del.icio.us for journalism: a note of caution…

I’ll admit del.icio.us has to date only existed on the periphery of my online researching, and I’ve never sat down and systematically tried to work through any hypothetical research needs with the social bookmarking phenomenon.  No time like the present…

 

First scenario: I do a fair bit of regional training, so let’s say I’m training in the regions next week (actually I am), and am interested in getting some wider info on a town in the area.  Usually when I go regional training I’ll cover how to set up news alerts in a newspaper cuttings database (the BBC subscribes to Factiva), to help keep journalists up-to-date on what’s happening in the town.  

 

There are two obvious advantages of using del.icio.us here from the outset–:

 

  • You can get access to newspapers not commonly available on some news aggregators, and;
  • You can potentially tap into useful/interesting unofficial sources, like blogs, forums etc.  

 

The site also provides a means of measuring what should be ‘the best’ sites, i.e. those which have been saved most.  However, unfortunately it won’t let me sort my results according to how many people have saved particular items.

 

Anyways, I tried a search of kettering.  After a fair bit of umm-ing and ah-ing (the site search is not the quickest), I did eventually get some results.

 

Taking a quick look through these links, I would have to say there’s nothing that really jumps out as useful here. There are links to the local authority website, and to the University, but also links to quotes by inventor Charles Kettering, and A Short History of The Kettering Group (responsible for the Kettering Grammar School Satellite Tracking Station).  It could be argued that a one-word search in NewsNow (which is free – you only have to pay for compound searches) would unearth a lot of local press unavailable to proprietary news aggregators.  Equally, a Google search for kettering blog with UK filter on unearths a few more sources (though sadly nothing really ground breaking on the first page of results at any rate).

 

So I would argue, until some sort of geo-coding for stories is incorporated into the system, and certainly until it is used more by ‘real people’ that it’s not necessarily a great starting point for regional news gathering.

 

Second scenario: say you are a network news researcher, and want some background on a topical story – take any big story from today.  You want something UK focussed on RBS asking their shareholders for cash – so might try searching for credit crunch uk in del.icio.us.  

 

These results are a bit of a surprise, and sadly not in a good way.  The top result, a really pithy and well-written opinion piece by John Lanchester from the London Review of Books, doesn’t contain any real insight into the credit crunch at all – it’s about living amongst city-types in Clapham.  Which in turn offers an insight into just why people save results – because they like them, not because they are inherently useful.

 

Beyond this result, we then have an article from the BBC (the only way you can tell is if you click through), called Is the credit crunch finally over?, dated September last year (and saved by six people).  Not the most helpful in the current climate.

 

Then we have a story lifted (legally???) from Reuters, undated, so about as much use as the proverbial bike to a fish.  To be fair, there are a few other decent results, but nothing really that sticks out.  

 

By contrast, if you try an advanced Google search for some background to this issue, say this or this (find out more about these searches here) then you can really hone in on what you are after.  I guess you could infer from the above, that del.icio.us is not so great at unearthing the ‘aboutness’ of your search, but then it’s a very simple interface, and I dare say there’s room for improvement.

 

SO in conclusion, it remains a site with massive potential, not yet realised in some searches.  I will try a few more scenarios as they arise, and post up any new findings I make.  But certainly in the near-term, it doesn’t seem to be as helpful to journalists in the UK yet as it certainly could be.

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