VolunteerToday.com ~~ The Electronic Gazette for Volunteerism
| TECH TIPS
with Scott Merrill
Bookmarks Are Delicious
Many of you have easy access to an internet-connected computer during most of your day. A computer at home, a computer at work, or a library with public terminals, or an internet cafe. Keeping your data synchronized between all these seperate computers can be real work. I can't count the number of times I've found a useful website, bookmarked it in my web browser, and then cursed loudly when I needed to find that site again while using a different computer. I've tried everything from emailing links to myself; to writing them down in my PDA; to jotting them down on pieces of paper. No matter how hard I try, maintaining a centralized list of my bookmarks has been an unsolved problem.
Enter del.icio.us, the social bookmark service. At its heart, del.icio.us is an online bookmark management service. This means that you can add an item to your list of del.icio.us bookmarks while browsing at home, and have access to it from any other computer in the world. That by itself is a convenient service, but del.icio.us does three other things that combine to make it a great service:
You can assign tags to each of your del.icio.us bookmarks. Tags are a non-hierarchical, free-form way to classify your bookmarks. The list of bookmarks in your web browser are structured in a rigid hierarchy: a bookmark belongs to exactly one category. If you want to bookmark a site that would fit into two of your browser's bookmark categories, you either stick it in just one category and try to remember that, or you make two copies of the bookmark, one in each category. Tags overcome this by allowing you to assign any number of tags to your bookmarks.
For example, if I were to bookmark VolunteerToday, I'd apply the tags volunteer and nonprofit. Tags create ad-hoc categories, allowing me to see at a glance all the bookmarks I've tagged with volunteer or nonprofit. I could bookmark this article on VolunteerToday and assign it the tags volunteer, nonprofit, delicious, Merrill -- and anything else I felt was appropriate.
Tags are single words only, with no spaces. If you want to bookmark a site about volunteer management, for example, you could either use two tags (volunteer, management) or use hyphens or underscores (volunteer-management and volunteer_management); or remove the space and construct a new word (volunteermanagement). Tags need not be real words -- you could tag something xyz123, if you felt like it!
del.icio.us is a social bookmark service: anyone can browse your bookmarks, and you can browse anyone else's bookmarks (so don't use this to bookmark private information!). Tags are likewise available to all, which can be a tremendous way to find new and useful sites. For exmaple, the volunteer tag (http://del.icio.us/tag/volunteer) currently displays links to voluntary service organizations, and is probably an overly broad tag. volunteering (http://del.icio.us/tag/volunteering) is a slightly more narrow tag, and lists additional volunteering opportunities. volunteer-management (http://del.icio.us/tag/volunteer-management), a more specific tag, is currently empty, and waiting to be filled with links about volunteer management.
Browsing del.icio.us tags is easy: just type the tag you want into the URL: http://del.icio.us/tag/volunteer-management. Searching del.icio.us tags for a term like volunteering is a very different way to find information than using a search engine like Google. In the latter, an automated computer program uses your search terms to find pages containing those terms. So searching Google for "volunteer" will produce a huge list of pages that contain that word. Searching del.icio.us tags for "volunteer", on the other hand, will produce a list of websites that real human beings have tagged with "volunteer". A page might not contain the word "volunteer" in it, but still get tagged if it were appropriate to that tag.
When looking at the list of sites belonging to a tag, del.icio.us will also tell you how many times each site has been bookmarked. If you see a site in the volunteer tag that has been bookmarked a lot, this might suggest that it's a more valuable link for you to pursue (assuming you haven't yet bookmarked it; if you have you can pat yourself on the back for being ahead of the crowd). del.icio.us also tries to connect you with related information: along the right side of the screen is a list of related tags. There are (currently) no related tags for volunteer, but the food tag has quite a few related tags: cooking, recipes, tips, etc. This can be a great way to find subtly related information in a way that traditional search engines often have a hard time facilitating.
You can access del.icio.us with a web browser, when you want to manually look for items. But you can also use an RSS aggregator to subscribe to lists of tags that will be automatically delivered to you whenever a new item is added with that tag. Rather than visit del.icio.us every couple of days (or hours!) to see who else has added websites tagged with "volunteer-management", you can add the RSS link for that tag to your aggregator. Then whenever your aggregator updates (usually every 20 or 30 minutes), any new sites tagged "volunteer-management" will automatically be delivered to you!
You can also subscribe to any registered del.icio.us user's list of bookmarks, to always see what they've been bookmarking; and anyone can subscribe to your list of bookmarks. In an ideal world this feature alone would substantially reduce the number of "Check this out!" email messages that get bounced around.Friends and associates can see what has been bookmarked (and what tags have been assigned to the link) all through an RSS feed. This feature can also be a great way for people collaborating on research efforts to coordinate their work. Whether you use two computers or dozens, del.icio.us provides a convenient, portable way to organize bookmarks. Tags make it easy to organize bookmarks in the way that makes the most sense to you. The social networking aspects makes it easy to share bookmarks with others. All of these combined make it easy for you to use del.icio.us to quickly and easily find new information.
Scott Merrill is an information technology professional with demonstrated success in a variety of diverse environments, including healthcare, for-profit, and non-profit. He has participated in large-scale deployments for national and international corporations, and has successfully managed the introduction of a complete technology solution for a mid-sized nonprofit mental health facility. Scott lives in lovely Columbus, Ohio with his wife and twin daughters. He occasionally blogs his thoughts at http://skippy.net. You may reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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