If you haven’t heard of tagging, you’ve been missing out on a lot. A number of social networks have cropped up over the past few years dealing with everything from Bookmarks to Booklists to Projects. One of the common features you’ll find in these tools is tagging, the ability to label something with more than one description attribute in order to allow you more than one view into your data.
Take email folders for example. Typical email software will allow you to store mail into various folders. This is the equivalent of allowing you to tag the mail with a single UrgentItems or SalesLeads or even Trash tag. This means that you will only be allowed to file an email into one category and should you need to go looking for it later, you had better remember where it is. Enter “tagging” which then allows you to assign multiple categories to that email. A SalesLead item could conceivably be an UrgentItem, too, right? So why not label it both? By giving something multiple categories, you then have multiple virtial views of that data. Systems like Google Mail let you do this. Your current email software may not do this, but some day soon it will.
With del.icio.us, you can import your IE or Netscape/Mozilla/Firefox bookmarks and reclassify them. I ended up using Brian Del Vecchio’s script to mass import my large Yahoo Bookmarks list after I first exported as a Netscape format. The script created a tag for each bookmark based on the folder name they were initially filed under. Once your bookmarks are inside del.icio.us’ list, you can create your own new tags for the bookmarks and reorganize any way you like. Since it’s a social network, where some people are likely to have already bookmarked and filed that URL, the system can recommend good tag names, or even let you see URLs that other people filed under that same tag. This is very handy if, for instance, I categorize tags under “ruby” as I learn that language. Then, I can look at Ruby recently filed Ruby links that other del.icio.us users are listing, or recommended links. This can let me quickly find good tutorials and other basic info.
And let’s not forget that del.icio.us makes good use of RSS feeds. Since the bookmarks are now live, this means that if you want to subscribe to someone’s bookmarks list, you can keep up with any new additions without periodically checking the site or asking for updated links. For instance, to subscribe to http://del.icio.us/shokk/ruby you can add http://del.icio.us/rss/shokk/ruby to your feed reader.
Many of the above excel in their individual area, but have thoe shortcome of not being interoperable with other such services. Having your information fragmented across multiple sites keeps it from being fully utilized. The ideal storage system will allow one to store any kind of attachment or information (pictures, zip files, mp3s, email, contacts, calendar entries, URLs, plain text, feeds, and other external lists) in any kind of tag-organized format the user likes, displayed any way the user likes (see MyYahoo), and shared any way the user likes. This would be quite a killer app! According to rumors, Google may be offering this very thing in the coming Google Base. Time will tell whether this has its own shortcomings.
But simply having a database of everything doesn’t make it useful. It is the accessibility to that information from desktops and servers to provide services based around that information that will be key once it becomes able to organize and flow. RSS will be key in making that data available.