The Wisdom of Crowds (with bookmarks)

You’ve probably seen these symbols at the bottom of a webpage and you’ve wondered what they were:


Well they are social bookmarks and reader feeds. It enables you to share the items with other people and to also subscribe to the website for updates. Lately, I’ve been really into bookmarks and I don’t mean the kind you put into books.  I’ve previously written about social bookmarking, tagging, taxonomies and folksonomies.

But essentially, for the uninitiated, social bookmarking is a way to publicly share bookmarks (i.e. websites). So instead of just saving it to your internet brower in “book marks”, your letting the world know what your interested in.

Initially, I thought it was pretty cool because I get to access my bookmarks wherever I am. Whether I’m using firefox or IE, at home or a work, on my desktop or laptop, in Australia or overseas. I was saving all my websites onto a webpage for all to see and for me to refer back to. But that was just for my own benefit. However, social bookmarking was wider benefits:

1. Quickly see what websites / newstories / trends are popular

I’m starting to on a regular basis scan the top ranked stories on Digg and Delicious to see what’s happening. With Digg and other social bookmarking websites, the more people that “digg” the article (recommend it) or save the article, the higher it moves up the ranking. It’s very useful to seeing pop culture trends.


For example Digg was able to call the US election well before the opinion polls with credible evidence. It had an option where you could “digg” whether you voted for Obama or McCain. Of course, it was a little bit skewed since people like me voted in the Digg election, but it had a basis for calling the election in Obama’s favour given his popularity on being recommended on Digg. Another skewing factor is that a proportion of Obama voters tended to be younger and more technologically savvy than McCain voters.

2. Results in finding more interesting articles that are relevant to you

There’s a team of thousands if not millions of people on Digg, Delicious, Slashdot, Stumbleupon trawling the web, so more people are going to find more interesting content. The web is an enormous place, kinda like a massive goldfield. When someone finds something, by bookmarking, they are letting the world know that this is interesting to them and they want to share it with other people. By bringing attention to it, they are drawing other people to their discovery and if they find it interesting, they’ll share it with even more people creating a multipler effect. So more interesting discoveries are found.

It becomes more relevant because users can apply tags, categories, and comments to the things they save. Essentially, its like trawling the web with a team of people that are cataloging it into a library. The benefit of a social bookmark like Delicious is that users can write their own tags (similar to labels) for websites. For example, I might come across a website with a DVD review of the TV series Entourage. So I will label it as “Entourage”, “HBO”, “DVD review”, and other relevant labels.  So when you browse categories for TV shows or Entourage or DVD reviews, that website would come up. You can funnel the search so your only looking at stuff in that category. If I am only interested in Entourage, then only search results labelled as “Entourage” by users would come up.

You can also follow the bookmarks of like minded people and also share them with groups. Say for example, you and your friend have similar interests such as hip hop, basketball, travel and instead of sending the websites back and forth, you can see the websites that he or she is saving. Or if you are working in a team on an academic project, everyone in the team can see the collective links that are being saved.

Which leads to……..

3.  Better search results, creating a more perfect search engine

Some proponents like myself think that having more chefs in the kitchen, will over time generate better tagging (labelling), offerring a more refined search engine. This is because users can elect to search exclusively within Delicious, Digg or other social bookmarks, and find things that actual users have tagged as opposed to Google’s web crawl agent which uses mathematical algorithims. Actual users will decide what category a website belongs in and what keywords to associate with it.


The problem is that this system of taxonomy (the science of classification) relies on the individual user and there are often no rules around it. Going back to our previous example, I might label the above website as “tv series” or even mistakely as another tv show. Different people will apply different tags according to their views, perspectives, and tagging patterns. Some people are more comprehensive in their tagging while others might tag at a minimal level.


If there are enough users, over time and through the collective wisdom of a group of people, more popular tags will rise to the top. If 1,000 people tagged the website, then more likely than not, they will develop a set of tags which have consensus. For example, Delicious will recommend to users certain keywords to tag, assisting in developing group consensus. Again, a lot of this will depend on how many users they are in the social bookmarking network.

Catch me if you can

For me, the main thing now is sharing with other people the websites that I am interested in and having a reference to go back to websites that are interesting to me.  You can find me on:

I also have a Stumbleupon account but I don’t use it much. And I’m starting to get into the subculture of Digg. Check it out here.  What I have also done is added Digg to my twitter account. So I get frequent updates on the top stories on Digg with over 2,000 Diggs – its basically my way to keep my pulse on what’s hot. I also subscribe to an RSS feed for the top results for “Social Media” for Digg.

I’m out like saving bookmarks,

Matthew Ho.

p.s. Check out the music on Delicious! You can listen to hip hop music feeds.