Shall We Bookmark? July 11, 2009Posted by farshidk in Social media.
Tags: bookmarking, social bookmarking, Social media, social networking, tagging, web20
So I am reading an article on ZDNet.com and on top of the article I come across a set of icons. See the image below. A couple of them are obvious. I can print the article or email it to someone. A more interesting one is the little rectangle with up/down thumbs along with a few numbers. This enables me to rate the article by giving it a thumbs up or down, which provides a metric on its worthiness. As you can see, this particular article has 71 votes with an overall score of +45.
The curious item in the set is the “share” icon which expands to many other items as shown above. A few are familiar household names such as Google, Yahoo! and Facebook. While others such as Digg (www.digg.com), Delicious (www.delicious.com), StumbleUpon (www.stumbleupon.com), Reddit (www.reddit.com) and Technorati (www.technorati.com) are lesser known.
Most news and media sites nowadays provide a few of these next to any article or news item. For example, The Wall Street Journal (www.wsj.com) lists Mixx (www.mixx.com) and NewsVine (www.newsvine.com) among others. While AIIM (www.aiim.org) includes Xanga (www.xanga.com), FriendFeed (www.friendfeed.com) and Propeller (www.propeller.com) in addition to the more common ones. So what exactly are these? What are they good for? And how do we use them?
A Bit of History and Lessons Learned
Back in 2005 a friend one day said that she had an idea for a new business: a web site for storing bookmarks on the internet. I smiled and said that it would be useful but I didn’t think that it was enough to sustain a business. I argued that a company like Yahoo! could easily add that feature. Secondly, it was technically very easy, so anyone could do it. It would be hard to build sustainable competitive advantage around it. More importantly I didn’t see how anyone could make money with it. Well, I had certain valid points. For one, Yahoo! did its own bookmarking site called Yahoo! Buzz. But I was wrong overall.
After the painful lessons of 2000-2001 in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was of the belief that a simple idea with no revenue potential cannot be a successful business, regardless of the hype and a catchy domain name. But the reality is that the web doesn’t follow the traditional business model. And the advent of the social web in the early to mid 2000s has once again redefined the norm, scale and the possibilities of what an internet-based business can be.
The power and success of a social networking site is not measured based on its revenue, which may be zero! It’s rather based on the size of its network. For an idea to become a successful internet-based business, you don’t need to build a space rocket. And you don’t necessarily need to make money with it. Youtube, Facebook and Twitter are good examples that support my point.
Social Bookmarking Sites
Today social bookmarking is a major topic in the Web 2.0 world, and there are over 20 social bookmarking sites with millions of users and 100s of millions of bookmarks. You can see the list of top 20 of them at: http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/social-bookmarking. These sites allow a registered user to bookmark a page; that is store a URL along with some additional information on the internet. But there is actually more to them than just that. So let’s look at this topic in more detail.
Problem with Browser-based Bookmarks
So why is this any better than just bookmarking a page on your browser; e.g. “favorites” in Internet Explorer (IE) or “bookmarks” in Firefox? The primary problem with this is that a browser based bookmark resides on the laptop or computer that you are using, where the browser is installed. So your stored bookmarks are in a physical file sitting on your computer file system. Now if I want to access my bookmarks from another computer, you are out of luck. The other drawback to browser based bookmarks is managing them and finding what you are looking for. In IE we can create bookmark folders and categorize them into these static folders. But then there may be links that we want to put in multiple folders, which cannot be done well. So as the number of bookmarks increase, their management becomes a serious problem. Firefox provides the means for tagging a bookmark which is a better approach than IE’s. This is also the approach used by some of the social networking sites.
Tagging in Social Bookmarking
Social bookmarking sites solve the bookmark management problem via tagging. When you bookmark a URL you define a set of tags along with it. You can define as many tags as you like. These tags can be anything that you want but many of these sites will actually make suggestions when tagging. You can define as many tags as you like. These tags define virtual folders that can be navigated later on. But since tagging is just a word association, a bookmark may belong to several of these virtual folders (each being a tag). When looking for a particular bookmark you can simply navigate your tags to quickly what you are looking for. Obviously good tagging practices becomes important here. If a bookmark is not properly tagged then it may be difficult to find it among a large number of bookmarks. These sites may also provide a tag cloud to help you navigate your bookmarks easily. In addition to tags, these sites may also allow you to define additional attributes such as description and comments for the bookmark.
On the Social in Social Bookmarking
More important than tagging in social bookmarking sites, is the social aspect to these sites. Just like other Web 2.0 wiki like sites, these are social, collaborative and networking sites where you can share information (profile, tags and bookmarks) with other users on the site. You can rate someone else’s bookmarks and comment on them.
