Getting Communal With Books

It’s always hard to explain to people why sharing stuff online is so powerful. For one thing it’s getting easier, with del.icio.us etc. But the real power is in being able to harness the wisdom of others in finding stuff. Simply put, it’s the online equivalent of asking among your most knowledgeable acquaintances for helping in finding things — from a good barber to a good book, a good CD to a good funeral home. Anyone who has read The Tipping Point will know the importance of mavens (or was it connectors?) so it’s not rocket science that this is an amazing use of the Internet’s leverage. Why some people remain hostile to it baffles me.

Anyway, here’s another great communal sharing thing, written up well by Jim Regan: Do your own LibraryThing | csmonitor.com:

Book clubs and English classes notwithstanding, reading tends to be a predominantly solitary pastime, and truth be told, not many of us have ever considered listing the contents of our ‘personal libraries’ for either our own or anybody else’s entertainment. But the Internet keeps finding new ways of changing our habits, and LibraryThing appears poised to turn the cataloging of books into a form of communal recreation.

Definitely worth a read.

Outlook Gets Del.icio.us

Attensa, an RSS reader for Microsoft Outlook, has added del.icio.us tags:

You can add tags to articles and access them using a pull down list using the Attensa Toolbar for Internet Explorer. When you tag articles with Attensa your bookmark list on Del.icio.us is updated and synchronized automatically. With the addition of tagging, Attensa gives you a set of tools for organizing your feeds and articles. Categories let you create a hierarchal [sic] structure using folders to keep feeds organized. Tags give you a more free form tool for keeping articles organized and they connect you with the del.icio.us social network.

Sadly Attensa only works with Outlook and IE. But it is free.

Searching for Tags

Denis Sinegubko tells me of his new tag searching facility in his software FirstStop WebSearch. Here’s an excerpt from his FirstStop Blog: Social Bookmarks in FirstStop WebSearch which explains it in more detail:

The pre-installed (in version 4.2) category “Social Bookmarks” contains the following search sources: LookSmart’s Furl.net, CiteULike.org, and Zniff.com, a search engine for the Spurl.net. Anticipating your question about del.icio.us, I can tell you that we didn’t include this very popular social bookmarks manager only because it doesn’t have a search facility.

Sounds like an interesting tool.

Two More Bookmark Managers

Here are two additions to my Directory of Bookmark managers:

Henrik Sjöstrand tells me of his Netvouz,  which includes

your own online bookmarks page which gives a good overview of your favorite web sites and easy access to them. You organize your bookmarks in categories and tag each bookmark with keywords and can then browse them by category or tag, or search for them. Bookmarks can be public (like a social bookmark manager) or private. Your bookmarks are regularly validated to ensure they are not broken. It also has import/export capabilities, intranet bookmarks, Hotpicks for your most used bookmarks, RSS feeds, an Add2Netvouz button for easily bookmarking new sites, and a clean-looking user interface. The “new” and “popular” pages show what other people use and is a great way to discover new interesting web sites.

While from David Ross, author of WindowSizer, comes FavoritesFinder:

Favorites Finder runs in a bar at the bottom of your browser and by typing a few key letters you can navigate quickly to any website you’ve added to your favorites. You can now add more websites to your favorites and reach them much more quickly than by scrolling through a long list with your mouse.

Instead of scrolling through a long list of bookmarks or typing the full address for a website you can simply click in the Favorites Finder bar, type a few letters from the website title, address or folder name, hit Enter and be off to that site. It’s especially useful for those sites you’re always visiting, be it an ebay listing, your webmail, or favorite blog.

Favorites Finder is available as a free 30-day trial, downloadable from  To continue use after that costs $12.95.

Anyone with more suggestions to any of the directories, please feel free to drop me a line.

The New Investors For Del.icio.us

Joshua Schachter, the guy behind the excellent del.icio.us social bookmarking service, has provided some details of the investors behind his decision to work del.icio.us full-time:

As you may know, I left my job a few weeks ago in order to devote myself full-time to del.icio.us. In order to make that posssible, I accepted an investment from a group of thoughtful and influential investors. The group I chose to work with understands my commitment to maintaining the integrity of the service and the security of your data. They were also willing to take a minority stake, which will keep me in control of the future of del.icio.us.

Union Square Ventures leads the investment group, and the other members are Amazon.com, Marc Andreessen, BV Capital, Esther Dyson, Seth Goldstein, Josh Koppelman, Howard Morgan, Tim O’Reilly, and Bob Young.

