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    Commentary – Social Bookmarking

    Discussion of the Tools: Social Bookmarking

    Social bookmarking provides a way of keeping track of interesting web resources that you discover, much like web browsers on steroids.  Social bookmarking software is web-based.  Not only do can you create a list of web resources, which you can annotate, but social bookmarking supports tags, keywords that you devise to label each web resource on the list.  The tags are searchable.  What makes these bookmarks social is that each user’s lists and tags are public.  Thus, when you search the social bookmarking website using one or more of your tags, say ‘globalization,’ not only will you obtain all the sources you tagged globalization, but also all the sources anyone tagged globalization.

    Social bookmarks on a given tag may be thought of as a “collective mind.”  Perhaps the most widely used social bookmarking service at this time is, though a popular newcomer is .

    Social bookmarking allows you to build on the work of others, and to leverage your research efforts.  Bryan Alexander (2006) describes social bookmarking pages this way:

    “First, they act as an “outboard memory,” a location to store links that might be lost to time, scattered across different browser bookmark settings, or distributed in e-mails, printouts, and Web links. Second, finding people with related interests can magnify one’s work by learning from others or by leading to new collaborations. Third, the practice of user-created tagging can offer new perspectives on one’s research, as clusters of tags reveal patterns (or absences) not immediately visible by examining one of several URLs. Fourth, the ability to create multi-authored bookmark pages can be useful for team projects, as each member can upload resources discovered, no matter their location or timing. Tagging can then surface individual perspectives within the collective. Fifth, following a bookmark site gives insights into the owner’s (or owners’) research, which could play well in a classroom setting as an instructor tracks students’ progress. Students, in turn, can learn from their professor’s discoveries.”

    The Penntags project at the University of Pennsylvania ( and Harvard’s H2O ( are examples.

    I use for my own research and preparation for teaching.  I have tags for each of my courses, so that when I find resources which might be appropriate (e.g. news articles), I bookmark them.  I do the same for my research interests.

    I also use as a research tool in several of my courses.  In the first year and senior seminars, I ask students to devise a course-wide tag, so that everyone in the class sees what everyone else has found on the course topics.  This process is further facilitated by setting up an RSS feed on the tag which we pipe to the course webpage or which students can subscribe to on their bloglines account.  In the research methodology course I teach social bookmarking as one of the tools of economic research.  As more professionals begin using these tools, the opportunities for student access to their thinking are multiplied.  Note also that increasing numbers of working papers are available on line as are many scholarly journals, so it’s not merely lightweight content students will be finding.

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