John’s post on his experiences with the FireFox 3 del.icio.us plugin provided me with one of those OMG moments that happen every so often, mainly when I realise that I’m still a fundamentally web 1.0 person in an increasingly 2.0 world.
My problem with the whole social sharing aspect of delicious is that I actually find delicious rather useful just for me, and began using it as a personal repository of links long before I ever really considered the knowledge sharing aspect. I regularly switch between three different computers, so having an online set of bookmarks seemed like a very good idea. It does run a bit too slowly to use it for links that I can remember myself or find with a little effort, but as a place to store links to ‘interesting stuff’ it seemed ideal. It never occurred to me that anyone would actually look at what I’d been linking, so when someone casually mentioned that they’d read a link I’d tagged I felt rather as though someone had been rummaging through my drawers, raising a sardonic eyebrow here and there and sneering at my much loved Bagpuss socks. Reading John’s comment that ‘I spend a few minutes each morning looking at what my network has been bookmarking’ reinspired that uncomfortable feeling and created an overwhelming desire to tag loads of (possibly NSFW/offensive) Spore porn to discourage further reading (is it actually possible to troll one’s own delicious page?).
In all honesty, my delicious page isn’t all that useful, even to me, mainly because I could really have put a lot more effort into tagging things in a more meaningful way. The tags are, in their own way, impressive: they’re so random, generic and inconsistent that they’re actually effectively useless for finding anything – if I want to find something I’m certain I’ve added I’ve resorted to just scrolling through the entire list clicking on possible candidates rather than try to work out which of a screed of undescriptive tags I’ve used. Although they’re not quite as bad as ‘important‘ or ‘me‘, they’re really not too far off it; combined with creative use of synonyms and avoidance of the ‘description’ and ‘notes’ fields in the tag form, I’ve managed to create a set of bookmarks in which it’s virtually impossible to find anything and which becomes less and less useful and useable the more I add to it. Go me.
If I’d thought about it in advance, of course, I’d have created separate accounts for work links and personal interest links – except that they’re frequently the same thing, so perhaps I should have two accounts and just duplicate the vast majority of entries? Perhaps I should have a separate account for each topic I’m interested in? – but then, that completely undermines the point of tagging entries in the first place. I’ve always felt fairly sheltered from the clashing of different areas of my life as I’m not on FaceBook, but my cunning use of the same ‘anonymous’ handle on delicious, Skype, Twitter, PMOG, Digg, Flickr, FriendFeed (which is a sad and lonely experience when no one you know is on it) and just about everywhere I went has proven to be not the best idea if I’m going to get touchy about people coming across my collection of links on how to play a mage well in World of Warcraft, or that hilarious Craigslist sex baiting prank.
Although I realise it doesn’t sound like it, I do think that the social aspects of tools such as delicious are incredibly useful. I’ve added links to delicious pages tagged QTI and eassessment (but should it have been e-assessment?) to our assessment domain page, and have found some invaluable resources because of other people’s tagging (similarly, I had more responses to posting details about SURF’s book on Twitter than I did from my blog post on it). I could make my non-work delicious tags private, but that would mean that they weren’t available to non-work people who would find them useful. For me, John’s post highlights the increasingly pressing need to be able to define the communities with which we engage rather than being defined by them, the need to respect these different personae, and to reconceptualise the walled garden as user-centric and user-defined rather than something that is imposed on us by disinterested parties for the sake of technological and commercial convenience.