn sites on the web. It might be the name – the name is downright smart, using the .us domain to complete a sublimely catchy Web 2.0-ish lilt. At least I got excited about that. Perhaps it’s all the extensions and plug-ins the del.icio.us community has created to integrate functionality into popular web browsers and blogging platforms. Then again, it might just be that I have found del.icio.us to be the least flashy, most functional, most valuable, most sustainable Web 2.0 application (and information resource) on the internet.
The idea behind del.icio.us couldn’t be simpler. Sign up for a free account, and use the del.icio.us interface to bookmark your favourite web resources (in the form of URL’s) as and when you stumble upon them. Then, in much the same way that you can access web mail anywhere in the world, from any internet-connected terminal, a del.icio.us account would allow you instant access to all your favourites or bookmarks regardless of whether you have access to your local browser. However, if that was all del.icio.us did it would be called a web bookmarking service, not a social bookmarking service. Here’s where it gets good.
Andrew McAfee lectures at the Harvard Business School and often contributes pieces on knowledge management to the MIT Sloan Management Review. Minds like his are hard to come by and knowing that he does much of his reading and research online I’d pay good money to spend an hour with the man, picking his connected brain or even better, subversively slipping his favorites onto a handy flash drive! Not much chance though – short of qualifying for his course, setting up a personal appointment or kidnapping the man, I would be doomed to wonder forever.
Not with del.icio.us in my arsenal. You see, if you traipse to http://del.icio.us/mikestopforth, you’ll understand why it’s called social bookmarking. Del.icio.us lets YOU see all MY bookmarks (yeah, I can mark some private, but how social would that be?). Likewise, I can subscribe (by adding their usernames to my network) to the daily intellectual fountain of the greatest, most cutting-edge minds in the business. All I need know is their del.icio.us username.
Knowing this, I type in ‘http://del.icio.us/andrewmcafee/’. Nothing. Darn. I try ‘http://del.icio.us/amcafee/’. Got it. Just two attempts and I’m in. In only a few keystrokes I step into the mind of the leading thought leaders in my field of expertise. It’s like stepping into his office.
When submitting a del.icio.us bookmark, one has the option of adding freely chosen keywords (or tags) by which all bookmarks in the entire del.icio.us database are then aggregated, indexed and ultimately searched. This semantic, bottom-up, autonomous, user-driven approach to content management is called a folksonomy (as in non-prescriptive taxonomy). And it works. The community regulates and ecalates the best content, which is represented in ‘tag clouds’ on personal accounts and pages like http://del.icio.us/popular.
I glance at Andrew’s tag cloud – one prominent tag stands out: ‘HBS’. What is HBS? Ah – Harvard Business School. A thought – is Andrew tagging content and resources from around the web for MBA classes or projects and directing them to this centralized location?
In much the same way that you can subscribe to a particular user’s stream of bookmarks, you can subscribe to the entire del.icio.us community’s wisdom by adding tags to your del.icio.us ‘inbox’. My subscriptions include tags like ‘web 2.0’ and ‘innovation’, as examples. That way, anytime any del.icio.us user anywhere in the world tags any piece of web information with ‘web 2.0’ or ‘innovation’, I have it delivered to me personally. I rely on the community’s collective wisdom to deliver the best content to me, on my terms, when it matters.
I leave you with two thoughts:
Welcome to the future of knowledge management. One day, when we’re brave enough, corporations will learn to share knowledge and resources this way (which is actually the way we’ve worked best for years).
And two – with websites like del.icio.us, who needs porn?

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