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By Gabriela Grossecki

“Surfing the net, which is more and more complex, has become one of the main
obstacles in efficiently using the network. This is mostly due to the disorganized nature of the
Internet, in collections of sites and documents whose quick and exponential growth rate leads
to difficulties users have to face in order to find their way out of the online informational
maze. There are two possibilities of coping with this complexity: either the structure of the
Internet is reorganized, or every user is offered the ability of systemizing an individual
perspective of the network. Although the first option would probably bring more benefits on a
global level, the second is easier to achieve and has immediate advantages for the individual
user or for a group of users.” These lines can be found in a paper from September 1994,
published by Michigan State University.1 Almost a decade passed until the dream of the
American University teachers materialized in the emergence2 of a revolutionary way to
organize the informational content available online, according to individual needs and
interests, offered by social bookmarking applications. This paper will attempt to offer a first
structure and a first frame for using the one of the most used instruments of social
bookmarking in the recent history of the Internet - in education.

Before starting to structure the observations regarding the educational opportunities

of the most popular social bookmarking application, we have to make a few remarks.
Firstly, “bookmark” literally means “something you put between the pages of a book
so that you can find that page again quickly”. As far as is concerned, “bookmark”
means favourite (preferred/of interest) link (site/resource). Because it’s a lot easier to identify
it in its original form I shall use it as such.
Secondly, from a technical point of view, all references made in the article hold true
for the FireFox v2.0 browser and its extensions (of course there are alternatives, like IE or
Opera for example, but I prefer Mozilla’s browser because it is “faster, more reliable, and
totally customizable to your online life”3).
And thirdly, because the space allotted to the article is limited, I have chosen to
include a minimum number of figures / screen captures.

Robin Good, A Delicious Way to Personalize the Web, January 5, 2004,
It is believed that the era of the social web began with the launch of on September 15, 2003.

It is generally believed that a bookmark is a copy of the URL of the computer on

which we work (in the folder Bookmarks/Favorites of the browser), and that it designates a
virtual place where resources of any type (web pages, media files, or any other online entity)
can be later accessed/downloaded. Social bookmarking is an online means of storing,
classifying, localizing and sharing these Internet resources, according to individual needs and
interests4. There are numerous applications which follow the social bookmarking path, both
for links (furl, ma.gnolia, diigo), academic articles (connotea, citeULike), and for blog posts
(technorati), images (flickr), news (digg), maps (Frapper, Wikimapia) or for annotating audio
(odeo) and video podcasts (youtube) etc. However, has become very popular
(especially with non-technical users) because it represents a simple way of identifying,
organizing, classifying and sharing sites. In addition, it is free and can be accessed anywhere
in the world where there is an Internet connection based on an account which requires only
basic information to be created (user name, password, and email). ( is a free Internet social bookmarking service, a special
software for identifying, organizing, storing, finding, classifying and, at the same time,
sharing favourite web resources, not only among browsers and work places, but also among
people. The site appeared at the end of 2003 and now belongs to Yahoo (but any Internet user
can still resort to the system).
In 2001, Joshua Schachter, the wall Street analyst (considered the youngest innovator
of the year 2006 by the Technology Review magazine) realized he had a big problem with his
online resource collection, initiated at the beginning of 1990 and called MemePool, because it
comprised 20.000 items. So, he designed a small MuxWay application which allowed him to
classify links by attributing short tags to resources. Soon after, a thousand users had already
visited his site, which determined Schachter to consider developing the application in the best
interests of Internet users. Thus, in December 2003, MuxWay was replaced by, one
of the few services which managed to metamorphose the information on the Web: from a
mere collector of links, turned into a resource organizer.
The name of the application was chosen to underline the need for using a simple and
efficient instrument to organize web pages, but also its American identity (the last two letters
.us stand for the first rank Internet field, just like we have .ro).
Since Yahoo bought it in 2005 (for approximately 30 million dollars, according to
rumours in the press at the time), the number of users has rapidly increased. For example,
only between January and July 2006 (according to HitWise), the traffic increased by 122%
(but it had a slight decrease in the following period). Without any publicity the site reached, in
September 2006, a million users5 (according to statistics on the blog6). Thus, only
three years after it appeared in the virtual space, managed to convince users of the
advantages of being included in such a community. Recent data (June 2007) 7 show that occupies the fourth position in the top 25 most visited social bookmarking sites.

