Have the Social Bookmarking Sites Got it All Wrong?

There certainly are a lot of social bookmarking sites around at the moment with varying levels of social networking associated. The idea of social bookmarking is splendid and, providing the spammers can be kept at bay, is sure to be here to stay but here are a number of things that make me feel that there remains a lot of scope for evolution. Getting over the bad joke of the way “tagging” is implemented is one but in other ways the whole model seems quite old-hat, almost like the days when web “search” sites were based on human-maintained data.

The model that makes me sigh involves the transfer of my bookmark into a silo. The silos compete for market share and in the mean time there simply isn’t a critical mass of users with more than a few, often semi-geekey or web-trendy, interests in any one silo. This model probably fits quite nicely with the Yahoo business model with its groups, dating, portalesque approach so it is no surprise that they bought del.icio.us. It does seem at odds with the web as a network of connected (linked, related) resources.

FOAF does fit much better with this view of the web and it is appealing to think that there will be an inexorable draw towards distributed and free networks etc when it comes to social bookmarking. The basic idea of FOAF is that your “friend of a friend” file lives where you choose (anywhere a web page can live) and it can be read and links followed to the FOAF files of your friends – i.e. “crawled” or “spidered” (the FOAF geeks use “scuttered” ) just as Google indexes conventional web pages. FOAF does offer some experimental ways to include bookmarks but this capability is not well exercised as yet. Maybe it isn’t right to imply that the processing should be “just as … conventional web pages” for two reasons: the point of using something like FOAF is that a little bit of extra meaningful information can be harvested; the relationships or links between people and bookmarks adds to the equation.

A related initiative is Annotea, coming from the opposite direction to FOAF: resource annotation and bookmarking. For my money, Annotea is just a bit too complicated to get the buy in from the mass-market and maybe FOAF is a little, too. Given a little bit of support in user tools, though, it shouldn’t be too hard to move to a more open and distributed model where bookmarks and their relationships to people are just part of “the web” and where Google or a more agile sucessor can neatly interweave these with their existing crawl/index/query capabilities and sweep away the silos much as many internet “search” sites were swept away several years ago. In the mean time it looks like Google may just buy out a silo to keep up with the Jones’.

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