Many of these sites such as Delicious and Digg enable you to have a network by linking with other users and exchange messages with them. For example on Delicious every user has an inbox so that one can send a bookmark to another user or receive bookmarks. On Delicious I can also subscribe to tags so that if a bookmark with that tag is added I will be notified about it. Of course not all bookmarks need to be public. On Delicious I have the choice of making a bookmark private, a useful feature that is not offered by all other sites.
One of the interesting benefits of the social aspect of these sites is that at any given time you can see the hottest and most popular items because of the number of times it has been bookmarked, buzzed, digged, the ratings (like/dislike or thumbs up/down) and number of comments that a URL receives, are different metrics for how popular or important an item may be. So usually the home pages of these sites that are accessible by all without registering, make interesting sites to visit on a regular bases for the latest most popular and most interesting stories and news on the internet.
URL Sharing vs. Social Bookmarking
Though all of these so-called social bookmarking sites deal with storing and sharing URLs, there are key differences. Among the names that I have mentioned here there are at least two distinct types:
- Post and Share a URL: Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are not really bookmarking sites. You simply post a link to them so that the people in your network can see it. For example in Facebook you send a link to specific people via a message or you share it by posting it to your “wall”. The same is true with Twitter. Many people use Twitter to share news (in the form of shortened URLs) with their followers. But note that these sites do not maintain a categorized URL repository. Depending on how active you are, before long the link that you post on Facebook or Twitter will be burried under more recent updates. It is not really practical to refer to that link later on (though you can do it as all past updates are maintained by these sites).
- Bookmark, share, categorize and rank a URL: These are the actual social bookmarking sites where you post a URL and possibly classify and categorize it by defining your own tags (such as Delicious, Digg, and Google), or putting it in a pre-defined categoy (such as Reddit and StumbleUpon). These sites rank the URLs based on how many times a URL is bookmarked, favored, and commented on. When you go to these sites you can see the top bookmarks in various categories. Within these sites, there are some that are for link sharing with your network (e.g. Reddit, Yahoo! Buzz) while others such as Delicious and Google Bookmarks (www.google.com/bookmarks) are for saving your own bookmarks (which may be private) so you can refer to them later on.
Which Ones to Use?
The two sites that I personally use most often are Delicious and Digg. I specially like Delicious since it has flexible personalized tagging mechanism. I can define whatever tags I want in addition to the ones that Delicious suggests when bookmarking. It is more of a bookmarking site since it also allows private bookmarks. It also provides convenient plug-ins for various browsers that make it easy to bookmark a page along with tags, and then easily access your bookmarks from its Sidebar, just as if they are the browser bookmarks.
StumbleUpon is another very popular social bookmarking site with close to 8 million users as of this writing. Like Delicious it also provides its own browser toolbar. It has pre-defined categories (e.g. photos, videos, business) that you can specify as the topics of interest. You may either save a URL as a favorite or you can write a review for it. You can also blog right within this site. Similar to other sites you have a network of friends or subscribers.
Reddit is another popular social bookmarking site. It provides a way for ranking and sharing URLs. It has a set of pre-defined categories called “reddits” such as pics, politics, funny, and technology, which are essentially general tags. You can also define your own public or private reddit. On any bookmark on the site you can rate it (like or dislike) save it as your own, or comment on it.
If you don’t have a favorite one yet, you might want to try out a few. I believe different ones may appeal to different people. However I must say that I find some of them confusing and not as useful, intuitive and practical as others.
Hashtags in Twitter World June 29, 2009Posted by farshidk in Social media.
Tags: hashtag, tagging, twitter, web20
I briefly mentioned hashtags in my previous post as a special application of tagging in Twitter (www.twitter.com) and numerous other Twitter-related sites. In this write-up I cover hashtags in more detail.
Hashtags are special tags defined as #<tag> that one can use as part of a 140 character string to define a topic for a tweet. Content-oriented people may think of a hashtag as a virtual “folder”, while journalists may think of it as a “channel” that one can tune to or listen in on. So I may tag a tweet with #BPM (for a business process management related tweet) or #job for a tweet on a job opening, or both for a job opening in BPM. Note that hashtags are not case-sensitive and can appear anywhere in the tweet. As a specific example, I used the following tweet to announce my previous blog post on metadata and tagging. Note the use of numerous tags (5 of them) along with a shortened link to the post in the tweet:
You seldom will see a tweet with so many hashtags. In fact most people do not regularly utilize hashtags. For one thing it takes time to look up the right hashtags. But for your tweets to have context and reach the right audience it is best that you tag them with the appropriate hashtags.
