Suffering from socially transmitted bookmarks

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

'I don't know why they call it del.icio.us,' the Rat recently ranted to his wife after another day of beating his head against the results of a security audit. 'They ought to call it pern.icio.us.'

The whiskered one has found himself dealing with another nonmoneymaking feature of the Web 2.0 bubble: social bookmarking sites. Del.icio.us, Simpy, and similar sites give Web users a way to bookmark Web sites with keywords or 'tags,' creating their own little topic taxonomy of the Web universe that they can share with others.

The whole bookmarking phenomenon feeds on what author James Surowiecki wrote a whole book on: The Wisdom of Crowds. Rather than relying on some stupid search algorithm to find what's 'most important,' bookmark users can follow the paths blazed by other human beings to the information that is most relevant.

Which, the Rat admits, is probably a good thing for the Internet. The problem is, some of his users have taken to bookmarking with these tools as a way to help their co-workers find things on the agency intranet.

While the sites themselves can only be reached internally and through authentication, 'tagging' them is making their titles and topics visible to the entire universe.

'They might as well post For Official Use Only information to their kids' MySpace pages,' the cyberrodent snarled.

What makes the situation even more of a forehead-slapper is that the Rat's agency just completed implementation of a new enterprise content management system with enterprise search capability.

At great expense, contractors deployed a system to capture every bit of information on the intranet and in the agency's document repositories, and organize it according to a taxonomy spec'd out by the agency's records officer and a committee of content stakeholders based on the enterprise architecture model and documentation of agency business processes.

Of course, nobody actually asked the users about any of this. So now, the Rat's crew is responsible for supporting an intricate, hierarchical, taxonomy-driven search platform that users can't find anything with.

So, realizing that the only way to prevent the titles of sensitive policy documents from making del.icio.us' 'popular' list was to give users what they want, the wirebiter decided to do just that'by building an internal social bookmarking system.

Loading a spare server with Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP (the LAMP platform, as it is now widely known), the Rat took an afternoon to crank out a simple bookmarking service. Then he spent another week of lunchtimes integrating it into the agency's Lightweight Directory Access Protocol service and adding some JavaScript code to make it all Web 2.0-ilicious.

Next, he went through system logs and captured information on the tag names users were using on del.icio.us and other sites and pulled in the RSS feeds for those tags (and their user names) to fill up his bookmark database. Finally, he reconfigured the router to redirect internal requests to del.icio.us and the other bookmark sites to his internal server. It was weeks before anyone noticed.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com">.

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