Lists of social bookmarking applications/services can be accessed at Listio, eConsultant, or 3Spot.
Other companies which monitor Web traffic show approximately the same number. See statistics from:
Compete ( 973,908 visitors per month (USA), Rank: 1,930; Quantcast
( 1,100,000 visitors per month (USA), Rank: 1,342 or Alexa
( Those who are interested in real time traffic can follow the statistics at
Top 25 Largest Social Bookmarking Sites, 6/09/2007,
But, perhaps the most interesting aspect is represented by its demographic profile.
Studies carried out in 2006 by LeeAnn Prescott8 and Trevino showed that most users were
male (59%), 30 years-old on average, having high incomes, coming from urban areas or
suburbs9, tending to have higher education and to be familiar with technology from a young
age. As the site’s inventor himself stated, the great majority of users are bloggers,
programmers, educational actors (teachers, librarians), persons interested in constantly
discovering interesting sites and in showing them to others too.


The homepage gives an overview of the current resources (hotlist and tags
to watch), and this constitutes the starting point for browsing through the most popular/recent
posted links. To view one’s own collection of resources (after signing in), one has to click on
“your bookmarks”, in the top left corner. The fundamental unit of is the post.

Fig 1 The interface for my account (screen capture, 20 July 2007,

Let’s see some of this system’s facilities:

1. Creating one’s own collection of web resources, classified according to key words
(tags), in an unstructured or freely structured manner. The common user thus has the
possibility of creating an extraordinary online content library. When adding a resource (Figure
2), we specify the URL, its description, (Name), personal observations (optional, Notes-
maximum 255 characters), Tags- one or several, space separated. The resource can be public
or private (the option do not share was introduced experimentally on March 19, 200610).
The procedure of recording the resource being loaded in the browser is facilitated by
the configuration of the tool bar, namely by the bookmarklet “Bookmark This Page”. In this
way, the URL fields and the site’s title/description are automatically filled in the addition
form. This form is based on Ajax and, when we fill in the tags, it lists some Recommended
Tags, which are tags used by other users when they bookmarked the respective resource.
Moreover, if we click on any of these they will appear in the tag field. Similarly, if we start to
8 Traffic More Than Doubled Since January,
prescott/2006/08/delicious_traffic_more_than_do.html, August 10, 2006.
Trevino estimated 43% outside the USA.
type a tag, all the tags of that user which start with those letters, will be listed under the form,
in order of frequency, to make their selection easier.

