Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

How Delicious is Changing Academic Research

As of a recent post on Google Books and the research of History, our quiet little blog here on academic history, activism, and spirituality has suddenly gotten more notoriety than it's accustomed to. Hi world! Thanks for stopping by. To carry on with the thread of how information travels for academics, and what the 'net is doing, let's talk about another of my favorite sites for research,

Delicious is the Rome, Jerusalem, and Paris of my existence as an academic these days. It's where I make my friends, how I get the news, and where I go to trade. All this from a little server that does nothing but share bookmarks in public.

Why? Two reasons it's cool. 1) It sorts things. 2) it makes them public.

1) it sorts things.

For two years I've been using Delicious as an information organizer. It's produced an impressive encyclopedia of the most interesting information, images, articles, citations, books, and subjects on the internet to which I might want to refer. Consider my dissertation tag, under which are a wide variety of online images and google books that I'll be using for my research. Not only can I come back to them, but I can also find related subjects -- dissertation material related to walking -- navigating seamlessly from one to another. As an improvement on the index card system, or on my own terrifying piles of articles (even now ornamenting my bookshelf), or even on the folders within folders within folders of word documents, this represents a definite improvement.

I've been building a taxonomy -- the way some people use wikis, the way my boyfriend uses that utterly cool personal software, "the brain;" the way my father uses his vertical file, the way my DC friends use their rolodexes -- so I sort out all the information I take in, annexing technology to memory, sorting factoids and spare threads and notable evidence in neat, interlocking piles where I can find information again, draw connections, and create new connections.

The result is a navigable taxonomy of my thoughts. If I want to find my stuff on the history of "walking," the taxonomy already knows that my material on walking is associated with other categories of knowledge which I've tagged nearby.

After a year of using delicious for my own bookmarks, helping other people find things becomes remarkably easy. Many of the link lists below are simply cut and paste over from delicious. Lists of citations for colleagues are cut and paste from delicious into email. The forty American history students I teach are instructed to go to my delicious page for writing help, research help, maps, and images relating to the class.

Second reason delicious is cool:

2) it makes things public.

Not only can you look at your own bookmarks, but you can also look at others'. When you find something noted to be queer and interesting, you can find out what other topics that same person thinks to be queer and interesting.

What's rapidly happening with these shared tags is academics finding each other in rapid numbers. I have some twenty people in my network, at least half of whom I've never met in real life. They include:

* Javier Arbona, a graduate student in Geography who's also at the University of California, Berkeley
* Travis Brown, a graduate student in literature
* LeahB, an editor at Cabinet Magazine, my favorite periodical
* bibliparis4, a librarian at one of the public universities in Paris

Each of these is another intellectual putting together rarified connections about strange pieces of thought somehow related to my world.

I found them because they were, like me, publicly tagging with some arcane tag that I also use. c19 -- the nineteenth century tag. vernacular -- a tag used by other people who work with ephemera.

Every morning, I log into my delicious network and read the links that my small army of admired, clever, canny, eccentric brains has put together for me.

What's more, I'm developing what I'd consider an actual working relationship with these other scholars. A few of them have added me to their own networks. Day to day, I watch their reactions to Bush, I get a sense of where their research is going, and they get a sense of mine. It's low-level, low-commitment hanging out with high levels of information exchange.

And this is something different than the social activity I know anywhere else on the internet.

Normally, if you want to meet people on the internet, the connections are typically time-limited and action-specific. You want a date, you want sex, you need a friend of a friend for networking in Argentina. You meet up online and then you meet in real life. Or you meet online at Myspace and then, unless you have a crush on the person, forget to ever go back again. But my scholars are folks I'm seeing on a regular basis in the course of my regular research. This is the nearest thing to running into someone else at the card catalog yet.

I don't check in with them. I don't have, nor do I really need, the capacity to send email to them. Some of them I may actually encounter at academic conferences later, and we'll share more of a bond, through our years of doing collaborative research, than many scholars who have labored through the years in adjoining offices.

As Hannah Arendt understood, the modern democratic state happened when people in public spaces began interacting, and thus began taking action together. For this reason, she identified the medival carnivals and fair days of Europe as the seat of literature, culture, debate, and politics. The rule goes like this: make a public, get action. Today, Delicious does for the internet what open-air markets did for medieval society. Low key, high-information, continuous-formation community building.

All hail the bookmark market.

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Blogger domenico said...

very nice blog!

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a massive fan as well and have come up with some methods to help me quickly access/search my bookmarks as well as all bookmarks.

