To pin or not to pin

Over the last few years, advances in internet browser technology have allowed the development of ‘social bookmarking’.

The ability to bookmark websites has been around since the days of IE1 and Netscape Navigator – you find yourself on a site you want to find again, click the ‘bookmark’ icon, and the address is saved for future reference. Back then, it was quite difficult to keep track of these bookmarks – essentially, all you had was a list – you could rearrange it if you wanted and create subheadings, but it was time consuming and difficult to maintain any useful order, especially if like me, you bookmark a lot of pages!

Nowadays you can not only bookmark, but also add tags and other metdata to allow quick sorting, searching, and sharing of all the things you find.

I’ve been using two social bookmarking services during the last year – Mendeley and Pinterest, and think they are both great, in quite different ways.

Pinterest is absolutely non-work – I sometimes think of it as my interactive Christmas List (Mum/Dad – you reading this?), but really it’s great for creating visual lists for almost any purpose… redecorating, collating recipes, and as a number of my friends do, a wedding idea scrapbook. It doesn’t use tags as such, but you group ‘pins’ on ‘boards’, and have 500 characters to add a memo/descriptor to an image. Of course, unless you otherwise specify, everything you post is public – that double-edged sword associated with almost all the tools discussed in this workshop.

I started using Mendley two years ago when I started my PhD – the computer I was allocated had Ref Manager but not Endnote installed, and I found it incredibly awkward to use but then a friend suggested I try Mendeley. I immediately found it far more user friendly and intuitive and loved the fact that because it is web-based, I can access my references wherever I am – so useful for doing work at home or in fact anywhere other than my desk! You can add citations from any website, including for websites themselves (screenshot included) using the bookmark button (as with Pinterest), and it’s really easy to organise references, search – there is even the capacity to download full papers from citations.  Of course being a free resource, it’s important to back-up your data from time to time (I can think of few things more terrifying than the thought of building my thesis reference list from scratch at the last minute), but aside from that, I have nothing but praise for Mendeley.

One of the most useful things about social bookmarking is the ability to browse catalogues created by other users – seeing how others interpret your search, be it cocktail recipes or behavioural models, gives a fresh perspective and often highlights new ideas. Equally, it’s good to get a general idea of what everyone else is interested in – this is particularly useful in science.

Investigating the other services such as Delicious, Diigo, Connotea, and Cite-u-like, there are differences in functionality and basic design that make some more appealing to me than others. To pick one, I looked at Delicious. It seems like a great way of both focussing and expanding searches simultaneously – I tested it by searching for “bicycle repairs” and quickly found sets of tutorial videos which had already been saved by thousands of people… definitely easier than trawling through a million google hits!

In science, the ability to chat about findings and see what other people are upto has always been the way progress has been made – tools such as these allow exchanges to take place outside the traditional realms of conferences and the like. I can now log onto Mendeley and see who else is reading the same papers as me, what sort of work they are doing, and what else they are interested in… all from the comfort of my laptop.

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