Fig 2 Adding a resource (screen capture, 20 July 2007,

A user’s collection is found at the address and has the RSS (in fact, any page allows an RSS subscription). At
the address we find the resources of the username, saved under
the specified tag. At we find the resources characterized
by the specified tags, tag 1 and tag 2.
We can follow certain users’ collections and sub-collections, characterized by tags, by:
 subscribing to the RSS of the users’ collections, if we know they search information
about fields of interest for us too;
 adding them in our own network by using the option network (at we find resources added by all users from
username’s network);
 subscribing to certain resources which we specify by using the option subscriptions (at we find other users’ resources, characterized
by particular tags).
2. Managing marked information (saving resources from other users, deleting them
etc.). can be considered an editing instrument, with the help of which every user
slices the web in his/her own manner. offers several ways of managing the
resources in one’s own collection: on the resource page, from the browser’s menu, with the
help of the TAG bookmarklet etc. The latter provides more options: information about the
date of the post, most popular tags; the field Keywords offers a shortcut to the URL of the
posted resource; we can delete the resource straight from the editing window.
3. Personalizing. Social bookmarking offers all users the possibility of making their
lists of relevant websites public, or of keeping them private. Other users can access these
resources and can choose to save them. In this way, every user creates his/her own vision of
the Internet, according to the nature of the network, which isn’t an organized entity, but an
entanglement of sites (the changes performed don’t affect other users).
4. We have three search options on one’s own collection, the general links
library and the Web. Thus, used as a search engine allows: finding other useful
tools, subscribing to the interesting ones, filtering resources for personal use (not only can we
browse through the links of any user who decided to make their resources public, but we can
choose only those which correspond to our own interests). It also allows searching files of a
certain type (for example, we can localize video files which refer to Web 2.0 by writing on the
address bar: Sometimes,
collections prove more efficient in localizing web resources than Internet search engines.
5. Finding information/Research. is, essentially, a social bookmarking
service, an excellent system for archiving favourite information on the Internet, following hot
topics and new resources from certain fields, discovering other new sites and/or exploiting
other persons’ collections. The real strength of resides in a certain form of
“collective intelligence”, because new information is always added, revised and filtered. Thus,
the so-called architecture of participation is set up.
6. Evaluation. Yahoo bought (an important marketing move for the
company, similar to the acquisition of Flickr), and this led to a massive increase in the number
of users and, implicitly, in the quality of the stored sites. A resource is considered important if
it is stored in more accounts, and we can notice this by looking at the number of
persons who added the respective resource (which is attached to each link). Thus, the number
of users who saved a certain site becomes an indicator of the respective resource’s
value/utility/notoriety. If we click on the counter which indicates the magnitude of the
resources, we access the respective users’ collections and the tags under which they had saved
the resource. For instance, the resource Open Source Windows, from
collection, was also saved (at the time this article was written) by 5099 users. If we click on
this number, we get the list of the respective users’ collections, and we might find other useful
resources (a common resource may indicate a common interest field).
At we find the resources saved by most users, and at
we find the most used tags; these pages can be followed through RSS (the tags underlined in
red can be found in our own collection). Unlike classic search engines (Google, Yahoo), this
system has the advantage that the importance of a resource is established by a person, not by
an algorithm.
7. Collaboration/Communication. Although the facility “your network” is correlated
more to the bookmarks saved by Internet users than to the users themselves, we rely on the
experience/opinion of these people we have included in our circle of users and who have
already evaluated the respective resource (users can choose to include persons with similar
interests in their network by attributing them the quality of “member”, or mere “observer”,
called “fan”). “We are joining forces to build my vision of creating a way for people to
remember things together. It is a shared-memory site”, Joshua Schachter said. The great
advantage of this service is thus represented by the increased trust users have in the utility and
accuracy of the resources saved by users from their network. We can communicate resources
either by “links for you”, or by attributing the tag “for:username”. The Internet user to whom
we are sending the resource should be a user.

III. ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES is not a revolutionary service (we’ve had social bookmarking applications
for over a decade) but the novelty it brings, which overturns everything we knew about
interaction with the Web, is the possibility of classifying online content according to our own
vocabulary. The activity of tagging website addresses or resource representations (in fact any
object which can be identified by URL), according to the users’ own criteria, is called
folksonomy (folk+taxonomy)11.

