Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Social Side of Social Bookmarking

There's a decent amount of discovery power available through Ma.gnolia as well. I still think Stumble Upon does it better. But it would be silly to not explore the 2nd best tool available for the job. Ironically, but doing so, I was quickly reminded of the problems with default tagging in SU. I pulled up a couple of recent bookmarks from Jeffry Zeldman.

The first is a blog post from Simon Clayson on feeding IE6 a basic style sheet using the sort of techniques that were once common for targeting Netscape Navigator 4 with a set of specific, dumbed down styles while simultaneously protecting NN4 users from that browsers botched implementation of the majority of CSS which was safe to show to less craptastic browsers. Now NN4 is little but a ghost to haunt the nightmares of us old school CSS scribes and IE6 is now the crappiest browser still in common usage. I'll probably spend the rest of December debugging the redesign in IE6. Had I found this idea a year ago, I probably would have served IE6 a very simple style sheet and skipped the debugging. In all honesty, even at this stage it may be less work to implement these ideas rather than try to “fix” IE6.

So anyway, I thought this was a potentially useful technique, so I thumbed it up. This didn't pull up the form for submitting new content to SU, so I knew someone else had already submitted this particular link. This gave me a great opportunity to see what the default tag would be. jackosborne says this page is primarily about “graphic-design”. It deals exclusively with serving specific CSS code targeted at a specific web browser. I can think of at least half a dozen tags more useful for this content than “graphic-design”. But the current SU system gives too much power to the person submitting the content. Jack's actually got more stumbles tagged “web-design” (54) than “graphic-design” (45), but apparently that's due to other people's default tags on the pages he is thumbing up. Looking at his discoveries, he's also submitted this article on Five CSS Design Browser Differences I Can Live With by Andy Clarke and Using jQuery for Background Image Animations from as “graphic-design”. Maybe that tagging scheme server Jack well. It makes SU virtually worthless for me when it comes to organizing and retrieving the resources I discover through it.

The other page I discovered via Zeldman is Western Civ's guide to CSS browser support. Again, this page deals exclusively with CSS and web browsers, so for my purposes it would be pretty easy to tag. It was submitted by SU user kancerman, 3 years ago. If I'm reading this right, I'm only the 10th person to thumb this up in those 3 years. That could be because it was submitted into the category “internet-tools”. For me, that category is better suited for things like online mortgage calculators or WriteBoard. But due to the way kancerman submitted this page, “internet-tools” is the default tag. Now I can look at his entry for this page and see that his 2nd tag is in fact “CSS”, but since that's the 2nd tag on his entry, it holds no bearing for how it is tagged by default when I thumb up the page.

Maybe this problem in the design of SU is worse than I thought. Not only does the default tagging scheme make it harder for me to go back and look up stuff I have previously thumbed up without bothering to write a review and/or manually tag myself. But it also seems to have a negative impact on the effectiveness of SU to function as a discovery engine. How many times have I found a page via means other than SU, thumbed it up, didn't see the new content submission form pop up, assumed whoever beat me to the punch on submitting the content at least submitted it properly, and went on my way? How often does the average SU user do that? One thing I've noticed since I started paying attention to the default tagging scheme in SU is how often I see content that is submitted into the wrong category. If I have found this content via SU, then I can use the “report last stumble” feature. But that only works if I stumble into something in one of my defined interests that really should be tagged as some other of my defined interest. If someone submits a CSS gallery as “photography” for example. But if I get to that page without being referred there by SU, there's no way for me to bring the miscategorization to the attention of whoever addresses such things. That is most likely to happen if someone submits content that should fall within one of my defined interests as pertaining to a topic of interest that isn't on my list.

Oh look, this jQuery plug-in has been submitted under “alternative-medicine”

There's no way I can do anything about that. All I can do is tag it properly within my own account. But since very few web designers are going to be stumbling through the alternative medicine category (then again, maybe I assume too much), and very few people looking for alternative medicine information will give a rat's ass about a jQuery plug-in, very few people who care about that content will ever stumble into that content. I can't even resubmit it. Once a page is submitted, all I can do is tag and review it myself. In effect, such content is quarantined, cut off from it's true target audience. I've got to think there are ways for SU to address this. If Mac OS X can have a pretty effective summarize tool built in, can't a similar algorithm be run against the content of new submissions to SU in an attempt to verify the categorization of that content? Couldn't meta tags, key words, or the sort of tricks search engines use to categorize content be applied? I know these things aren't cheap, but they are possible, and SU has a larger user base than delicious (which may actually be a big part of the problem).

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