Wednesday, 10 June 2009

How can Social Bookmarking tools support community resource building?

In the DCC we are trying to work out ways that we can present tools to the community that help you to help us, to help you. The most primitive example of this would be the use of email lists: having identified some issue, we ask a question on a list, and use feedback from list members to develop our response to the issue. But we want to go further; just not sure how.

In this post I want to explore two use cases where social bookmarking tools might be helpful, and to seek advice on how to take these ideas forward. The two cases are:
  • getting input from the community on curation tools and resources worth investigating
  • extending a proposed bibliography on data curation.
In the first case, we’re looking for suggestions for quality curation resources. These could be tools of various kinds, guides, policies, templates, even standards (although we have separate ideas on the latter). We currently have a form on our web site for suggestions, but it’s long-winded and clunky, and we don’t get much input. What if we could use something like Delicious. It’s very easy to bookmark a resource with Delicious, as I’m sure you know. A couple of clicks and a few keystrokes, and you’ve bookmarked and tagged something. But how can we arrange for Delicious bookmarking to feed in to a set of resources for us to review? I wondered if asking people to use a tag such as <DCC-suggest> might work?

In the second case, I have been building an extensive bibliography of books, articles and reports relevant to research data curation, management and preservation. We can load such a bibliography onto our web site in a variety of formats, including simple web pages for reading, and downloadable BibTex, RIS or other formats. But that leaves the bibliography as a static resource, and the responsibility for maintenance and enhancement lies entirely with us. And if someone identifies a good candidate, there’s no easy way to feed it into the bibliography.

Now there are a few social bookmarking sites that are specifically oriented towards managing references, including Connotea. But I can’t work out how to use them in this way. I had a go at using Connotea a year or so ago, but have largely given up because it wasn’t very good at extracting the metadata for the kinds of resources I was bookmarking (so I had to do all the work anyway), and while I could do a download once from Connotea into the reference management tool I was then beginning to use on my desktop (a commercial product I won’t name), I couldn’t work out how to do incremental downloads. I had another poke around today, and while there clearly is some way of sharing, it didn’t feel like the simple act that social networking requires. And I couldn’t see much value in other people’s tags.

Today after reading an interesting article (Hull, Pettifer, & Kell, 2008), I experimented with Mendeley, which looked interesting. I’m not sure it works a lot better for me, for various reasons (although the metadata extraction works a bit better), but it was hard to be convinced it would be useful for this use case, given relatively low usage. I also remembered that I played with CiteULike a while ago; again I couldn’t quite work out how to use it as I want to, either personally, or in this use case.

I’m hoping that there is some way, with one or other of these tools, to load up the bibliography, maybe tagged in some way such as <data-curation>. That might allow others to find and access these resources, download the bookmarks etc. People could also presumably upload further bookmarks and tag them with the same tag, so that adds to the resources available to others. I’m not sure what can be done in this circumstance to quality-validate these resources, so that the whole bibliography remains of appropriate quality. Any ideas?

Hull, D., Pettifer, S. R., & Kell, D. B. (2008). Defrosting the Digital Library: Bibliographic Tools for the Next Generation Web. PLoS Comput Biol, 4(10), e1000204.


  1. Tried Zotero yet? The new group and sync features might be close to what you're after.

  2. I did have a para on Zotero, but took it out as I mistakenly thought it was not as much about sharing.

    Part of my grump about social bookmarking mirrors the general grump about most kinds of social sites: there are perhaps too many of them, and they don't relate to one another, so you can only share with members of "your" social tool. It's as if I could only send email to people with Macs, or people in academia. These islands hinder rather than help; we need a way where such sites compete to offer better services, but on a common infrastructure.

  3. i think at least for your use cases multiple social bookmarking sites should not be a problem - as long as all of them have feeds. at work, we use a planet (server-side feed aggragator) to combine the feeds of changes from various wikis, svn repositories, ...

    ideally, you'd reuse tags people already use to get feedback from say delicious, but i've also seen "agreed upon tags" work - although there might be more potential for spam.

  4. Chris, I don't disagree at all. Suggestions for how to move that agenda forward? I think the Zoterons might well listen.

  5. Chris's comment on the need for social site "islands" to form a common infrastructure illustrates an instance of the pre-consolidation phase of the historical model of infrastructure development described by Edwards, Jackson, Bowker and Knobel in Understanding Infrastructure. I wonder how for the longer term we can encourage the creation of standards and "gateways", to allow intercommunication between sites, and mitigate the risk of unsustainabilty exemplified by Magnolia?.

  6. Definitely a commendable work for you to undertake. Zotero will indeed be quite useful for the task. You can also try out other tools, LibX can be also handy.


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