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Opinion

Social bookmarking sites open up the Internet

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October 16, 2008

I’m happy I’m alive in 2008. I look at my time and place in history and I can’t help but appreciate the fact that I’ve experienced plenty of world-altering events. I’ve lived through what has arguably been the worst president in our nation’s history.

I was here on Sept. 11 when our country was attacked. I was here two weeks ago for the largest single-day point drop in our financial market, ever.

Plenty has happened during my short life: The cell phone was introduced, our nation has fought two wars in Iraq, cloning was invented, video games became globally popular, the human genome was sequenced, reality TV was (unfortunately) conceived, the Large Hadron Collider was built, we landed a manmade rover on Mars and now I’m seeing the very beginnings of the transition to whatever will become our next major energy source.

But I’d argue that the most important global change in my life has been the rise of the Internet. I’ve written about the Internet before; I just think it’s so darn amazing. The Internet was first invented by scientists (not Al Gore) working for the Department of Defense.

This early computer network was used by the government to bring greater communication to its far-flung scientific community. ARPANET, as this prehistoric network was dubbed, stands for “Advanced Research Projects Agency Network.” Eventually, this ancient system grew into what we now call the Internet.

The Internet continues to change at a rapid pace. We saw the explosion of the Internet in the early-to-mid nineties; do you remember the days of dialup? Every time I checked my AOL Mail I’d have to suffer through several lengthy minutes of my modem screeching like a dying weasel. The connection speed in those days was impractically slow but everyone was more than happy to put up with it.

Web sites back then were ugly and featureless – a far cry from the enriched media and streaming high-definition video of today’s World Wide Web.

In 2008 we’re seeing the gradual transition to Web 2.0 – bigger, better, faster Internet. The indications and benefits of Web 2.0 are mostly already here: streaming hi-def video, the rapid expansion of social networking sites (Facebook), user-contributed wikis, podcasts and more are all signs of Web 2.0. This gradual change in the Internet is not a concrete, technical upgrade but rather a trend of design and content that will further develop how we experience the Internet.

One of my favorite recent developments in the Internet world is the rise of social bookmarking. There are several examples of this phenomenon: Digg.com, Reddit, del.icio.us, StumbleUpon and more.

I’m a huge fan of these services. Social bookmarking is this: somebody finds something cool on the Internet, whether it’s a YouTube video, news article, photograph or whatever. The user submits a link to this content on Digg, or Reddit, or one of these sites.

Other users can check out the content and either “Digg It!” or “Bury It,” and popular content with the most “Diggs” is displayed on the front page. In this way, all the best content from the Web is organized and conveniently available for your browsing enjoyment.

StumbleUpon takes a different approach. Download the Stumble toolbar for Firefox or Internet Explorer and you will be presented with a “Stumble” button. After you mark all your major interests, click the Stumble button and it will take you to a random Web site that you’ll probably love. I can’t count the hours I’ve lost to this addiction – that lovely little Stumble button might as well be re-labeled “Entertain Me!”

Social bookmarking sites like Digg and StumbleUpon have opened up the Internet for me. In the past, the Internet seemed like such a vast and complex place that I found myself really only visiting the same few sites over and over.

Many of us use the Internet every day of our lives – why not try to make it a little more fun and a little more enriching? Sure, StumbleUpon might turn you into pale, mouth-breathing recluse – but believe me, it’s fun enough to be worth it.

Joe Hager is a student at UW-River Falls.