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Researcher Tools Review: Delicious

Once we have filtered through the vast scholarly literature and other online sources, how can we keep track of the most relevant and/or interesting content?

Staggering increases in global research output, increased access to that output, and increasing value placed on output beyond journal articles are popular topics these days. How to gauge the quality of the large quantity and new types of output is also a major discussion point, spawning debates about such issues as post-publication peer review, altmetrics, and research credibility. In turn, a key question arises: once we have filtered through the vast scholarly literature and other online sources, how can we keep track of the most relevant and/or interesting content? Reference managers and file folders are helpful in storing journal articles, and bookmarking in a web browser can be used to track other resources online, including blogs, videos, news sites, and laboratories’, funders’, and publishers’ homepages. However, valuable resources may be lost in the shuffle as these links amass and the reasoning behind each bookmark is forgotten.

An alternative online research tool is Delicious, a free web-based service for “social bookmarking.”*  From an organizational perspective, this service allows registered users to save links to various websites of interest, to “tag” those links with keywords, and to add descriptions that will make the links easier to organize and review. If your list of links becomes unwieldy, tags can be “bundled,” similar to creating a subfolder, for easy access.

From a social media perspective, you can track the use of certain tags in the Delicious community by “subscribing” to those tags, helping you to discover new online resources and to judge their relevance via filtering by popularity or date. You can additionally “follow” a specific individual’s library of links and share your own bookmarks with other users. In sum, compared with just bookmarking webpages using your web browser, Delicious may make it easier to catalog, search, and add to your favorite links. A further benefit is that the web-based nature of the bookmarking service allows you to access your links using any internet-enabled device, rather than being restricted to a single browser on a single computer.

However, there have been few discussions of the utility of Delicious within the scholarly research community. Additionally, although ImpactStory includes bookmarks via Delicious as one contributor to research impact, the use of Delicious by academic researchers does not seem to be pervasive. For example, a search while writing this article revealed that, of a total number of users on the order of millions, only 99 users had bookmarked PubMed; 42 users, Nature’s homepage; 18 users, PLOS ONE’s homepage; and 11 users, the ImpactStory site. It is possible that less memorable but equally relevant URLs are more apt to be bookmarked, although the numbers of users saving links to these sources might also be relatively small due to niche interest.

Efforts to subscribe to certain tags yielded limited results as well: terms covering the gamut of specificity, such as “#HIV” (more narrow) and “#immunology” (more broad), did not exist as tags, whereas other keywords, such as “#vaccines,” were associated with few links to technical information. Other scholarly research-related options included “#science” and “#research,” which were too broad to facilitate discovery. In contrast, for non-technical but still research-related areas, discovery was slightly less constrained; for instance, links tagged as “#openaccess” had been bookmarked up to hundreds of times.

As tags are created and perpetuated by users, the available tags reflect the shared interests of the Delicious community. Based on this concept and the findings above, the tag-guided “Discover” tool is likely of limited use to academic researchers, at least in certain research areas. A far more useful approach to finding and sharing links may be the “Network” tool on the site, allowing you to browse specific individuals’ links, which could be especially informative if Delicious use is synchronized within research groups or across fields.

In any case, the organizational aspects of Delicious, and particularly the ability to tag and annotate links to research resources, may be advantages enough for researchers confronting information overload.

As a caveat, this company was sold in May 2014 and may undergo changes in the future.

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