Interview With Experts: What’s so cool about del.icio.us?

I’ll admit it. I don’t really get what’s so compelling about the Del.icio.us shared bookmark service that has some of my colleagues raving and acting as evangelists for the company. Rather than live in ignorance, however, I decided to ask a few fans for their perspective, and am pleased that three true experts stepped forward.
I sent the same questions to Jeremy Zawodny (well-known member of the Yahoo! team and author of the interesting Zawodny’s Blog), Stuart Maxwell (who is busy building The Louveture Project and running Seattle Real Estate Talk), and Jeff Barr (Web services evangelist at Amazon.com and founder of Syndic8.com, an RSS aggregation service).
Q: What IS Del.icio.us, and why is it so popular with some people in the blogging world while others have no idea what it is and how it works?


Jeremy Zawodny:
Delicious is a service for saving and sharing bookmarks. It’s popular in the blog world because a lot of bloggers are information hounds that collect hundreds of links to interesting web sites. Delicious makes it easy to put them all in once place. Bloggers also like to publish links for their friends and readers to see, so there are a lot of tools for making that easy too.
Stuart Maxwell:
Delicious is, basically, a social bookmarking service. In a nutshell, that means that Delicious stores lists of bookmarks for me and tens of thousands of my closest friends, and we all get to see and search through each other’s lists. Let me try to explain why this is so cool.
Delicious has several advantages over browser-based bookmarks. First, all my Delicious bookmarks are taggable, meaning that, rather than having to choose just one folder in which to store a bookmark, I can assign each bookmark with as many unique keywords as I like. I can also attach a short note to each bookmark, giving me more context and reminders for why I wanted to save that particular URL.
Second, Delicious bookmarks are searchable. A search for “rss” will turn up results from my tags, descriptions (notes), and titles. I can also view my bookmarks by tag, and I can chain multiple tags together to narrow my search. So, for example, if I enter the URL: http://del.icio.us/stumax/blog+tech, I get a list of all the tech-related blogs that I’ve saved on the site.
Third, Delicious bookmarks are easily accessed in multiple ways through any browser or RSS reader. I work on multiple OSes throughout my day, so having access to my bookmarks at any time through the Delicious website is a godsend for me.
RSS is also well implemented throughout the site, so my Delicious list becomes a handy way to communicate. For instance, I’m currently working on a project with a friend in another state, so when I come across an article or website that I think he should read, I bookmark it with Delicious, add a unique tag that we’ve agreed on, and the new URL will show up in his RSS reader. Likewise, I can tell whenever he’s bookmarked something with the same tag. We could just email these links to each other, of course, but once we add more people to the project, email becomes more of a hassle.
So, all this gives me some pretty powerful tools for creating my own private web directory. And when you add in the social aspects of Delicious, you’ve really got an amazing alternative to a traditional search engine. Because not only can I search and subscribe to my bookmarks, I can search and subscribe to anyone else’s bookmarks, either individually or en masse to the whole Delicious community.
So, for example, I might, as I did the other night, start poking around for good travel sites and find a Delicious user with a rich list of travel-related bookmarks. I get the benefit of that person’s insight and knowledge. They’ve culled the web for me and and can point me to a vetted, high-quality list of URLs, thus saving me the effort of wading through a spam-filled Google search for the kind of information I really want. (Not to knock Google, which I love and rely on, but some searches these days are impossibly cluttered. Delicious helps deal with some of that.)
So, to get back to your question, why is it so popular with some bloggers and unused by others? Well, Delicious has some features that add value to a blog, like easy linkrolls, Delicious tag clouds, and so on. Also, there are the social benefits I’ve outlined above. Some people even use their Delicious link list as their blog, using the notes field to add extended commentary.
I think, though, that the value of Delicious isn’t obvious to everyone, especially people who tend to use one platform or browser exclusively. It didn’t help that the help pages that were available a year ago weren’t terribly thorough (that’s being remedied now). Moreover, not everyone may be comfortable with creating a public list of links. And there is the drawback that (for now, at least) you don’t have the option of adding private bookmarks. I do have to maintain a separate list of links to things like my domain admin login pages, for example. Hey, I don’t want to share everything.
Jeff Barr:
Del.icio.us allows users to associate short names, also known as tags, with URLs. The site can be browsed by tag; it is very easy to see all of the posts tagged with “css”, “politics”, and so forth. The tags form a categorization system, but this one is different than most others, since there is no central designer and no sense of right and wrong. The users effectively vote on the utility of each tag by deciding to use it in the same way that others do.