I’m very excited about this opportunity to focus on del.icio.us and put together a team to help me grow the service. My first priority is improving reliability and responsiveness, with new features following soon.

Good luck to all. It’s a great tool and will be interesting to see what Joshua comes up with next. Certainly the mailing list, where Joshua made this announcement, is a lively place and a reflection of his receptiveness to users’ ideas.  

A New Kind Of Tagging?

Everyone uses Google but what about narrowing down your search, or looking for something that may not be on the open Web?

One option is FindArticles, owned and just re-launched by LookSmart.com, which last July acquired Furl, the social bookmarking service. According to a press release issued today, improvements mean that FindArticles’ features include the ability to search by topic, or view only “Free Articles,” making it easier for Web searchers to find what they want without having to scroll through pages and pages of search results. Once searchers find what they’re after, they can save the entire page with Furl — LookSmart’s personalized, online bookmarking service.

FindArticles gives searchers the ability to sort through a comprehensive collection of reliable sources that includes more than 1,000 publications. Searchers can sort results by article date, length, relevance or publication name, and can refine the relevance of their results by inserting new search terms as needed.

Other new features include “hot new articles” and “top articles ever” for each of FindArticles’ neatly organized categories: Arts & Entertainment, Automotive, Business & Finance, Computers & Technology, Health & Fitness, Home & Garden, News & Society, Reference & Education, and Sports.

The press release says FindArticles has articles from thousands of resources with archives dating back to 1984, and millions of articles not found on any other search engine. By working with the best sources, FindArticles has compiled all the essential publications covering a wide range of subjects — and is continually adding to the collection.

Worth checking out. I’m interested by synergies between Furl and FindArticles, although of course I’m also concerned that this might be at the cost of the the broader opportunities of a more open system like del.icio.us.

Social Technology vs Antisocial Technology

After chatting with Jerry Michalski, a great guy and a keen supporter of social software, I was given to thinking. This is what I thought: I know other people use the term, and I haven’t read everything they’ve written, but I feel the world of technology can be divided between ‘social technology’ and ‘antisocial technology’.

To me social technology is technology that brings people together. Antisocial technology tears them, or keeps them, or encourages them to be, apart. An example: A phone brings people together because it connects them (unless the person is dialing a recorded message, I guess, but even that’s a form of social interaction). An example of antisocial technology: Earphones. They squeeze out the environment and make it much less likely the wearer will interact.

So how well does this distinction work? And is it useful? Well, one complaint about computers is that they tend not to bring people together. But is that true anymore? Email, chat, blogging, Wikis, online gaming, all create interaction. But is that enough? Are these interactions improvements in quality, or just quantity? The answer, to me, would determine whether the technology is social or anti-social. (Antisocial is defined as either meaning ‘shunning contact with others’ or ‘unwilling or unable to conform to normal standards of social behavior’.)

Jerry, if I’m recalling our conversation correctly, made a distinction between social software and productivity software (Office, all that kind of thing). He pointed out we’ve been obsessed with the latter for so long, whereas now we’re beginning to explore social software, such as networking sites, Wikis, chat etc. I think that’s an excellent way of looking at things. Productivity software is great for helping us write that memo, that report, that novel. But it doesn’t help us ‘socialize’ it, as Indonesians have a habit of saying. By that I mean it doesn’t push the end-product out into the world so it bumps into other people, other ideas, other cultures. To that extent productivity always meant ‘personal productivity’ and while it helped a lot of folk, it also helped cement the idea that sitting at a computer is a solitary, introverted and antisocial activity. (Ignoring for a moment the ‘team productivity’ component, which still keeps ideas within an established, i.e. not a social, group — the team.)

Looking at things away from the computer, I can easily see an argument that it’s not the technology that’s social or antisocial, it’s how you use it. True, up to a point: SMS is a great way to communicate with people, so it’s social technology, right? Not if you’re doing your texting while your bored, disgruntled and ignored spouse is sitting opposite you in a restaurant. An MP3 player is not a social technology, because it seals you in from the outside world. But not if you find yourself sharing what you’re listening to with strangers, building connections where they didn’t exist. So there are grey areas.

But I see the distinction as good enough to survive this nitpicking. WiFi is a great social technology, as is VoIP. Both allow people to communicate with other people in cheap, efficient ways. These technologies are likely to be truly revolutionary because of this, and that is most clearly visible from where I am sitting right now: a place like Indonesia, where the infrastructure is lousy, the phone companies expensive and slow to deploy new lines, and people yearning for a cheaper, better way to learn, share, work and meet new people. Viva social technology.