We’re always eager to record our activity and we’re always looking for a way to catalog it so that we can reference it later on. I suppose that’s why the social bookmarking industry came to fruition. A few years ago, I wrote about this phenomenon and for a while they kind of blended in to the void – who really used them anymore. So why bring it up? Well it just happened to be because Delicious has just rolled out a brand new update to their service – nearly eight years since its founding. But was this change revolutionary enough that it would change the way we bookmark the Internet?
A wild and turbulent ride
Delicious has had a lot of ups and downs in its short eight year existence. Within two years of its creation, search engine giant Yahoo bought it in an move that some say may have been between $10-12 million. From there, not much seemed to take place and within the next the next few years, people wondered what would become of the service. Then in 2010, the answer came: Yahoo, in their infinite wisdom, was going to “sunset” the service, meaning that it would be shut down. The community went up in arms over this decision and protested the move. But soon after, the founders of YouTube stepped in to save the day and through their new company, AVOS, they purchased the social bookmarking service.
So what’s new for Delicious?
Last month, Delicious rolled out a new feature to their website service that is supposed to change the way we look at bookmarking. Called “Stacks”, this seems to be a more public view of content-similar posts that someone can bookmark. How it would seem different than leveraging the tagging system already deployed is minimal because they both function the same way. They call Stacks the “playlist of the web” where you can shuffle and arrange contextual bookmarks in a specific order that makes it more compelling for others to check it out. I think it’s pretty cool that Delicious has rolled out this new feature, but simply re-skinning the service that millions of people are using isn’t a motivating or compelling thing to keep using it. It’s just putting on a new coat of paint while the sink and the air conditioning are broken in the house. Sure it’s a cool thing to have, but was it really the necessary thing to update?
From what I can gather by looking at the video on the Delicious site, Stacks is a great visual way for you to summarize content related to specific themes. So if you wanted to paint a pretty picture about the Arab Spring or the #OccupyWallStreet protests, you can bookmark any webpage, tweet, video, audio file or anything else digital and online to share with the public. And there you have a pretty good summary. For those in public relations or want to find an interesting way to showcase your press coverage relating to a specific launch (and have it be more social), this might be a more visual way to do it. The more I think about it, the more I want to say that Delicious is slowly becoming the Visually of social bookmarking.
How did it go so wrong?
Soon after their new launch, there seemed to be a few problems with the way Delicious was operating. From lost bookmarks to receiving 404 errors on the site to basically having the bookmarking service suffer from apparent Alzheimer’s, the community was in arms and they didn’t like it one bit. Tech publication GigaOm ran it down and provided the following key points on how things went horribly awry:
AVOS didn’t understand how people were using the website
The changes don’t appear to have a major impact on casual users, but how many casual, active users of Delicious were there? The visual chrome is a welcome addition for a site that’s trying to go more mainstream, but it comes at the expense of information: elements now obscured or made invisible include the tagging system (which has always been one of the site’s core strengths) and the network (the basic unit of social currency on the site).
An interesting point here since when I look at the new design from the new Delicious, it’s just all aesthetics…just another coat of paint, but without any real addition that would warrant all the hoopla that a major service launch would usually receive. But when you’re trying to be a bookmark service like Delicious, the whole point is making sure that you make it easier for people, even the curators of the information, able to find the information that they want – so don’t make your service more difficult to use because it will lead people to not care anymore.
AVOS didn’t get how people were using the API
Delicious had a lot of web developers and technologists as users. Many of them used the site’s APIs to pull data in and out, particularly to publish elsewhere — on blogs, news websites. Today, those things are pretty much broken — and, more to the point, there were no signals given beforehand.
Seems that Delicious may have inadvertently or carelessly shut down any or all of the third-party applications that were leveraging the service’s API in some way, shape or form. And if they’re going to be using your service, seems that there wasn’t any notice of it either. Surprise!
AVOS didn’t understand they were playing with a live product
This is probably the crucial element. In the web industry, we are all very used to developing sites in beta, testing things out, seeing the data that comes out. That’s the development process. Except Delicious wasn’t a new product; it was an existing one with a small but committed following. Those users who loved Delicious really loved it: they’d stuck around through years when the product was given minimal development or resources. They’ve been rewarded with deleted accounts and other problems, which has made them pretty angry.
What seemed to be happening with Delicious is that they probably felt that the service was like a website that most people wouldn’t care who’s using it. But the sad truth here is that people are using it and they are currently using it. New updates shouldn’t happen all nilly-willy without considering all ramifications and excellent testing to make sure that nothing will break to lessen a user’s experience. I think I like this quote from the GigaOm article that states that regardless of whether you’re redesigning or rebuilding, you have a legacy to maintain. It’s your reputation that’s on the line.
Delicious got a second chance at life, but is making a slow recovery
We all thought better of Delicious when we heard that the founding team of one of the hottest startups in the past decade was going to take it over. After all, the founders of YouTube sold for a very sizable deal to a company that has really shown promise in using it. And with the likes of Chad Hurley, the community had an expectation that Delicious would succeed. But to our astonishment, it seems that nearly a year later, the advancements to Delicious are moving at more of a snails pace and in a way where more opportunities should happen faster before people decide it’s being mismanaged.
The service clearly has an opportunity for businesses and the tagging feature is probably one of the strongest, but there needs to be a more innovative way for people to share their bookmarks and to archive their activity.
Here’s hoping that Delicious pulls a rabbit out of its hat for the next act. Maybe third times the charm?
Photo credit: dimitri_c / sxc.hu