There are some unusual but popular hashtags that any Twitter user should know about. Here are a few of these:
- #FollowFriday or #ff: Used on Fridays to suggest people to follow to your followers and to whoever is tuned in to #followfriday. For example, the tweet “#followfriday @BarackObama” suggests following President Obama, who happens to be very popular with about 1.6 million followers as of the time of this writing.
- #MusicMonday: Monday is music day on Twitter. Used on Mondays to suggest music to your audience.
- #fb: This one is a special tag in the sense that if used at the end of a tweet, it performs a programmatic update to your Facebook account status, if you have installed Selective Twitter Update application on your Facebook account.
Hashtag Directories and Dictionaries
So how do I know what to tag my tweets with, if any? Where can I look them up? How does one define new hashtags? Let’s answer these questions. There are several hashtag sites that provide you with hashtag directories and dictionaries, where you can look up tags and find the relevant ones you need, add a definition to an existing tag, or even define a new tag, look at trends and see the recent tweets on a hashtag.
Below are a few useful hashtag related sites:
- www.hashtags.org includes a hashtag directory. It also tracks the hottest and newest hashtags, usage report on any hashtag and more. For example as I am writing this, #IranElection that people use to share information about the uprising and unrest in Iran following the election fraud, is one of the top tags being used. This site however does not provide definitions of hashtags.
- www.tagalus.org or www.tagal.us is a wiki-based hashtag dictionary. You can look up the definition of a hashtag, and if a definition for a tag is not provided you can actually add a definition for it. You can also define a brand new hashtag and add it to the dictionary. Sometimes people make up a hashtag as they tweet even though it may not be defined. For example while many tweet with #BPM, it didn’t exist in Tagalus till today. I just created it.
- www.tagdef.com is another wiki similar to Tagalus that provides hashtag definitions. However since these are wikis and evolve collaboratively without the control of a central authority, they tend to be incomplete. #BPM happened to be defined in this dictionary, while there are many other tags that are not defined here.
While many hashtags have obvious meaning as they are spelled out, many others are acronyms and shorts for stuff that is not easy to understand and decipher. For example I just noticed that #mw2 is one of the hot trends right now. I had no idea what that was but according to tagalus.com it stands for Modern Warfare 2, a popular video game. Another hot hashtag these days is #gr88 that often appears alongside #IranElection though its meaning is far less obvious. It turns out that it stands for Green Revolution 1388, the current year in the Persian calendar.
Note that you can make up your hashtags as you tweet. The system does not check for spelling, nor does it verify it against a directory. But if you want a bigger audience for your tweets, you should use well-defined hashtags. If you want to use a seemingly new hashtag, it is best to first check the directories for it and its related hashtags. If it is not there, then it is a good idea to define and add it to Tagalus (and tagdef.com) first before using it.
I will be covering more topics on and about Twitter in future posts.
Metadata and Tagging June 18, 2009Posted by farshidk in Web 2.0.
Tags: metadata, tagging, web20
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Metadata or data about data has been an important topic in software and the web all along. In the old days we used metadata on a HTML page source to increase its searchability. That is by adding metadata or tags to a page we would tell the search engines what the page is about so that if someone searched for one of the tags, they would return the page in their search result. So a page on a given product or service (e.g. camera) could contain a list of relevant terms (e.g. photography). This is still relevant even in HTML 5 with the tag <meta>. (See: http://www.w3schools.com/tags/html5_meta.asp).
XML a Metaddata Language
The power of XML in a sense is in the fact that it is a meta-language — a language for defining other languages. So given an XML schema you can define a language such as HTML itself. Or I can define a language for expressing customers and all its related objects (such as “orders” and “contract”) for a CRM (customer relationship management) application. Metadata and tags have a lot of important applications in enterprise software. Topics such as metadata management, classification and taxonomy in information management and ECM (enterprise content management) have a lot to do with metadata.
So the general idea is that for a given object I define a set of metadata or tags. Then I can use any of those tags to find the object easier. For example, I can define tags for an online ad. Then an ad server such as Google or Facebook (www.facebook.com) can push that ad onto the pages where a viewer who is searching or reading about something that relates to that tag.
