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Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Why Writers Should Use Social Bookmarking

As writers, we spend more and more time on the Internet, whether we're researching articles or story ideas, looking for work, or just browsing for fun. As we do this, we often find information or websites that we think will be useful later. The old way of doing this was to use your bookmarks or favourites to keep a list of these places. You could even use scrapbooking tools such as those built into Opera or available for Firefox to keep notes on useful pages. But these tools mimic an old style of working, which is not as intuitive as it could be. Enter social bookmarking.

What Is Social Bookmarking?

Social bookmarking is a way of bookmarking the sites/posts you like on a website. The 'social' part is because the bookmarks are usually public. You can also see whether anyone else has bookmarked the same sites. If you're interested, it shows what interests you share with the rest of webkind.

How Does It Work?

It's fairly simple. You need to sign up for a social bookmarking site (these include Blinklist, Blogmarks, del.icio.us, Furl, Kaboodle, ma.gnolia, Simpy , Spurl and Wink, to name just a few. Other sites which work on a similar basis are reddit and digg, though these seem to be for submitting stories of interest rather than keeping track of your web life. You can then drag a little button to your browser toolbar which allows you to add pages to your public bookmarks list. On some of the sites, such as Blinklist, my personal favourite, you can keep some bookmarks private (which means that in theory you could use it instead of your offline bookmarks (after all, you only need them when you're online, right?)

Getting The Best From Social Bookmarking

The key to using social bookmarking is tagging. Tagging is using single words or phrases to describe the links you are posting. If you were to tag this post, for example, you might use the tags: social bookmarking, writing, writer's resources. If you thought it was important, you could even use the name of the author as a tag. The key is to keep tags simple, so they can apply to many things. And they don't all have to be words in common use, either. For example, I have a 'myblog' tag to help me find the posts I have done.

The other way writers can improve the usefulness of this tool is to use the notes and comment fields when they tag pages. This is a good place to put an excerpt of the page (some of the services do that automatically) or notes about why you thought it was useful in the first place.

Finding Information

Your profile on the social bookmarking site contains a list or cloud of the tags you have used. Click on these to see all the sites that have been tagged in a particular way. Want to do a more complex search? Easy. Put the terms you want into the search box on the page, and magically a list of all the items with both tags (such as 'freelance' and 'writing') will appear. In many of the bookmarking services, you also get a list of related tags you can click on.

As a writer, I find this a great way of keeping track of information and I use it more and more. What I've learned, though, is that it's only as useful as the tags you use. When tagging, I try to think of three or four words that describe the page, but I don't always get it right. Typos can really mess up the system, too. (The other day, I discovered that one of my tags was 'r' - I still don't know what I intended to type.)

Other Benefits

Social bookmarking is also a way of bringing additional traffic to your site as there are many users who look at the 'what's new' page and decide what to click on. An easy way of tackling social bookmarking is to use Onlywire, which WriteWay has written about in his blog. Once you've signed up, this will submit to all the sites except reddit and digg.

Minor Annoyances

Not all the sites tag in the same way. Some accept single word tags separated by spaces, others accept phrases separated by commas, which is far more useful.

Blinklist Is My Favourite

As I've said above, I like Blinklist and now use that almost exclusively for my non-traffic-seeking bookmarks. Here's why:

  • I imported all my offline bookmarks and del.icio.us bookmarks very easily and it created a set of tags based on my bookmark folders and tags
  • Searching is easy and it gives me a tag cloud.
  • I can star favourite tags or links (like in Gmail).
  • It's lightening quick to add pages.
  • It automatically takes a snippet of the page when I Blink it.
  • It doesn't allow duplicates.
  • It's got a clean, uncluttered interface.
  • I can keep some bookmarks private - handy for bank login pages and the like.

screenshot of Blinklist

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