Del.icio.us can be approach on several levels and I believe that this is key to its success. Here are the levels as I see them:
1 – Users can go to the site and see the most recent and most popular items. This is the way that most people get started. Along the way they can’t help but learn a little bit about the fact that the site uses tags to organize the items inside.
2 – Users decide to participate, and use the site to store and share their bookmarks. To do this they also have to start tagging their posts.
3 – Users start to retrieve by tag, retrieving items under their own tags and under the tags left by others, to stay abreast of a topical area.
There’s a mental tipping point that comes into play here. At first people are rightfully skeptical of the entire tagging process, especially those with any familiarity or experience with the development of ontologies. The first thought is “this can’t possibly work. We worked for years to design an ontology for System X and it still wasn’t quite right.” After a while people see that the tagging
model can and does actually work, and that it produces useful results even though no one is in charge.
Q: How long have you been using delicious, and how often on any given week do you access the site or site data?
Jeremy Zawodny:
I’ve been using it for about a year now. My first bookmark was in November of 2004. But I was browsing del.icio.us for a few months before I finally got on board as a user. I probably post 5-15 links a week and visit the site a few times a day, usually to see the “popular” page which showcases the sites that have been getting bookmarked the most recently.
Stuart Maxwell:
I’ve been using the site since last September, and I use it every day. (I had to double-check; my first bookmark was SubEthaEdit) on September 16, 2004. Tagged with: collaboration, group, mac, software, text.) I have 1,012 bookmarks.
Jeff Barr:
I’ve been on there for longer than I can remember, early 2004 at least (I joined the mailing list back then, and I wouldn’t have done so before I was actually using the site). I check the front page several times per day and I add a new bookmark once or twice per day.
One interesting use case I have for tagging is that I often need to point people at a collection of documents on some subject. Changes are that this subject is well represented in the tags, so I simply send out del.icio.us URLs, rather than pointers to individual items.
Q: My understanding is that at a fairly basic level, delicious is a shared bookmark service. If your Web browsers could automatically sync with each other, office and home, laptop and PDA, would you still be interested in delicious?
Jeremy Zawodny:
Yes, I’d still use del.icio.us. I put very few bookmarks in my browser. It’s much easier to have them on-line where I can get to them from any computer, even one I’m borrowing for a few minutes in a foreign country. Plus, it’s nice that my friends (or anyone else who cares) can find them too.
Stuart Maxwell:
If a year ago my browsers had been capable of syncing with each other, I probably wouldn’t have tried Delicious. However, I would have missed out on the powerful features that make it such a useful service to me. I don’t think at this point that simple syncing of bookmarks would be compelling enough for me to consider leaving the service.
Jeff Barr:
This is true, but the sharing cuts across users, and automatic sync of my own bookmarks wouldn’t address this part of the functionality.
Q: There are other bookmark and voting sites out there, notably digg. What makes delicious compelling to you?
Jeremy Zawodny:
I’ve been watching digg a lot recently. It’s an interesting cross between Slashdot and del.icio.us and has become incredibly popular. I check it at least as often as del.icio.us, every day.
But del.icio.us is compelling to me and others for the same reason the Flickr is. You can get a lot out of the system by simply using it for yourself. However, there’s a lot more “social infrastructure” there if you want to tap into it. In del.icio.us you can see what other people think is popular, which tags, they use, etc.
Stuart Maxwell:
Like all good web services, Delicious is elegantly simple, truly useful, and subtly powerful. It doesn’t try to do too much, and it delivers its core service — bookmarking — reliably and well. The Delicious API has made possible dozens of tools for extending the service, adding even greater utility (here’s a big list).
Delicious also gives me something of value that I can take with me. I can download my links and leave the service at any time. That kind of freedom is hard to find elsewhere, and it buys a considerable amount of loyalty from me.
Jeff Barr:
The site is clean, simple, and fast; the tagging model is self-evident, and it gets a little bit better every day.
As a representive of Yahoo!, Jeremy also consented to another question that I couldn’t resist asking…
Q: And so, is Yahoo interested in buying delicious and integrating it into the Yahoo offerings? šŸ™‚
Jeremy Zawodny:
Ha! Why don’t I just fax you the list of companies we might acquire? šŸ™‚
Seriously though, I couldn’t comment on that even if I knew the answer. All I can say is that we’re always keeping an eye out for the Next Big Thing that someone might build outside of Yahoo.


