Posted by Dan Rigsby on September 10th, 2008
Microsoft’s STO (Server & Tools Online) team released a new online site today called MSDN Social bookmarks. This is a Social Bookmarking site where users can add bookmarks, tag them in various ways, share them with others, etc. This new site is part of a greater initiative by the team to create a common social platform:
Some of the finer points of this diagram have yet to be explained, but the revamp of MSDN Forums, Codeplex, and some of the classic MSDN features we have known and loved are all part of the “bigger” picture.
I am excited about the potential impact this site can have on the Developer Community. It should fit in nicely with the Forums, MSDN Library, and other sites. User’s will be able to follow tags on their interested topics, sites can link to tag lists, people can follow the bookmarks of subject matter experts etc.
The concept isn’t new to most of us. We have seen Social Bookmarking sites before. Delicious was founded in 2003 and has all of the same basic functionality. According to wikipedia, Delicious currently has over 50 million users and sports over 150 million uniquely bookmarked Urls. I have been an avid user myself since sometime in 2005 (the same year it was purchased by Yahoo!). Delicious underwent a huge redesign on July 31, 2008 and how has a series of add-ins for Firefox and Internet Explorer.
However, the concept of Social Bookmarking may be new to some of you. So before I go any further, I should probably define it and list some of the advantages and weak points of using a Social Bookmarking site over of just using Internet Explorer’s (IE) Favorites or Firefox’s Bookmarks.
What is Social Bookmarking:
Social Bookmarking is a method for Internet users to store, organize, search, and manage bookmarks of web pages on the Internet with the help of metadata. In a social bookmarking system, users save links to web pages that they want to remember and/or share. These bookmarks are usually public, and can be saved privately, shared only with specified people or groups, shared only inside certain networks, or another combination of public and private domains. The allowed people can usually view these bookmarks chronologically, by category or tags, or via a search engine.
- Bookmarks can have a title and description. Most application bookmarks don’t allow any addition description of the content.
- Bookmarks can have multiple tags. Instead of putting bookmarks in a hierarchical folder, you simply add tags to them. You can then sort by tag. The nice thing about this is that if you have a bookmark that spans multiple subjects, you don’t need to decide which folder it should go into and forget where you put it.
- Bookmarks are accessible online. If you store them in IE or Firefox, you can’t access them from another computer.
- Bookmarks can easy be shared by others. This is where the word “social” starts to come into play.
- Users can follow Bookmarks based on a tag.
- Users can follow Bookmarks created by others.
- There is no standard on tags. Because of this things can be improperly tagged or there could be redundant tags. Examples are PDC, PDC08, PDC2008, MicrosoftPDC, etc which could all represent Microsoft PDC 2008.
- Spammers have used Social Bookmarking sites as another means of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The more times a site is bookmarked, the higher it is returned in some searches. So some tags can be flooded with spam.
- Some Social Bookmarking sites may not allow “private” Bookmarks. However, even if they are private, I think that people keep their “non-work safe” bookmarks more local.
All Social Bookmarking sites share these same Advantages and Weak Points. So why should you choose to use MSDN Social bookmarks over Delicious? I am not going to advocate moving off Delicious just yet. In general it is a simple design, but MSDN Social bookmarks is new, while Delicious has been out a long time. However, Microsoft has a good track record for scalability and this site should be highly stable and will only get better. I don’t really think that MSDN Social bookmarks it out to compete directly with Delicious though. MSDN Social bookmarks is marketed to a MUCH smaller audience. Delicious is used by anyone and everyone to bookmark anything. MSDN Social bookmarks are targeted primarily at Microsoft Developers for bookmarking development related resources.
Here are some of the advantages I see to using MSDN Social bookmarks on top of the simple Social Bookmarking features:
- Its developer focused. Bookmarks are by developers for developers about development primarily with Microsoft products. You won’t find a lot of fluff when looking at tags for help.
- RSS feeds for tags and users. (Most other Social Bookmarking sites have this too). I can see adding WCF and OSLO tags to my RSS Reader.
- Tools to import bookmarks from Firefox, IE, and Delicious. (http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/en-US/Tools/). There are also tools for saving bookmarks to MSDN.
- Single sign in via your Windows Live ID. Say what you will about Passport, but I like having a single identity throughout my MSDN Subscription, Hotmail, Forum access, Bookmarks, etc.
