The system uses a tagging scheme (or flat hierarchy, if you prefer) to organize links. In the context of a system like del.icio.us, tagging essentially means that for each bookmark you add, you choose a number of labels or categories (tags) which are used to organize your bookmarks so you can find them later. Again, since del.icio.us is a public system, you can see what other people are posting to the same tags. This becomes a good way to keep up on a particular topic (for example, CSS, the economy, movies, tacos or cheese). Jon Udell speculates that posted links would follow a power law distribution, where a few individuals really stand out as the most reliable contributors of valuable links for a given topic. Unfortunately, del.icio.us isn't particularly great at sorting that out yet (though you may be able to notice such patterns emerging if you really keep up on a topic and who is posting what, which can be somewhat daunting for popular tags like CSS, but perhaps not so for something more obscure like unicode). Udell also notes how useful tagging is when trying to organize something that you think will be useful in the future.
Tagging is a concept whose time has come, and despite its drawbacks, I have a feeling that 10 years from now, we're all going to look back and wonder how the heck we accomplished anything before something like tagging rolled around. del.icio.us certainly isn't the only site using tagging (Flickr has tagged photos, Technorati uses tags for blog posts, and there are several other sites). Of course, the concept does have its problems; namely, how do you know which tags to use? For instance, one of the more popular general subjects on del.icio.us is blogs and blogging, but what tags should be used? Blog, Blogging, Blogs, Weblog, Weblogs, blogosphere and so on... Luckily del.icio.us is getting better and better at this - their "experimental post" works wonders because it is actually able to recommend tags you should use based on what tags other people have used.
The system is actually quite simple and easy to use, but there's not much in the way of documentation. Check out this blog post or John Udell's screencast for some quick tutorials on how to get started. I've been playing around with it more and more, and it's proving very useful on multiple levels (organizing links I come across as well as finding new links in the first place!). If you're interested, you can check out my bookmarks. Some other interesting functionality:
- Every page you view on del.icio.us has an RSS feed, so you can subscribe to feeds you like and read them along with your favorite news sites, blogs, &c.
- One interesting thing you can do with tags is to create a continually updated set of links directed at one specific person. For instance, let's say I'm always finding links that I think my brother would enjoy. I can bookmark them with the tag "attn: goober" and send him the link, which will always be updated with the latest links I've sent him (and he could subscribe to the RSS for that page too).
- del.icio.us/popular/ shows the pages that are being bookmarked most frequently - a good way to keep up with the leading edge. You can also add a tag to see only popular items for that tag. For example, to keep up with the most popular links about blogs, you could try del.icio.us/popular/blogs.
- There's a lot of integration with Mozilla/Firefox, which is one reason for the service's popularity.
- There also appears to be a lot of development that leverages del.icio.us data for other uses or in other applications.
- del.icio.us picks your nose for you! Ok, er, it doesn't actually do that (and um, even if it did, would anyone use that feature?), but it does lots of other things too. Go sign up and check it out.
The important thing about del.icio.us is not that it was designed to create the perfect information resource, but rather an efficient system of collaboration. It's a systemic improvement; as such, the improvement in information output is an emergent property of internet use. Syndication, aggregation, and filtering on the internet still need to improve considerably, but this seems like a step in the right direction.