This time last year Yahoo announced their decision to 'sunset' the Delicious social bookmarking service. At the time I bemoaned the fact that Yahoo had done nothing with the service for five years inspite of the fact that it had so much potential.
A few months later it was bought by the founders of YouTube (who had cashed out). Since then, they've invested in a few changes that seem to have taken it more in the direction of becoming a sort of social news service. Fair enough I guess, but (personal view) these changes have done little to improve the core reasons I use the site – the ability to bookmark, organise and share great content.
Seems I'm not alone. Charles Arthur has just written a piece in The Guardian about how they are moving their bookmarking service over to Pinboard. The reason? Delicious's apparent strategy to move away from being "something like the plumbing for the net". He's right. It's strength was always in the fact that it was one of the earliest Web 2.0 services that was truly built on platform thinking, with it's functionality embedded in browsers, websites and blogs alike. But whilst this core functionality provided an excellent base, it needed to develop and be augmented in order to keep pace with not only competitive services, but evolving user requirements and expectations. For me, there are 4 key areas where that needed (and still needs) to happen:
1. Capitalise on the network. Delicious was one of the first (pre-Twitter) places where I connected up to smart people whose opinion I respected and who shared really good content. The feed from the network used to be a great source of interesting links and it still is, but it's usefulness has been surpassed by networks that offer improved levels of curation, filtering and organisation, not just aggregation.
2. Improved functionality for content – I'd like Delicious to enable offline reading (like Instapaper), and perhaps clipping, improved note-taking, mobile functionality (like Evernote), easy posting to Tumblr. I use each of these services for different reasons, but I use Delicious the most so if I could do it from one place I'd prefer to. I guess better curation of content is at least part of the thinking behind the recently launched Stacks feature, but sadly (despite being a long-time user) this functionality was never introduced or explained to me – it just appeared with the redesign.
3. Better search. It's never been any good, and yet with the amount of bookmarked content on the platform there must be a huge potential to deliver back real value to existing users, but also a great utility for potential new users.
4. Make some money. Charles Arthur's piece in The Guardian makes a clear point about Pinboard establishing a model around being a paid-for service and the relative freedom that gives them. Pinboard have no doubt been able to pull this off because (at least in part) of the ground broken by Delicious. I would pay for a premium Delicious service but I've never been asked. I've been bookmarking links on the service for five years. That's over 8,000 bookmarks. Every day, hundreds of thousands of Delicious users are busy tagging, organising and categorising a wealth of content on the web. Why has Delicious never thought to use that enormous wealth of data? Data that could have created the basis for a highly targeted advertising service. Or even better, a powerful recommendation engine that could serve up recommendations for great content based on what it knows about my preferences from five years worth of bookmarking, or even real-time recommendation based on what other Delicious users are bookmarking around the subjects I'm interested in right now.
It's easy to say all this in hindsight I know, but I say it because I'm still willing Delicious to succeed. Partly because I have so much invested in it, and partly because I still think it's fundamentally a good service that has such a powerful base to build on. I still use it, but it needs to get better. Under Yahoo, it suffered from innovation inertia for too long. I've just joined Pinboard (which has a business model where the more users join the more new users pay) but I sincerely hope I don't get to the point where I have to use it.