Folksonomy is a recent term, introduced by Thomas Vander Wal,
It is believed that this collective and spontaneous way of freely indexing Internet
information offers a partial solution to the semantic Web.
Although folksonomy promises to redefine surfing/searching the Web, the most acute
problem of is precisely dividing the information on the Web in categories (the three
axes of are users, resources and tags). Schachter didn’t impose any rules as far as
tagging is concerned, but he left it up to the users’ latitude to establish the taxonomy of online
resources. Basically he did what Web 2.0 stipulates: he gave the power to the users.
Because tagging is a very personal procedure, many users don’t know how to
designate sites, which leads to different styles of bookmarking the Web. Javier Cañadas
(2006) suggests four styles of tagging for users:
1. The selfish style. We tag only according to our individual context. Our tags have
personal meaning (only for our own benefit), are irrelevant to other users and difficult
to place in the social context of the network of users (for example, Oliver,
for Tiya, etc. are tags which indicate resources saved for my husband or for my
daughter). In time, it is possible that this type of user will classify content under
generally accepted, more theme-oriented tags. This doesn’t exclude selfishness, but
attributes a certain social utility to tags. The social benefit of such a classification
consists in the user’s maturity.
2. The friendly type. We tag for the people we know: friends, colleagues, project
partners, etc. This style is typical both for large groups and for small ones. The social
benefit is great and the motivation lies in belonging to a group, in the desire to share
with others what you know, to contribute to online content.
3. The altruist type. We use tags as general as possible and as many as we can for a
resource. We try, using key words, to describe as objectively/realistically as possible
the resource that we post, so that it is of interest to the great majority of users of the
most popular social bookmarking service. The social benefit is huge because it
involves generosity. “Recovering” information is easy because we understand the
notes attached to the post and we are able to interpret the tags. Motivation is low
because it involves a lot of work and no benefit.
4. The popular style. Popular tagging is used in order to get more views. There is
absolutely no social benefit. Such tagging is considered spam (we find resources
marked with top10, sex, interesting, etc.). This tagging procedure is considered
artificial and is disapproved by the rest of the users because it reflects the tendency of
some marketers to get a better position in the lists of results posted by search engines.

Each of us has his/her own style or a

combination of styles. It depends on the
context, on the time when we tag, on the
motivation we have for posting a link, etc., but
especially on the link itself. Moreover, we can
see in figure 4 that personal value is more
important than network value. If a thousand
people save a link, it means that link is valuable
Fig 3 The users’ involvement in building the and has personal relevance.
information system (source: Thomas Vander Wal, We can’t support the idea that social use
Tagging in your Web World, UIE Web App Summit, is associated form the beginning to a resource
Monterey California, slide 25, because these Internet users don’t think about
your-web-world, 23.01.2007)
aggregation when they post something12.

It would mean attributing users an altruism they don’t have.
Obviously, has benefits and limitations. We shall only mention some of its
 Independence from a platform. Neither the operating system, nor the browser is
important. We have those small buttons which can be installed (the configuration of
the tool bar is done from the browser).
 It is easy to use: we don’t need to save addresses or to have special knowledge.
 Ubiquity: sites can be saved and accessed on any computer with an Internet
connection, anywhere in the world.
 Serendipity: social browsing leads to finding useful links/collections.
 Collective intelligence strengthens the synergy of
 Flexibility: allows us to create a personal library of resources which can (or
not) be tagged, classified in several categories, shared with others, taken from others,
and can be published as web links or RSS on blogs or personal sites, or exported as
HTML file, etc.
And some disadvantages:
 Being a web service it requires an online connection.
 The absence of tags. According to a Pew Internet report13 only 28% of American
Internet users place web resources in a category.
 The impossibility to control vocabulary. Tags aren’t subjected to any hierarchy which
gives a chaotic and ambiguous character. There are those relational tags
which classify categories according to common URLs, but because the data base
belongs to the users there is no standardization. The popularity of increased
precisely because of its system’s flexibility, fluidity and lack of control imposed by a
certain taxonomy. Furthermore, because tags can create confusion (London can be a
link to the tourist map of London or to a volume by Jack London) it is advisable, from
time to time, to reorganize (rename, include in other categories or even delete) tags.
 Inconsistency of terms. It is best to choose a category after exploring those which
already exist in the network. In other words, nobody is saying that the tag “educatie”
(education, engl.) isn’t good, but it limits the access to the links only to users who
speak Romanian. Moreover, as long as we don’t decide otherwise, links are public and
placing the online resource in a category which wasn’t tagged properly can cause
problems (“enemy” for our office colleague, for instance).
 Merging tags and eliminating the singular-plural dichotomy: “blog”, “blogs”,
“blogging”, “blogosphere”, etc.- instead of using four tags, it’s better to use just one.
 The evolution of language (synonyms, writing with or without spaces, with or without
capital letters, using or not the underscore, using a certain language, etc.). Because
there isn’t a distinction between capital and small letters we have to be extra careful
when we tag - within phrases we either use the underscore or we unite words (e.g.
social_bookmarking or socialbookmarking, and not social bookmarking, because that
results in two categories: “social” and “bookmarking”).
 The lack of precision: misspelled terms, superficiality, uncertainty, incorrect placement
in several categories, etc.
 isn’t literally a social network, centered more on people than on the data.
For instance, the only way of creating a profile is to include a link to your own blog or
page, which makes it difficult to find persons with similar interests. Social aspects
have room for improvement and that can be achieved, specialists say, by including
comments, groups, etc., even URL clusters (something like Flickr) or recommended
links. “It is not only about helping people find each other according to the interests
that connect them, but doing that in a certain context”, Joshua Schachter underlined.
However, the beauty of lies in its simplicity and efficiency, which is why
the envisioned social upgrade remains a peripheral function to most of its users.
 There is no real competitor on the market, its interface still has lacks, actualization
isn’t done in real time, the clients’ service is defective (some users complain that they
receive an answer to their requests only after a few weeks14).
 Information load. A big number of links and/or a large network might require more
time/attention to browse through the information flow, etc.