Web 2.0 and Tagging
Web 2.0 has put metadata (often referred to as tags) and its power in the fingertips of all end-users. We often refer to it as tagging and we’re all busy tagging stuff on blogs, photo sites, networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter (www.twitter.com), and social bookmarking sites such as Delicious (www.delicious.com). In fact tagging turns out to be one of the key characteristics of the collection of technologies that we refer to as Web 2.0. You can think of tagging as an ad hoc and social way of organizing the exponentially growing volume of information on the internet. It is an informal and collaborative method of defining classification and taxonomy.
Modern Web 2.0 sites often provide a “tag cloud”, a space in which the tags are randomly listed such that the size of a tag (font) represents the frequency of use of that tag. That is, the more a tag is used, the larger is its size. When I look at a tag cloud I can right away see the most popular topics and trends and easily drill down on that topic by simply selecting that tag.
Tagging may also enable websites to make suggestions to the viewers. If I am reading news, researching a topic, or shopping for a product or service online, then the website based on the common tags, may suggest related topics, products or services to me.
Below I have provided a few examples and applications of tagging.
Tags in Blogging
In blogging, we can add tags to a blog entry. So for example I have tagged this post itself with the tags “tagging”, “web20”, and “metadata”. I can always change the tags that i have defined by adding more or deleting existing ones. WordPress home page provides a “tag cloud” so that at any time I can see and easily search for topics that are most often written about. Wordpress the uses the defined tags on a blog entry to suggest related posts that a reader may be interested in.
Tagging Photos on Flickr
On Flickr (www.flickr.com), Yahoo’s photo site, when I upload my photos, I organize them by sets (albums). I can also define a collection which is a set of sets or albums. For example I may have an album for a trip, a party or a concert. But in addition to defining sets, I can also define any number of tags for each individual photo or for a set. Based on the tags I have used Flickr generates a tag cloud where all my tags appear. The more photos a tag is used in, the bigger that tag appears in the cloud. One of my favorite tags is “sunset”. So if you go to my Flickr tags page at
and click on “sunset”, you will get a list of all my photos of sunsets from various places such as California, Hawaii, and Mexico. Note that while all these photos share “sunset” as a common tag, each photo has other unique tags that specify the location.
A new and interesting application of tagging applied to photos is geotagging; that is, tagging a photo with the latitude and longitude of the location where the photo is taken. Flickr supports geotagging and in fact there is a large Flickr group with geotagged photos. The geotags which are denoted by “geo:lat” and “geo:lon” are often machine generated as it is not easy for human to do this. You essentially need a GPS system for this purpose. In fact there now digital cameras with a GPS add-on to automatically geotag the photos that you take!
Geotagging has useful applications. For example, photos with geotags can be mapped to a digital map such as Google Earth. Then as you navigate the globe and zoom in you can see your photos tied to the exact locations they were taken at. Geotagging doesn’t have to apply to photos only. Any object that has a location attribute (an address, person, company) can be geotagged.
Tagging in Facebook
Facebook takes photo tagging to a new level by enabling regional tagging in images. The most obvious application of this is allowing users to tag a small square of a photo (with typically a user). So I can tag a group photo with the individual people who are in the photo. Then the viewer of that photo by moving the mouse over the photo, can see the tags (i.e. the names of the people tagged). Note that this photo tagging is collaborative and social. Depending on the permissions I can add a tag to an image posted by someone else. And if I am tagged in an image, I can remove my tag.
Furthermore, that photo shows up on the profile and photo pages of all the people in the photo who are tagged (assuming they have an active profile on Facebook). In a sense the image tagging in Facebook becomes a means of communication and messaging! For example if I want to send a note to a group of friends, I can take an image and tag it with the people and then post the image to my profile. Then all the people who have been tagged get the image and thus the message. I recall receiving a number of group new year greetings this way.
Tagging in Social Bookmarking
Social bookmarking sites such as Delicious (www.delicious.com) and Digg (www.digg.com) which allow users to create bookmarks (on the internet as opposed to regular bookmarks that reside on your computer), tag them with the appropriate tags and share them with other users. This social tagging is also referred to as folksonomy. I will cover social bookmarking in more detail in a future post.
Hashtags in Twitter
Another powerful and interesting application of tagging is in Twitter. You can use hashtags (#<tags>) with any tweet (as part of the 140 characters and appearing anywhere in the tweet) which essentially directs a tweet to a particular virtual folder, list or bucket. For example, since the potential election fraud in Iran last Friday and the following large protests and uprising in Iran, #IranElection has become a hot trend. Twitter related sites such as www.twitscoop.com use these hashtags to identify hot trends. By selecting a hashtag in a tweet or in a tag cloud, you can get the latest list of tweets with that hashtag.
There is much more to be said on Twitter and its hashtags which I will cover in another post.