Social Bookmarking as a Knowledge Management Practice

This week’s Digital Pedagogy workshop, “Social Bookmarking as a Knowledge Management Practice,” will occur Tuesday, October 27, from 4:30–5:30 pm, with a repeat on Wednesday, October 28, from 11:00 am–noon. The location is the library computer lab (Abell 208).

You’re reading an article or essay online and thinking, “This is interesting…I’d like to save this and refer to it in the future.” What do you do? Download the article into a folder on your hard drive? Bookmark it under “favorites” in your browser? Write down the URL on a scrap of paper? And let’s say you want to share it with a colleague…now what? Email them the link? Post it on your Facebook timeline or group page? Tweet a link?

What we’re dealing with here is an issue of knowledge management. As we discover items of value on the web, we need a practice for marking those items that we might want to come back to at a later time. And we might want to organize a rapidly growing personal library of links with categories and tags. And it might be valuable if we could also see what other people in our field are finding worthwhile enough to mark and save. Then, throw in the further possibility of highlighting or commenting upon the article, and interacting with other readers. And perhaps creating specific groups (like a class) that share those articles and resources.

Welcome to “social bookmarking,” a web-based knowledge practice that has been around in one form or another pretty much since there have been web pages. Several platforms and services have come and gone in the last decade. Delicious was the first such application of note but has fallen on hard times in recent years. Then there is Pinboard, which advertizes itself as “social bookmarking for introverts.” Pinboard has a minimalist geeky vibe but seems to be tailored mostly for those who want to keep their bookmarks to themselves (hence, the introvert). But even introverts like to see what other introverts are up to at times.


Among academics in my circles and networks, the social bookmarking platform of choice is Diigo. Diigo, which stands for “digest of internet information, groups, and other stuff,” is a robust tool for creating a personal online information archive and connecting that archive to those of colleagues. Both Brett and I have used Diigo for several years now and, at latest check, we have each saved about 3,000 links to our personal libraries. Both of our libraries are set to be publicly accessible; you can see mine here and Brett’s here (you don’t need to have an account to view someone’s public library). Items that are added to “My Library” can be tagged or listed to organize your content; or, if you’re a bit lazy like me, you can just use Diigo’s search function to find links, assuming that you can remember an article’s author and/or a keyword or two.

The networking and group features of Diigo are particularly useful. For example, I have about fifteen other Diigo users that I follow in “My Network,” which allows me to see what bookmarks they are saving and to thus find further connections to information that I might find interesting. I can easily check what Brett and other people that I follow (such as George Siemens, Derek Bruff, Rebecca Davis, Bryan Alexander, etc.) thought valuable enough to save. And, if they have made highlights to articles, I can see those too, which gives me a more fine-grained sense of what they found particularly insightful or worthwhile. What’s also neat is that, for anyone in my network, I can then see who is in their network, which lets me potentially find more cool people to follow.

In addition to adding people to a network, users can create “groups” in which a specific number of people share links and notes on a given topic. These groups can be open for anyone to join, or restricted by permissions. For example, Brett and I both belong to the open group “Gaming and the Liberal Arts,” which is “a resource for liberal arts college and university faculty and staff who are exploring the uses of gaming in teaching, learning, and research.” In groups, members share links and engage in conversation around particular subjects of interest.

Diigo groups are well-suited for use with students. Derek Bruff at Vanderbilt uses Diigo in his course “Cryptography: The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking.” Here’s the relevant section of the course syllabus:


You’ll need to sign up for an account on the social bookmarking site Diigo and join the group “Math 1111: Cryptography” I’ve set up. I’ll ask you to seek, find, and bookmark online resources relevant to the course—particularly the current events portion of the course—and save them to the Diigo group so we can all access them easily. I’m asking you to bookmark cryptography resources for two reasons: One is that doing so will give you a chance to make connections between the content of this course and other interests of yours, both academic and personal. The other is that by sharing interesting resources via Diigo, you’ll help enrich the learning experience for all of us (including me).

As you can see, Derek has chosen to make this class group site publicly viewable, although membership in the group (and thus the ability to add links and comments) is restricted to students in the class. He observes in his article “Leveraging Student Interest Through Social Bookmarking,”

Social bookmarking is an example of a set of teaching practices sometimes called “social pedagogies.”  These are practices in which students construct knowledge by representing that knowledge for authentic audiences.  The instructor is rarely an authentic audience for student work—the fact that we make the assignments and dole out the grades means that we’re an important audience, but not a particularly authentic one.  Students can serve as each other’s authentic audience, however.  And when students have such an authentic audience for their work, they often do much better work.  Moreover, social bookmarking in a course setting helps students see that they are part of a real learning community, one in which everyone (not just the instructor) has useful ideas and perspectives to share. I want my courses to be learning communities, and I’m glad to have social bookmarking tools that help me create those communities.

Diigo is mostly free to use, though there is a premium version (~ $40/year) that does have one killer feature…the ability to cache webpages. This means that you are not just saving the link, but also a copy of the page itself. “Link rot” is a serious problem on the web, and I seem to be seeing more frequent warnings about it…for example, this recent article in Atlantic magazine, “The Internet’s Dark Ages.” Lots to think about here, though this is a topic that deserves its own post sometime.

So…for more conversation and demonstration, join us for this week’s digital pedagogy workshop.

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