For the past several months, I've been using Google Alerts, customized daily emails to alert me when something of interest for my web log pops up in Google News. For example, I have one that sends me a digest of daily references to "HD Radio." I've had a couple of dozen of these and, while they've been a useful supplement to my now 190 RSS feed subscriptions, the ratio of possible links to usable stuff has been too high. A couple of weeks back, I subscribed to del.icio.us RSS feeds for the tags, "podcasting" and "broadcasting." With these, I'm finding many more usable links and I've been impressed enough that this weekend I've replaced 15 of the Google Alerts with del.icio.us feeds.
If you're not familiar with del.icio.us, it's a bookmark manager. Instead of using your browser's favorites page to enter your bookmarks, you can do it on del.icio.us and add descriptive tags ("radio," "DRM," etc.). Not only can you see all your own tags, you can also see what other people have saved using the same tags. And, using the magic of RSS, you can subscribe to those tags in your news aggregator (I mainly use Bloglines) so any time someone adds a bookmark using a tag in which you're interested, it registers as something new in your aggregator account. Very powerful.
So why is this important for digital media?
Google and other search engines give you everything that matches a search term -- kind of like drinking out of a firehose. On the other hand, del.icio.us tells you what other people think is important enough to bookmark -- that is, to what they are paying attention. Since the end of January, the Public Service Publisher initiative, in which I'm active, has had the benefit of the vision of Steve Gillmor, the co-proposer of the attention.xml specification, a means of harvesting metadata about actual usage to enable people to be smarter about what things they pay attention to. The tags used by del.icio.us and the photo site Flickr.com perform a similar function, though in a manual way.
Search will be important for future digital media sites, but with thousands of content elements, attention will be even more powerful.