I’ve been using the social bookmarking platform Delicious.com (formerly del.icio.us) for about 4 years. I remember being very jazzed about it when I started, and enjoying the prospect of collective efforts to catalog the web (see the “Tagging the Labor Web“). Of course, I understood the value of librarian-created classification systems, and once complained in a review that emerging digital archives were throwing away the work of generations of librarians by not transferring the old subject headings to online archives. But the prospect of “folksonomy” was just too cool to not love.
Over the last year or so my tagging and bookmarking on Delicious has slowed and practically come to an end. The new object (or tool) of my attention is the citation management program Zotero, developed by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University. The two programs have very different functions, and the collective aspects of Zotero are not easy to use (or easily useful) compared to Delicious. Zotero operates like a free and much improved EndNote, gathering and organizing research citations, and unlike other online citation managers I’ve fiddled with, Zotero was developed specifically for historians. Zotero has been around for a few years but became useful for me only with its version 2 that introduced remote storage of citations and syncing between different computers.
So why should Zotero displace my bookmarking on Delicious, rather than being an additional tool for a different purpose? Two reasons. First, Zotero automatically captures a page image of any website you add to your collection. This was particularly important for me during the recent student protests when I wanted to capture the content of blogs (including comments) and other ephemeral expressions. Then it became useful as I gathered images to illustrate lectures. And finally I started capturing online news that I expect will go behind pay-per-view barriers eventually.
The second reason might be cataloged under “Web 2.0 Fatigue.” For instance, of late I’ve pretty much stopped using Facebook, which I find an outrageous time sink, and my blogging has pretty much stalled too. In part I’ve become a more passive user of the web–reading news and commentary, but rarely commenting or publishing. In part, I’m spending more time online doing research with full text databases (esp, historic newspapers). And in part I am spending a lot of time putting the finishing touches on a long overdue digital project. With two little kids, I also have more interesting and truly interactive things to do with my spare time. I have grown weary of so much screen time, so many programs, so many distractions. Anything peripheral drops out, and Delicious has been one of the casualties of my overall fatigue with Web 2.0.
What am I losing in this transition? Well, Delicious is really simple and fast. Zotero’s online functions are really slow so I almost never interact with other users online. I tried to integrate Zotero into a undergraduate research seminar last fall, but frankly it was too clunky for the students. A few latched on to it, especially the ability to create instant bibliographies. But at this point, Zotero is really more useful for me as a solitary scholar. Meanwhile, one thing I’ve always enjoyed about Delicious was mining the tags for interesting cultural and political trends. Given that the universe of Zotero users seems to be other scholars, I’m not getting any new insights beyond that demographic.
Given my state of Web 2.0 Fatigue I don’t imagine I’ll go back to being a heavy user of Delicious. Only so many keystrokes and mouse clicks in a 24 hour day. Given that, I hope the folks at CHNM are working on ways to make Zotero faster and more social. For instance, it would be great if I could save things in Zotero and Delicious with one click.
Overall, I hope for new Web 2.0 programs that actually simplify online life. I suspect that various forms of cross-platform integration don’t actually simplify, nor are they designed to do so. Given the commercial goals of Facebook, Google, and Apple, etc., the goal of cross-platform integration has to be more screen time, more eyes on ads. In this sense both Zotero and Delicious (and my other favorite, Flickr) remain uncluttered with advertisement and so rank higher than many other tools in my book–it’s important enough for me to pay the annual subscription fee.