- Potential for tight integration with other MSDN content and Microsoft products. The diagram above hints at this, but we can expect bookmarks to play an even bigger role in the MSDN developer community in the coming months. We should probably expect to see some other announcements from the team either at PDC or by the end of the year. I wonder if this will play into this “reputation” piece they have on the diagram. I also wonder how this will play into MSDN Stars?
- Enable social connections by users finding like minded developers. For instance, if I am following a WCF tag and notice someone bookmarking under that tag a lot, I may seek to get to know that person better.
You have to remember, you can still use Delicious or another site for your primary bookmarking needs if you so choose. You can even use it for all of your development bookmarks, then use the import tools to bring them into MSDN Social bookmarks .
MSDN Social Bookmarks Overview
The site itself looks very much like other MSDN content:
The main page shows the most popular tags by default, but gives you the ability to find or filter on more tags. The find screen allows you to look through the tags, or just start typing to find tags that start with your criteria:
Once you have your filtered list of bookmarks youc an scan them to your heart’s content. One thing I do really like is that when you are looking at a bookmark, not only can you see how many others have bookmarked that site, but there is also a nice ajax callback to display the list to you:
It is nice that they added the “Report” flag as well. There is nothing worse than bad or inappropriate content filling up these sites. I hope that the moderators for the bookmarks are diligent and proactive.
You can also easily search and find by username. Hopefully they will add other ways to find users. Perhaps based on state/region/city or area of expertise:
The “Add Bookmark” control is very basic right now. Hopefully they will add in some additional ajax support like what Delicious does. If i am using a URL that is already been used, it should start to show related tags used for that URL:
I am hoping there will be some good documentation for the REST interface for adding bookmarks. This will help the community come up with better tools. They have added a little snippet of html that you can add to your page though to help others bookmark your site on MSDN Social bookmarks:
It will be some time before we really see how this site gets used, but I am planning on importing over some of my Delicious Bookmarks and giving this site a chance. I am excited about some of the developer community possibilities that can be derived from this site. Overall, the site is very good for a first release. I expect to see improvements over time. Here is what I believe the STO team needs to do to rise above the competition:
- Build Tools. Build tools for easy integration into IE and Firefox. These tools could be a lot like the Delicious tools, but could also include things such as IE 8 Accelerators.
- Integration into Visual Studio. If I am looking for a help on a topic, I should be able to easily find Bookmarks with related tags.
- Integration into MSDN Library. Much like Visual Studio integration, MSDN Library resources should link to bookmarks with relative tags.
- Embrace the competition. What would be better than to have a link on each tag page that could take you directly to Delicious to search for more tags on the subject? This would help the developers find more resources and bridge any gap they have with Delicious. I am sure they would want to get approval from Yahoo first before doing this though.
- Open the API or at least provide some good documentation. This is probably only a matter of time. Microsoft is pretty good about documentation and they will want developers to make the post of this site.
- Keep up with Development. Hopefully we will continue to see great features added to this over time. The last thing we want is yet another product that is developed, but loses a lot of its’ momentum. There are a lot of integration and improvements that could be made over time. I can think of a number of mini-gadgets they could build.
- Get the site listed on social aggregators like FriendFeed and Plaxo Pulse.
- Continue to market the site and show its value to the community.
- Advertise the most popular bookmark feeds for people. For instance, if someone like Scott Hanselman uses the site and starts creating a lot of bookmarks, showcase his feed for other users to follow. This will help people find the value in following others.
- Add Tag Clouds. I love these things. They give a great visual view off the data.
I encourage everyone to at least check out this site. Please post your thoughts or comments on this here or directly to the STO team. Microsoft has always been pretty responsive to comments and “creative” criticism.
Interview with John Martin about the changes coming to MSDN and Social Bookmarking:
Interview with PM/dev:
How-to use MSDN Social bookmarks Video Part 1:
How-to use MSDN Social bookmarks Video Part 2:
Chris Slemp’s Announcement: http://blogs.msdn.com/cslemp/archive/2008/09/09/launched-social-bookmarking-v1-on-msdn-and-technet-video.aspx
Questions or comments about MSDN Social bookmarks? Visit the Social Bookmarks Discussion Forums.