I wrote this almost a year ago, as a relative del.icio.us newbie. Now that I’m a little more experienced, I’ve revised it to include some new tips to choosing effective del.icio.us bookmarks.

Step 1: Lie awake at night, wondering whether there isn’t something that can organize your favourite web links that will work better than your browser’s favourites collection.
Step 2: Lie awake at night, wondering whether you should use Furl or Spurl or del.icio.us.

Step 2a (optional): Lie awake at night, wishing you’d chosen del.icio.us.

Step 3: Lie awake at night, wondering which tags you should use for all the web pages you are now adding to del.icio.us.Once you make it to step 3, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Be a lemming. Check how other people are tagging the kinds of sites you want to remember. Delicious Linkbacks makes this very easy. Bear in mind that different people will bookmark the same site for different reasons: I might bookmark Terminus 1525 as a great example of a Drupal site, while you are saving it as a link to young Canadian artists.
  2. Follow the herd. When in doubt, pick the tag that seems to have the most links — this is the leading tag of the options you’re considering, so hopefully will emerge as the dominant focal point (so you don’t have to check open-source, opensource AND open_source to keep on top of the big world of open source). Del.icio.us deliberately obscures the question of how many links exist under any one tag, but you can get a rough sense by seeing how many pages exist for a given link by adding a number to the tag page you’re looking at, with the syntax http://del.icio.us/tag/opensource/25. For example, http://del.icio.us/tag/opensource/75 pulls up a nice healthy-sized page of links, whereas http://del.icio.us/tag/open-source/75 gives you no links at all — demonstrating that opensource is the more popular tag of the two.
  3. Avoid camels. Camel case (you know, CamelCase) doesn’t work — it just comes out as all lower case letters, with the words mushed together.
  4. Like nature, del.icio.us abhors a vacuum. Blank spaces don’t work either. So if you tag something “camel case” it will show up on the tag page for “camel” and the tag page for “case”.
  5. Punctuate with care. Underscores and dashes work ok. But before you create a tag with an underscore or a dash, ask yourself: Does this tag exist in a non-underscored form? For example, I don’t think the world is especially well-served by having three separate forks for open-source, open_source and opensource. Whatever you do, stay away from commas: while there are lots of tag-enabled web services that comma separate their tags, comma-separating your del.icio.us tags will add commas to your tags.
  6. Independence is a virtue. If your underscore or dash serves to separate two words, could each of the two words be more useful as independent tags? For example, tagging the Drupal site with the tags “open” and “source” — so that it shows up on separate pages for open and source — is a lot less useful than giving it the opensource tag. But rather than using the tag canadianpolitics, try using two tags: Canada and politics. That way your resource will show up under resources about Canada and about politics.
  7. Hang out at crossroads. If you’ve followed the guideline above to use two separate tags rather than smooshing two words into one tag, find the resources you’re interested in by using intersecting tags. For example, even if you use the tags politics, you can easily find all the del.icio.us links on Canadian politics by entering the URL http://del.icio.us/tag/Canada+politics into your browser’s address bar.
  8. Co-ordinate your efforts. If you’re part of a professional community or community of practice, consider establishing a common set of standards for how to tag resources you want to share among yourselves. A wiki can help do the job.
  9. Tags are written in pencil. Unlike a Tiffany engraving, a del.icio.us tag is not a permanent commitment. If you realize that you’ve used the wrong tag for a particular link, you can alway re-edit that link. Even more useful, del.icio.us will let you rename any of your tags — so if you tagged a bunch of stuff “food” that you later wish you’d tagged as “cooking”, you can re-tag them by visiting http://del.icio.us/settings/[yourdelicioususername]/tags. Bonus tip for Mac users: the Cocoalicious client (which offers another interface for accessing your del.icio.us bookmarks) is a really great tool for renaming tags. If you decide to do a major renovation of your tagging schema, Cocoalicious makes the job much faster and easier — you can just click on any tag to edit it, just the way you’d edit a file name in the finder.
  10. On del.icio.us, everyone knows you’re a dog. Or at least, they will know — if you tag a photo of yourself with the word “dog”. That’s right, you’re tagging in public, so think twice before adopting the tag “enemies” for your business competitors, or “prospects” for all the folks you’re pitching.
  11. Shh! This one’s for:you. There is one way to be discreet when you’re tagging on del.icio.us, which is to use the “for:” tag. (Thanks to Richard Eriksson for this tip.) If you know a friend or colleague’s del.icio.us username, you can send him or her a recommended link by tagging it “for:username”. So if you wanted to send me a link, for example, you’d tag it “for:awsamuel”.
  12. Spread the word. The very best way to refine your del.icio.us tagging practice is to embed yourself in a community of del.icio.us users. If your colleagues, friends and collaborators are fellow del.icio.us-users, that is a powerful incentive to tag your links in a way that makes them discoverable to your community. So start building that community today by encouraging everyone you know to leave browser favorites behind, and get del.icio.us.