Starting from the aspects described above, I shall only give a few recommendations
for using in the learning process, which any educational actor could adapt to
his/her own context:
 Firstly, is useful for those who work on several computers, such as students
at the faculty or in campus/hostels, teachers at school and at home, etc. These can
mark their favourite books, films, and music, they things they want to blog; they can
use the categories offers for planning a trip, participating in a conference, as
addenda for their CV, etc.
 Support for lectures (additional bibliography). Tags from the personal collection can
be recommended to students attending various courses as sources for research for
producing a paper (article, report, project, etc.). Better said, the students can subscribe
using RSS to certain categories (all accounts and tags have RSS associated to them).
 Mechanism for building learning communities. During each lecture we can establish
together with the students a tag (which can be followed with the help of RSS in the
browser we prefer) which will be used for the resources we consider useful (for other
users these tags might not have any significance). Students can be invited to contribute
to this link archive. In addition, they start to recommend sites to each other, thus
contributing to the lecture’s resources. There are at least two immediate advantages: a)
the link data base is enriched year after year and remains available to students even
after they graduate, whilst the teachers have richer resources for the next academic
year and b) after the course finished those who are interested can use the tags in order
to stay informed. This allows breaking the barriers between formal and lifelong
learning. Moreover, it can increase group cohesion and the feeling of belonging to a
 Research. The same mechanism, exchanging resources through unique tags, can be
chosen when we collect useful resources for projects, especially if we have foreign
partners, and when we communicate with students who work on their dissertation or
MA paper. On the other hand, one of the most interesting challenges addressed to
researchers is the way in which people understand the information they find on and how they can transform it into knowledge. Sometimes, it’s a bit
difficult to decipher posts, especially since we find them in all languages, and they
may not have tags or notes attached. Furthermore, because is an open-
source utility, both teachers and students who have programming knowledge can
improve the code according to their own interests (for example, is a
Romanian project, licensed according to the GNU terms of General Public License).
 Support for individual or group projects: students/teachers make comments, tag
resources with quality notes, share links, etc. In this way, the “audience” of our account can increase (you never know what authority in the field can
14 Personally, I received it after only one
subscribe to the link archive) and the students/teachers become credible sources of
information, “evangelists” of knowledge (the more open the networks, the better the
quality of the information content).
 Editing educational material. can also be used as bibliographic aid for
editing magazines, journals, books, etc. For instance, the publishing service of JISC’s
e-Learning Focus initiated a public account at, where
its subscribers can access a series of sites or the resources which lay at the basis of the
Horizon15 report which are saved at
 Mechanism for informal, formative feedback. The teacher can discover what the
students’ needs and interests are by following their accounts: what tags they use, how
they annotate and classify the resources, etc. Having such an indicator of what
students are looking for as far as learning resources are concerned, the tutor/lecturer
can make teaching much more efficient.
 Developing content management abilities. First of all, storing a web resource is in fact
a cognitive, constructive activity (it is weighed whether the resource is important,
whether it is worth sharing with others, and so on). Secondly, tagging, including the
link in categories and writing notes about it represent a qualitative analysis of the
resource. Together with the documentation alert through RSS, this can only bring
benefits to students who have problems learning: it helps them organize; it engages
them in the learning process, etc.
 For the educational actors who have a blog, offers a series of options which
allow posting the most recent links on the blog (linkroll, tagroll, daily blog posting,
etc.). Bloggers love to make public the sites they saved (in addition, this brings a
dynamic touch to the blog).
 Based on tags, diagrams can be generated. These graphic representations
materialize either in presenting content under a different form (another interface for
instance), or in mixing content with other sites and getting the so-called mashups (for
example, digglicious lists the most popular links on the basis of contents from digg
and Or, it can focus only on visual exploitation of a single account 16.
Some possible uses in education are:
o creating relation networks (for instance network explorer17 is a means
of exploring the social side of we can see the links between accounts,
the interactivity, how bundles are created, etc.);
o creating conceptual maps (e.g. with Mind My Map18 - we can explore relations
between tags);
o viewing the browsing process by using tag clouds (the most popular
representation is according to the size of the tag- which is proportional to the
o eye-tracking accounts (sessions of eye-tracking19 for the ergonomics of
browsing, for understanding the information overload and web information
patterns, etc.);
o geo-tagging- viewing links is easily and rapidly done by assigning coordinates to
a link (latitude and longitude), in order to visualize it on a map (e.g. the places
where we go on holiday or to conferences);

