Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Delicious Research Tool

The research tool I want to tell you about today won't help you find information. Instead it will help you organize all that great stuff you've already found--and actually be able to find it again!

I hesitated to write about del.icio.us, because I was afraid you'd all groan and tell me, "Robin, please, we've known about this forever!" That's a possibility, but since I just found out about it a few months ago and fell in love with it, I decided to risk your scorn.

If you're like me, you do a lot of surfing on the web. I do serious research for my book as well as shopping for bargains and reading about my hobbies. I find some amazing stuff. Then, two days later, I want to look at one of the sites again. Okay, where was it? Did I do a Google search? I think so, but what were those magic keywords? Hmmm... Or didn't I start out on the site about sewing patterns and somehow end up on the one about braiding hair? How in the world did I get from here to there?

This is where del.icio.us comes in. Once you register for a free account, you can choose to add two buttons to the tool bar of your browser. You find a site that's interesting, and you hit the "tag" button at the top of the screen. Del.icio.us provides you with a box to enter labels for the site (like research, novel, writing, civil war, costumes, etc.). Any subjects that you want to assign to that site. You can also add a note of description. Hit save, and you're done.

So two weeks from now, when you want to find that handy article about women's clothing in the Revolutionary War, you simply hit the del.icio.us button at the top of your browser screen, and your list of sites comes up. The most recent ones are listed first, and you can see your brief description along with the URL and name of the website. Even better, there's a list of all your tags on the right, so if you want to go directly to the clothing research for your historical novel, you can click on those tags. But if you want to revisit those wonderful sites that sell toile fabric at a bargain, one click brings those up, as well.

Sometimes when I tell people about del.icio.us, they say, "But I already use the Favorites button or bookmark sites on my computer." I have to tell them, that's like using a bicycle instead of a car. With del.icio.us, I can borrow my cousin's computer in Florida, log in, and there's all my research. Plus, it's organized by all my tags--even if there are hundreds of sites, they're easy to locate. I don't have to scroll down a long list of random website names.

Del.icio.us is a "social bookmarking" site, meaning that if you want to, you can share tags with other users. So if you want to see who else has labeled sites about historical fashion, or toile fabric, you can. You can make your tags private or public, so if you want to, you can share with others--or keep your research to yourself. Groups with certain things in common may share tags. For example, I took an online course back in January for my job, and the students were scattered all over the world. But as we found articles and such, we labeled them with the name of our class so we could easily share research with each other.

I have to confess, though, my use of del.icio.us is pretty basic. Just having a tool that helps organize me and keep me from losing important information is plenty for me!

So, did y'all already know all this? Or do you use something similar--or better?