Some rights reserved By Bête à Bon-Dieu @ Flickr.com

OK, I don’t normally blog about tech tools.  There doesn’t seem to be much point given that there are so many people out there who do it so well.  But today, I’m making an exception. I was presenting on Personal Learning Environments on Friday and we ran out of time before we got to this key topic.  So, for those that were at the session and are now following this blog, this is the bonus track.  For my students in the PLE Project, this will serve to introduce the topic and provide a launching pad for our activities.

So…what is social bookmarking?  What is curation?  And why do we care?  Simply put, both concepts provide a method of keeping track of all the great stuff you find on the web.  In the olden days, we’d do this in our web browser.  We’d find a great web site, bookmark it and then, when we wanted to go back, it’d be right there in our browser.  The problem is, that we’re not always at the machine we bookmarked the site on.  We’re at the library, working with friends on an assignment or we’re at a conference sharing with friends and BAM! we need to find that site.  Browsers have gotten better at syncing bookmarks and this can serve as a method of keeping our bookmarks available to us, as long as we have access to at least one of our own devices.  But social bookmarking is much more powerful.

At a basic level, social bookmarking is bookmarking to the cloud but also creating a network of folks with similar interests who are also busy bookmarking sites on the same topic.  You go and search the bookmarking site and you get a pre-filtered list of sites on your topic selected by people who are passionate about the same things that you are.  You can get 18 million hits in .0002 seconds on Google or you can get 500 hits, pre-filtered by folks like you on your social bookmarking sites.  Seems to be pretty efficient to me.

The two big social bookmarking sites are Delicious and Diigo.  Delicious is the first of the two to come on the scene.  They are often credited with being the first social bookmarking site.  I’m not sure if this is true, but they certainly were the first to make social bookmarking a big thing.  Because they were on the scene early and educators saw the power in this concept, a large educational community flocked to them.  This made Delicious a powerful tool.  It had great features, for the time, and it had a strong community forming the network.  Yahoo! acquired them, and carried them along for a while until, in late 2010, rumours started to fly that they were being offloaded or killed.  A lot of people panicked and left for the competition.  Another company took them over and has since been playing with different features to keep them competitive.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, along came Diigo.  These guys put an educational spin on social bookmarking by doing two important things.  First, they made their product accessible to those under 13 through their terms of use agreement.  Second, they added a notational layer allowing people to highlight and put stickies on web pages.  These annotations can be viewed publicly or kept to yourself.   All the bookmark sharing, tagging, and searching that is available in Delicious is also available in Diigo.

A third, related product is Scoop.it!  This is not social bookmarking but it is a way to gather up links to web sites that have something in common.  This is what I would call a curation tool.  The term “curation” seems to be thrown about a lot lately and, as with most buzzwords, the meaning can get diluted with overuse and incorrect use.  Curation involves grouping things together in such a way that makes meaning.  Museums have curators that bring together artifacts in order to tell a particular story.  Web curation tools can do the same thing and Scoop.it! is particularly good for this.  Scoop.it! allows you to create a “Scoop” which is a group of links with associated graphics and comments (or “insights”).  They link back to the original web sites in the same way that bookmarks do, but the grouping together of sites to create a unified collection around a topic is unique to these curation tools.  Here’s an example of my scoop on PLEs.

Two other curation tools worth checking out are Pinterest and Pearltrees.  Pinterest has become very popular and is starting to work its way into the world of education.  You create pin boards, that are equivalent to Scoop.it!’s scoops around particular topics.

Pearltrees, while lesser known, takes a very interesting approach by linking sites together in a giant interconnected mindmap.  One pearl (web site link) might have multiple other sites that connect to it through some sort of relationship.  One of these other sites might also have a number of other sites related to it.  The chain can go on forever.  The graphical representation is somewhat reminiscent of Google’s now dead Wonder Wheel with the major difference being that a user creates their own links based on how they see the common aspects of related sites.

I would encourage you to explore these tools.  They are powerful “memory” tools and can serve to filter the web by virtue of their social networks.  Also look into ways of integrating the tools into your PLE.  One such method of integration that I use is that I link Twitter to my social bookmarking tools.  Delicious can directly link with Twitter so that whenever I tweet a link, it is automatically bookmarked in Delicious.  I can do the same with Diigo using a service called packrati.us.

What’s your favourite bookmarking or curation tool?  Do you have any great ways of using these tools that I haven’t explored yet?

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