Social Bookmarking: Why it's Such a Great Idea
For most Internet users, standard web browser bookmarking is indispensable. Without it, some form of awkward list-taking of URLs would be necessary in order to keep a record of interesting websites. It didn't take long for browser developers to add such functionality. It arrived in the form of Favorites and Bookmarks. Though these were welcome improvements, they had their shortcomings, which quickly became evident. The most obvious weakness was that over time many users found themselves with an unwieldy number of bookmarks. They urgently needed some method to organize them. Most browsers quickly introduced systems that allowed bookmarks to be grouped in folders. This was a significant enhancement, yet it only partially addressed the problem. It soon became apparent that many users tended to forget that they had folders. There was a very simple reason for this: at any one time, only a few of the folders could be seen on the browser's toolbar, proving the truth of the old saying, "out of sight out of mind."
An unlikely solution addressed all these issues and introduced some very powerful additional functionality. The solution came to be known as Social Bookmarking. Since people who used browsers were almost always online, social bookmarking proposed storing their bookmarks remotely, on a dedicated website. It was not immediately obvious to many people why this was a better solution than storing their bookmarks on their own computer. But it soon became apparent that, at least for most of their bookmarks, it was a very good solution.
Social bookmarking makes sense for several reasons. The most obvious reason is that a user's bookmarks can be accessed not just on the user's own computer, but on any computer that has a Web browser. A less obvious but very important reason that social bookmarking makes sense is that online bookmarks are stored with labels created by the user. These labels consist of words called tags that identify the bookmark's subject or relevance. This is a sophisticated method of classifying websites since it is based on the user’s considered opinion of its contents.
Tags offer huge advantages, especially if the user has a large number of bookmarks. Unlike bookmarks saved on the user's computer, with social bookmarking, the user needn't be concerned about putting them in the most appropriate folders, especially when some bookmark could be equally at home in more than one folder. On a social bookmarking site, there are no such folders. The specific location of the bookmark is of little importance to the user, since it can easily be retrieved by using any one of its tags.
As important as they are, none of those advantages is what sets social bookmarking apart. The most innovative and valuable aspect of social bookmarking is sharing, which is why it's called social bookmarking. Sharing means that, unless users mark them as private, their bookmarks can be found by any other user who searches for bookmarks with the same tags. So, finding the most relevant bookmarks is a communal effort. Each user gains the combined benefits of the filtering work and collective recommendations of a huge number of others. This kind of fine-tuning is a much more subtle and accurate method of finding the most relevant websites than by using a standard web search engine, and for one very good reason. With social bookmarking, humans evaluate each site before deeming it worth bookmarking. This system is bound to produce a list of sites much more relevant than one produced solely by the mathematical algorithm of search engine software.
The idea of bookmarking useful or interesting websites has been around since the early days of Web browsers. Sharing bookmarks on the Web was first mooted about fifteen years ago. The term "Social Bookmarking" is younger. It has been in use for about the last seven years. During those seven years, the concept has grown rapidly. In the past few years, aided partly by the widespread availability of high-speed broadband, its popularity is accelerating.