Are Lists of Website Links Too Web 1.0?

Colleague Elizabeth Ellis blogged here last month on the advantage that SharePoint provides with distributed content: the idea that you can build a list of links to websites in a single source and then have SharePoint use that data to harvest the information, filter it by category (e.g., Litigation) and display it to the appropriate group within your organization.

I wholeheartedly agree with this, but having been several months behind Elizabeth on a similar project, the cynical part of me starts to ask (after just adding to my list the 650th URL): do users actually use lists of website links on an intranet?

I realize it would be unorthodox to not include such lists of links. And I assume such lists are valuable for users who like to browse their options by organized categories, but I rarely use them myself, prefering web browser favourites/bookmarks or simply searching the Google search box built into my web browser (i.e., it is easier and quicker to type “CBC news” in the Google box and hit enter than it is to browse through favourites or link lists to find the appropriate link).

What are other organizations doing? I was surprised to not easily find much in the literature on this topic (unless I was missing something; I am aware of “social bookmarking” but that has not appealed to me that much). Will link lists go the way of the dodo bird?

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Comments

  1. Our firm doesn’t use Sharepoint – we’ve had a Lotus Notes-based portal and KM system for some time and continue to develop in this environment.

    I think this is another one of those things that different searchers handle in different ways. For example, I rarely, if ever, use the Google search box in the corner of my browser. Our library has created a number of categorized bookmarks, and I’ve added many of my own. Depending on the site I want to go to and how frequently I access it, either I use these bookmarks, or I simply type in cbc.ca (or whatever the site is) into the location bar. Sites I access frequently will come up quickly in the location bar drop down list as I begin to type, and I go from there.

    And as for your ultimate question, Ted, even though I still use and like lists of links, perhaps they are going to go the way of the dodo. I was reminded me of the old “jumpstations” or “metasites” that we used to use or make in the mid-90s. Back when there were, like, 30 legal information web sites out there. Now there are so many to keep up with, and to match with so many interests. (I searched the wayback machine for “Kim Nayyer’s Legalinks: A Legal Information Metasite”, I think it was called. (An old library school project.) But it was so old it’s no longer on there. It’s probably on a 3 1/2 in. floppy somewhere…)

  2. There are two problems with link lists. The first is the lack of find-ability. It is hard to sort through a page full of links to find the one that you are looking for or that is useful.

    The second is the lack of information about the site. Often the name of the site is not enough to convey why you should care about the site. If if I put a link to Slaw.ca on a page, people will have trouble figuring out what it is.

    SharePoint 2007 offers an answer to these problems. Firsts, you can also include a description of the site. Then you can explain why you should care about the site. Second, individual items can be displayed in search results. So if I did a search for slaw.ca, I would get the list item returned for the link (along with the description) instead of a page full of links.

  3. I’d rather see small usable lists of links, with metadata, that are visible with some context. Adding some classification is also essential.

  4. I would think it depends on your audience, and on what is being listed. And if there are links for what you’re listing, why wouldn’t it be useful to add those links? Beyond that, I imagine the same considerations would apply as for anything citable. Sometimes just a database, sometimes an unannotated bibliography, sometimes an annotated bibliography, sometimes a bibliography essay, and sometimes an essay with bibliographic citations.

  5. Ted

    In the title you ask “Are Lists of Website Links Too Web 1.0?” On the database-driven web, lists of links are ubiquitous and in I’d say epitomise Web 2.0. Lists of links to websites are a big part of that – think del.icio.us, Technorati etc.

    However, on to the real question in the body of your post – “do users actually use lists of website links on an intranet?”

    John comments that it depends on your audience, and on what is being listed. As to the latter, Doug refers to the importance of descriptions and Steve to fuller metadata. You and Kim point out your preference for using your own bookmarks.

    What that all adds up to for me is what users want is not lists prepared and controlled by others, but lists they can contribute to, influence and manage; that those lists should be both browsable and searchable and that they should deliver at the least link + title + excerpt/description. That’s classic Web 2.0. Can Sharepoint or other intranets deliver it?

  6. You’re right, Ted – an undifferentiated list of links is not useful. However, for some audiences, an annotated list of useful sites is a great introduction to specific topics (e.g. blogs on Copyright), or to the Web 2.0 world.

    In the Sharepoint world, it’s nice to have somewhere to park *your* favourites, rather than popping in and out of the application. When WSIAT designed its portal, we put 2-3 into the list of favourites, more as a catalyst than as a prescription.

  7. @Nick Holmes – I’m not a Sharepoint guru, but yes modern Intranets, and especially when OS software is brought behind the firewall, can do that. See Drupal, Pligg, etc. … There isn’t a web 2.0 functionality that can’t be brought in-house.

  8. Elizabeth Ellis

    Thanks to Ted for starting this thread. While we’re still experimenting with SharePoint functionality to maximize the usefulness of our lists of links, there are two advantages of even very basic SharePoint lists. First, the lists are a combination of training tool and visual cue. Through careful organization, we can, for example, present the most useful links for someone researching a specific legal issue (by categorizing our links by subject area and other relevant criteria). We also allow our contributors to set a “preferred display order” for the list items. Experienced searchers may know what resources they want to use and have faster ways to find a particular url, but most researchers will derive some benefit from seeing a well-organized and carefully edited list of sources. Secondly, I like to view these SharePoint lists as “collective bookmarks”. It is easy to change the lists and by encouraging users to use these lists as if they were IE favourites, expertise is shared. Finally, although not all that important, SharePoint links won’t disappear in the event of a PC hard drive failure (typically the fate of IE favourites).

  9. I love bookmarks and use them everyday. However, I probably did not use a static list for at least 3-5 years. With tools Del.icio.us, Magnolia, etc., which provide added value, I can’t see the use of a list on an intranet. As Ted says, Google is probably quicker. However, the problem when Googling is that, nowaday, there is too much noise and commercial material that is returned, unless you do advanced searches. Moreover, Google is everyone search engine and has no specialisation and therefore, can’t focus on legal material for example, or more precise on family law material only. That’s were Web2.0 bookmarks on an intranet are probably more useful to users who share the same type of practice. It also prevents duplication and waisted time. It also enable anyone in the firm to quickly get access, for example, to the favorites used by a specialised lawyer in the same firm, without having to start a new search on the web.