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Social Bookmarking in the Enterprise at MITRE

The Boston KM Forum topic this evening was Tag Me! Social Bookmarking in the Enterprise, a talk by Laurie Damianos of MITRE (an interview with her at CMU). Going into the talk, the most interesting thing to me is Laurie's title: she's a Lead Artificial Intelligence Engineer - Can I get that job?

Why social bookmarking in the enterprise?  MITRE started this project in 2005, when the concept was just blooming from the public web.  The problems are familiar: employees at MITRE and elsewhere are having problems capturing, storing and finding references to valuable information.  As with many companies, there was a culture of using email for everything and there were plenty of internal websites for corporate information with corresponding enterprise search.  But there were no easy ways for people to highlight valuable internal and external information.  Library awareness services were typically done as one-off activities and sent to the people who requested them, rather than discovered and provided to anyone who might need them.  And there are a lot of internal/secure references that MITRE didn't want people publicly bookmarking (on  MITRE had a clue already as a number of people were already using the publicly-available social bookmarking tools.

After the setup, the bulk of the session was an overview of the project and included a lot of back-and-forth with the audience members.  MITRE have built their own social bookmarking tool, based on the open source Scuttle platform.  Scuttle is being used by a number of organizations (including attendees from MIT Lincoln Laboratory library). 

In the overview of features (which are quite extensive), one could see a lot of and many of the other social bookmarking services.  Some of the more interesting features include

  • It's possible to comment on bookmarks, though Laurie said it isn't used very heavily.  The hope is that this can help build community.
  • One can email a bookmark, which sends the bookmark, comments and tags -- and the link to the social bookmarking system.  This helped spread the usage of the tool in its early days.
  • Along with search/browse by tag and user, one can search/browse the content of the comments or bookmark URL itself, as well as the user metadata from the corporate directory.
  • It's possible to slice-and-dice the information in the tool, based on the metadata, with several layers of depth.  This is something that's always seemed missing in - I can see who else uses a tag or what tags you use, but I can't do next-layer analyses.  (My experience is somewhat out of date.)
  • They've added user photos to encourage engagement and interaction.
  • There is an automated link-checking feature.  Once a month, the system checks all bookmarks for validity, and if broken it will email the (first) person who bookmarked to ask them to fix the broken link.  It provides a "broken" icon for visual indication to users who might come across the bookmark.
  • They have added the ability to mark bookmarks as private, but they have not yet established private groups for bookmarks, though it has been requested.
  • They have an integration with, if users acknowledge their account.  One thing the system does is check that internal URL's are not bookmarked on for security purposes.
  • There is a special set of tags that reference "corporate collections" that a limited number of users have authority to use, mostly corporate librarians.  This lets the system highlight specific content in a separate location on the home page.
  • RSS feeds exist for tags, people, etc.  Any search or cross-correlation can be turned into a feed and used other ways (mashups).
  • The "home page" does what many of the services do: lists of recent bookmarks, popular tags, recent tags, and new users.

The pilot was with a limited set of users, picked to be the ones that would advocate even greater usage.  The initial users were hand-picked to get some content into the system, so the newer users wouldn't come to a completely empty system.  They found that usage grew from the initial group as these users spread the word via email and other conversations.  Usage grew as the team started promoting it more on the website and at the coffee station, and then it ballooned when they sent a mass email with the formal launch of the service.

Beyond the features, we spent a good amount of time talking about how people have reacted to the social bookmarking tool.  A number of things that have been observed in the public social bookmarking tools have also been seen within MITRE. 

  • People are adopting the tags used by others; groups of people have been using shared tags; and the general number of tags per bookmark are increasing.
  • The most popular tags are connected to newsletters and superusers.  Initially, there were also a lot of popular tags like "to read" that aren't terribly informative to the larger community.
  • People have been bookmarking both business and personal materials.  MITRE doesn't distinguish - "it's obvious" which are which.
  • Some personal tags include restaurant recommendations, which is great for visiting colleagues.
  • There are no obvious differences between the age/generation of users, though this hasn't been studied in detail.
  • Many of the terms used by users are not in the official taxonomy, and work is underway to expand the formal taxonomy to represent things according to how people expect to find them.
  • About 14% of the users are contributing to the system, which parallels studies and the general sense of contribution ratios in large communities (such as the 90-9-1 rule of participation).
  • There are a very few superusers - people who appear to spend all their time tagging.
  • Several information awareness newsletters have largely disappeared in favor of bookmarks with useful comments.  These can be sent via email or mashed-up onto other web pages (via RSS feeds).

One interesting aspect of this being an enterprise service is what happens with bookmarks of those people who leave the company.  MITRE have decided that their bookmarks will be removed after a 90-day period for review.  They do this because they've decided that all bookmarks in the system need to have an owner.  Obviously the system can't remove the content in the URL - it is just the bookmark and related metadata that are removed.

And the statistics:

  • Users: about half of MITRE's 6500 employees are signed up as users (not all employees can access the tool due to their assignments and location)
  • Bookmarks: 21,000 bookmarks
  • Bookmarks: 17% internal / 83% external
  • Tags: currently 5.4 tags/bookmark (initially it was 2.7 tags/bookmark)
  • Tags: 15,000 unique tags (not accounting for spelling errors)

Laurie Damianos was involved in the initial stages of the project, and when it became a clear success, the project was handed off to the IT organization.  The IT organization looked at buying commercial software, but have decided to stay with their own project on top of Scuttle.

The advertised description:

In today’s fast-paced world, every knowledge worker needs to stay ahead in their area of expertise. But staying ahead of the pack is a key challenge with the explosion of information sources. How can people easily find relevant resources and quickly find them again? How do people share useful resources with their colleagues? How can people discover new topics, experts in other fields, and new information? MITRE is piloting “collective intelligence” tools to help users find resources and share them across the corporation. The goals of this effort are to leverage the wisdom of the crowds and increase the number of access points to relevant content. MITRE has built and fielded a social bookmarking tool – allowing users to bookmark, tag, and share resources as well as discover experts and new topics. Laurie will discuss findings on adoption, usage, and social influences and highlight some of the challenges we faced integrating this exploratory technology into the enterprise. 

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