Devil’s advocate: social bookmarking

I made reference earlier to the fabulous benefits of social bookmarking without completely enumerating them. Many of us are sharing rosy reviews of the practice. Here are the benefits as I see them to be:

  1. Greater amount of search “area” on internet covered with single query;
  2. Higher number of accurate returns per query;
  3. Despite tag ambiguities, fewer numbers of unrelated returns per query;
  4. Effortless sharing with established friend/colleague networks using same tags;
  5. Self-actualization benefit of knowing one is contributing to others’ knowledge; and
  6. Egoboo, a boost to one’s ego for the recognition gained for valuable tagging.

But there are some frustrations with it, too. (Check Liz Lawley’s “social consequences” blog entry, great synthesis of her and other’s dark views.)  While I am very happy to keep current with ICT’s and have a forum in which to investigate their application to libraries, I also feel overwhelmed sometimes. Librarianship appeals to me because I want to share and preserve information. I take the responsibility of knowledge management quite seriously. There is simply so much information to obtain, ponder, disseminate and act upon that having effective tools is critical.

First, I fear a critical downside to relying upon social bookmarking is the misrepresentation of data by laymen resulting in ineffective retrieval. The more frequently a piece of data is tagged, the greater the likelihood of its distortion, a phenomenon known as signal to noise ratio. I’m less concerned by differences arising from mis-spelled tags and non-controlled language variances such as “web2.0” and “semanticweb”. Those can be taken into consideration when performing a search. It’s the erroneous tag by the person who just didn’t accurately assess what they had read, and its continued retagging by others who perpetuate the misconception and apply few or no other tags. As SNR decreases, the repeated misinterpretation of data can obscure it.

Second, and perhaps less importantly, relying upon particular feeds or searches from social bookmarking for one’s information source can result in a narrowing of vision – can be time stolen away from a grander buffet of information. Consider a user with limited online time. She may replace her previous surfing habits across various media sites with a tailored approach, employing very specific although occasionally-changing feeds. Replacing a panoramic view, if you will, with an extreme close-up. She would get enriched detail in a specific area; continuing with the photography analogy, she could be highly knowlegeable about a single blossoming flower and miss the myriad of life that surrounds it in its field. A minor complaint? Possibly. Joining almost any community, online or non-virtual, can expose an individual to polarized views and lead to information gaps and groupthink. Perhaps it just comes down to effective time management. And finding other ICT’s to manage the ICT’s we’re using to manage our other ICT’s.

Check the open-source Illumio 2 “attention management” software available for free download from Tacit Software, Inc. Aimed at servicing institutions, it might be another great tool. It is a little disquieting, thought, too: “illumio allows you to tap into the knowledge and expertise of others in your organization easily and without broadcasting the request to everybody. This is because the core of the illumio solution is a downloadable client that sits on everyone’s desktop and privately tracks their knowledge and expertise.”

Or have some nerdy fun and play the ESP Game.  It’s for the good of the internet community.


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