This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts describing some of the tools that I have found useful for personal learning networks. I’ve tried out a lot of tools and I’ll share what I’ve learned about the tools that I have tried and especially about those that I’ve continued to use. In this post I’ll describe my experiences with the bookmarking tools del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, Diigo, Furl, and Ma.gnolia as well as tools that offer citation management features like Connotea, CiteULike, and zotero.
I was introduced to del.icio.us last fall by one of the other instructors of the “Instructional Technology in Teaching” course. I created a del.icio.us account called “IPT286” to keep track of resources that I thought my students might use in their future classrooms. The tagging and bundling features allowed me to group links according to specific subject areas like English, science, etc. I hoped that the tags would help the future teachers in my class find resources quickly. My network expanded as my students created their own accounts and added “IPT286” as a friend. I was able to find several additional resources by surfing through students’ links. Unfortunately, the del.icio.us community that I hoped to create didn’t really materialize. Only a few of my students used del.ico.us beyond the what they were required to do for class.
Even without the ability to share links, del.icio.us has features that make it well-suited for personal use. The del.icio.us account that I set up for myself is “kamccollum“. (If you have a del.icio.us account or are planning to get one, feel free to add IPT286 and/or kamccollum to your del.icio.us network.) One great feature is the portability of links; you can access your links from any computer with Internet access. Google bookmarks gives links the same portability, but labeling in Google bookmarks is much less useful than tagging and bundling in del.icio.us. Users with iGoogle accounts may be tempted to stick with Google bookmarks simply for the ease of integration between Google products. However, there are del.icio.us widgets for iGoogle that negate that advantage.
Based on the most popular links on del.icio.us, the del.icio.us community appears to have a large number of web-developers, programmers and other “techies”.
The second social bookmarking tool that I ever tried was StumbleUpon. Like del.icio.us, StumbleUpon allows you to store bookmarks and share them with friends. Unlike del.icio.us, StumbleUpon finds sites for you. When you sign up for StumbleUpon, you have the opportunity to select your interests from a list of categories. When you click “stumble” on the StumbleUpon toolbar, StumbleUpon feeds you a site related to the interests that you selected. The site that appears in your browser is one that has been selected and rated by other StumbleUpon users. If you give the site a “thumbs up”, then the site will be bookmarked, with a pre-set tag. I haven’t found it particularly easy to re-organize my StumbleUpon links, but I have found StumbleUpon to be a great way to find interesting sites that I would never have thought to look for. I’ve found well over 200 interesting sites by stumbling. (If you’re interested, my StumbleUpon identity is also kamccollum). I like to Stumble for a few minutes a week and periodically add my best StumbleUpon links to my regular bookmarking tool. When I first added the StumbleUpon toolbar to my browser, I found StumbleUpon almost addictive. Fortunately, I found that stumbling too frequently resulted in repeated links and an overall reduction in the quality of links. This realization cured my addiction and curbed my use of the tool.
I created a Diigo account in early January, just to see what it was, but I didn’t look at it very closely. Just this month, I took another look and realized that it has clear advantages over del.icio.us. The biggest advantage is that Diigo allows users to annotate pages and share their annotations with their bookmarks. Annotations come in the form of “Sticky Notes”, that can be placed anywhere on a page, with the option of making the comments public or private. Additionally, Diigo allows users to highlight information on the web pages they bookmark. Another advantage of Diigo over del.icio.us is that Diigo allows users richer options for organizing bookmarks. In addition to tags, users can create lists and lists can be shared as easily as bookmarks. Diigo also offers makes it easy to share links within communities by creating groups. (I created the Teaching with Technology group in case your interested in joining.) I happen think Diigo looks nicer than del.icio.us. Admittedly, this is a matter of personal taste, but to me, a list of Diigo bookmarks just looks more orderly. Transitioning from a del.icio.us account to a Diigo account is easy because of Diigo’s import feature. If you decide to look for me, I’m kamccollum on Diigo too.
I looked into Furl and Ma.gnolia after I had already discovered Diigo. In my opinion, Furl has a nicer looking interface than del.icio.us, but seems about equivalent to del.icio.us in features. I can’t see any strong advantages to Furl over Diigo. Ma.gnolia is the prettiest social bookmarking tool that I’ve seen, Diigo included. My concern with Ma.gnolia is that the network doesn’t seem very well developed. A quick scan of the popular tags didn’t provide much evidence of “cream rising to the top” and a when I searched a few tags relevant to my interests in educational technology the searches came up empty. I would expect these issues to resolve themselves once the network matures, so in my opinion, Ma.gnolia is worth keeping an eye on.
Connotea and CiteULike are social bookmarking tools that cater to communities of researchers. I’ve signed up for accounts with both, but am more familiar with CiteULike. An advantage of Connotea and CiteULike over the bookmarking tools that I covered earlier is that they have citation management features, important for people who have dissertations to write, like me. Connotea seems to be a a good resource for research in more scientific fields: medicine, environmental science, physics, etc., but I prefer CiteULike, largely because a quick perusal of its popular tags reveals more articles aligned with my research interests in education and technology. I also prefer CiteULike because the “CiteGeist” feature offers just a little bit more than Connotea’s popular link list.
Zotero is an extension to the Firefox browser that offers citation management features similar to Connotea and CiteULike. The target audience of zotero is researchers and teachers. A major advantage of zotero is that you can access information stored in zotero when you are offline just as easily as when online. Currently, zotero doesn’t allow for sharing of bookmarks, but zotero 2.0 is expected to offer sharing options that would make it a more robust tool than either Connotea or CiteULike. I can’t wait!
So those are the tools I am most familiar with. What have I missed?