A perceived weakness of the social bookmarking tool Delicious might otherwise be considered a strength. It may be criticized for failing to encourage the kind of participation or sense of community that alternatives such as Digg or StumbleUpon facilitate, but this has its benefits: Delicious might just be the right tool for those learners who struggle with active participation and collaboration.
Collecting and sharing links, perhaps with a common purpose in mind – an assignment, or project – is a more neutral activity than, say, contributing to an article on a wiki or discussing a topic in a forum. As such, this might be helpful in controlling the anxiety that is often associated with participation online – that our point might be undermined by our would-be ‘smarter’, better-informed peers. Sharing links requires no carefully expressed validation, no editing of others’ work or the offering of an opinion which may be gainsayed. The user is offering little more than ‘I found this useful, and you might, too’ when they share the link, yet their participation is tangible and calls for a direct engagement with the activity.
Paradoxically, it’s Delicious’ paucity of collaborative features, combined with its ability to do its task well, that makes it a good place to start to collaborate. As a tool primarily dedicated to the collection of shared links, Delicious does not have the functionality to discuss the idea further: the user can use ‘comments’ to add notes, but there need be nothing more than the kinds of metadata that make the links more specifically focussed, and it can’t sustain a complex dialogue.
That said, finding and sharing links is not entirely free from value: no choice is, no matter how innocent we may think of it. Even tags are an evaluation of sorts. As a result, those concerned with their choice of tags may be anxious that they’re finding the right bookmarks and tagging them in the ‘correct’ way. Here, the idiosyncratic nature of folksonomies could be positively employed. The learner can tag their bookmark with a word or phrase grounded in their personal way of organising links, but which also might be useful for others, helping offsetting arguments about which are the ‘correct’ tags. If it works for you, it might work for others. What’s more, there are often suggested tags when bookmarking, which is instructive in helping the learner understand how bookmarks might be classified. This could be usefully accompanied by a set of agreed tags for the group, a process that so often brings order to the potential chaos.
There’s a limit to how far this might be called a rich collaborative activity and such a process does not capture the flavour of much meaningful online participation we find elsewhere. However, using Delicious to encourage participation in those learners reticent to engage might not be an end to online collaboration, but it might be a beginning.