I wrote a quick blog post with some instructions at

4:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed because it linked to malicious content. Learn more.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Richard Kulisz said...

You may get more mileage out of your delicious account if you make an effort to tag articles using only your existing tags and folding duplicate tags into each other. Doing so is why I have the same number of items tagged as you (950) using only 130 tags instead of your 2000 tags. Since I have an order of magnitude fewer tags than items (you have twice as many) it's actually possible for me to browse through my list of tags instead of using the unreliable search function. I don't even need to remember what my tags are, because I can scroll through them all in 2 seconds.

4:44 PM  
Blogger peacay said...

Thanks. I'm not altogether sure why, but it makes me smile when people elucidate a little about their web trickeries and especially with respect to delicious.

Oddly enough (or maybe it isn't) I got here via google trying to zero in as to who/where exactly bibliparis4 is/comes from. They are awesome and I'd 'heard' about the Sorbonne library connection but I've never known if that was true or just hearsay. Heh. Maybe the mystery is a good thing.

I shall have to check out your connections (love love love Cabinet too).

I'm 'peacay' if you're looking for a stroll through primary sources of multisubject nature. Alas my tagging is still not the best, but it's still navigable. I'm also 'BibliOdyssey' but that's the narration/tagging of my blog.


ps1: Is the delicious base contracting? Less people, less links?
ps2: There are some spammy comments in this thread are there not?

7:45 AM  
Blogger peacay said...

Oh...t'other thing I was going to say...

Richard Kulisz may have a point but to me the NUMBER ONE way to make the best use of delish for myself and for others is to always put a decent description of the link. Not only does that get indexed for search but it dampens the effects of, for instance, useless generic tags (eg. 'design'), and obviates the need to actually check those links that are definitely outside one's realm of interest.

So please, everybody, use the extended field and put an at least halfway decent description in ... for the common good (and for yourself of course!).

8:10 AM  
Blogger Sunfell said...

I never got into, but I think that I just had my mind changed about it.

You're my second tag.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Jo Guldi said...

everybody, thanks so much for the kind comments. and sorry for being so long in coming round to replying. i'm in the middle of writing the said dissertation on the nineteenth-century road, and that leaves only intermittent time for the blog and its life.

pk, thanks to you especially for your insightful comments about delicious. i totally agree on the subject of tags: more tags, not fewer, round out the entire geography of one's mind. tagging a single entry with overlapping tags -- society AND culture AND british AND britishhistory AND cities AND c19, etc -- helps me to find things again, to figure out what concepts are related to each other in my mind, and to find other people working on similar fields with a slightly different vocabulary.

The big proof of the much-tagging method will be what happens when software becomes smart enough to map visually the connections we've made by using overlapping tags. Imagine a tagcloud spatially laid out so that my society and culture tags are close to each other in one quadrant, and my science and technology clouds next to each other in another quadrant. Imagine visually seeing the overlaps and the redundancies. That's powerful stuff.

Thanks to everybody who wrote. I'm so glad you found the post helpful.

10:01 PM  
Blogger All Blog Spots said...

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3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11:12 AM  
Blogger All Blog Spots said...

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5:53 PM  
Blogger promoteyourblogforfree said...

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6:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good contribution to showing how social bookmarking and, in particular, can be used in academic research. One thing I noticed, however, is that when I went to bookmark your article in my links, the “description” field” was blank. This is a required field for users when bookmarking in I went back and did a copy/paste of the title of this blog post; that is, “How Delicious is Changing Academic Research." This field was likely missing because there is no [title] tag in your html except the URL.

6:17 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You put to words what I've been feeling for past year or two. I've been agitating first to get my friends to use delicious, but then also found some people there. The greatest thing was to start following one user and feeding her links, and then founding out we are both going to a third university for a minor and meet each other regularly for half an year. It's funny, when somebody told me "yeah, but as web2.0, delicious is different, you don't make friends there" and I proved him otherwise. :)

10:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, this is a great post ! I find delicious so helpful too. An extension I've been looking for is an ability to somehow incorporate a discussion/chat/IM feature where you could see if the related person was online and have a quick chat about whatever it was that may have sparked your interest.

For example, when you bookmark something, you may well have a question that very moment and chatting with someone or being able to go back to an asynchronous post on it may help too - or maybe not - just a thought.

12:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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10:53 AM  
Blogger angelinjones said...

I really don’t think it matters tooo much whether it’s personal or research or blog - that a certain heirarchy of tags is best. By this I mean that having a core group of tags is a very good idea, particularly if you want to just scan back through associated links.
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2:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never got into, but I think that I just had my mind changed about it.
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