See also
ViewFinder Heat Map,
o and many other applications (we can follow the interests of the user vs. link
popularity, the space of individual links, diagrams with recommended links,

Although it is such a popular service among virtual space users, in Romania too ew
educational actors use del.icio.us20. This mostly happens because of the mistrust in the new
social bookmarking technology and of the lack of interest (particularly because they lack
knowledge and aren’t’ familiarized with the Web 2.0 applications). I hope that, eventually, the
subtle, flexible, pertinent and convincing character which rendered unique among
social bookmarking services will determine its adoption in educational activities.

1. Hammond, T.; Hannay, T.; Lund, B.; Scott, J., Social Bookmarking Tools (I). A General Review,
D-Lib Magazine, aprilie 2005, vol. 11(4),
3. Javier Cañadas, Tipologías y estilos en el etiquetado social,
estlos-en-el-etiquetado-social/, 7 august 2006.
4. O’Connor, Brett, Mashups, Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007.
5. Richardson, Will, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and other powerful web tools for classroom, Corwin
Press, 2006.
6. Seldow, A., Social Tagging in K-12 Education: Folksonomies for Student Folk, 2006,
7. Trevino, Ericka Menchen, Social Bookmarks: Personal Organization And Collective Discovery
On The Web, teză master, Universitatea Illinois, Chicago, 2006.
8. Waters, Sue, Use for social bookmarking,

Or other social bookmarking applications which are useful in education (diigo, connotea, citeULike, scuttledu,
i *
Gabriela Grosseck, senior lecturer Ph.D., West University of Timisoara, Faculty of Sociology
and Psychology, Department of Modern Languages and Social Informatics, 4 Bd. V. Parvan, office
029, 300223 Timisoara, tel. 0040 256 59 22 66, fax 0040 256 59 23 20, e-mail:

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