Social Bookmarking tools in the workplace

Part of my work to date has involved Collaborative learning, and within that I’ve been looking at tools that are being widely used on the Internet and how they can be applied within learning and within an organisation. One of the most useful tools for knowledge capture is the system behind social bookmarking.

Social bookmarking doesn’t just have to be used for bookmarking websites, although that is a very useful application within an organisation, it could also be used in employee recognition schemes, or for innovations within the organisation. The use is not so much the bookmarking aspect but the collaborative filtering and ranking of information.

Let’s first just talk about what social bookmarking is and how it’s used currently in the context of the Internet. Digg or Netscape are perfect examples, where anyone can submit a link, along with a title and short description, and anyone else can vote on these links, and the more votes, the higher the link appears on the list. Simple. What you should end up with are a list of links rated by the people who actually visit the sites.

Okay, this doesn’t really work particularly well in the context of the Internet, but let’s take that model and apply it to a specific group within an organisation. Imagine the e-learning team set-up their own social bookmarking area, any of the team members can submit links they find interesting, assign tags to them so they can be categorised, and any of them can vote on them.

So let’s say I found a link to Moodle, the online, open source learning system, and I submitted it with a short description, assiging the tags “content management system”, “learning management system”, “open-source”, “learning system”. Instantly it would appear on the list of new links with one vote, it would also appear on the new entry list for each tag, so the new “content management system” list, and so on.

Other members of the team could either visit the web pages where these lists are, or they would receive feeds for these lists which would update them as soon as new items appeared.

The team members would, when it was convenient for them, glance through the list(s) that they are watching and select any links that they found interesting. They would be taken off to the site to read, learn and understand. If they liked the link they could then click a button and add their unique vote to the link.

As more team members do this so the interesting, informative and useful links rise to the top of the lists and pretty soon the e-learning experts in the organisation have an expert rated list of links for e-learning and various relevant categories.

A much better system than using individual bookmarks on your own browser, and it’s a knowledge retention system. How so? Well the employees may move roles or organisations, but the rated links will still remain.

So that’s a direct implementation of social bookmarking within an organisation, simply used as a social bookmarking tool. Yet it’s much more than that.

Think of the uses for a list that a group of, or all employees, can see that could benefit from being sorted by the importance to, or the preference of, those employees. Not sure? Let me give you an example.

Rewarding employees for work well done is a common practice in organisations. Some allow for employees to nominate others, some allow employees to award others a token in some form, however it operates at the end it needs all these counted up and the winners announced. However they all rely on another employee taking the time out of their own job to benefit someone else.

Imagine if the social bookmarking system were applied here. Simply select a name, hit the voting or reward button, add an explanation of why you are rewarding them, and move on. Fast, easy and interactive. What’s more important is that the system to make this work is all automatic. It doesn’t require someone to collect them, review them, count them up, etc., perhaps some validation, but at the end of the alloted period the winners are obvious to all.

What’s also good about this system is that it’s not just the winners that are visible to the organisation after the event, it’s everyone who receives a reward from any other employee. Allow the list to be sorted by department so that you can see who in your area has been nominated for what, allow it to be searchable, create feeds to alert you when you or someone in your department receives a reward, even allow for departments and teams to receive awards too. Suddenly it becomes competitive and individuals and departments will be striving towards receiving rewards and even gaining one reward can feel an achievement.

I particularly like that idea, but you can see by taking the idea of social bookmarking out of the context of bookmarks, you can apply it to real business contexts.

How about your learning catalogue, how do items get onto that catalogue as offerings to the entire organisation? Just by chance, are they pre-chosen by an external organisation for you? What if you created a virtual team across your organisation, mixing roles and types of people, and made them a testing team for new content giving them access to a private version of social bookmarking.

Each new item for catalogue review could be added to the system and grouped under categories of similar learning items. Then allow the virtual team to test the learning, come back and vote for their favourites, perhaps allowing the addition of comments. Pretty soon you will have a clear indication of the best content to be added to the learning catalogue and which items to drop.

I can see many uses for social bookmarking systems within an organisation, just don’t be constrained by the current uses.

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