Thank you three for your insight and thoughts on delicious. I have a feeling that in sixty days I’ll have become a convert too, you collectively present a very compelling case.
There are still people who are much more skeptical about Delicious and bookmarking services in general, however, so I’d invite you to share your reaction and skeptcisim here in the comments so we can engage in a thoughtful discussion about this class of services!

32 comments on “Interview With Experts: What’s so cool about del.icio.us?

  1. I get the searchability and non-monolothic categorization points, and it’s intriguing as a demonstration of the technology, but it seems to me that it would be much more compelling integrated into an existing search engine.
    For example, when I use Google, it would be really useful if results from my tagged bookmarks came up featured at the top like desktop results do if you’re using their desktop search.
    Or if when I clicked on the “related” button next to search results, I had the option to do an advanced search, see the tags that people had applied to that URL and choose which of them I wanted to see related sites based on.
    And HELLO… can someone please work on the UI for it? I’m not talking about the visual style – the craigslist ethos is fine with me. I’m talking about basic usability. I may be an ex-techie, but I’m still a whole lot more web-savvy than the typical user, and I have a hard time figuring out how to do stuff. It’s neither intuitive nor obvious, and there’s no contextual guidance. I would predict that the average internet user would look at the home page and just say, “What the heck is this?”
    I’m not knocking the overall concept, but as a stand-alone tool, in its current state, so far I’ve found it to be just another black hole for my time.

  2. Re: UI… I’ve found myself, perhaps foolishly, drawn to the tools that were as visually appealing as they were useful. Case in point: google. Simple, appealing UI on a useful platform. Digg has become a favorite for the same reason. del.icio.us… it reminds me of Microsoft’s Entourage. I know it’s powerful and I know it’s useful. But in terms of visual appeal they both, well, need work. Somehow I think I’m not investing the time needed for del.icio.us for the same reason – and the fact that it would easily fail the [grand]parent test for usability.

  3. The concept of snooping on everybody else’s bookmarks is certainly appealing and may actually be useful, but on even the most rudimentary, basic, bare-bones, critical, essential usability basis, the site gets an F-. The site itself *looks* easy (give them a B grade there), but from a cursory visual examination of the main page there isn’t the slightest clue as to what it really does. Someone has to tell you how to use it and what it really does for you or you have to read about it in detail somewhere else.
    At least they have a sense of humor. Take this “help” text: “Yeah but I still don’t get it…
    That’s ok, you don’t have to. It’s pretty intuitive and takes a bit of practice to fully understand. Just try it and experiment a bit!”
    See: http://del.icio.us/help/tags
    Tell me: Why should it take practice to understand??? Sure it may take practice to become skilled (although it *shouldn’t*), but practice to simply “understand”??? What is *that* all about???
    Sorry, but their implied definition of “intuitive” is 180 degrees counter to the common-sense definition of “intuitive” (“directly apprehended”). Of course, I shouldn’t have to say this on a blog labelled “Intuitive Life”.
    If they would simply label the web site as “A Web Bookmark/Favorites Sharing Service”, I’d raise my grade of them from F- to F+.
    As for utility, the simple fact that it doesn’t fully support multi-word, phrase tags renders it uninteresting for my level of work. You should be able to tag pages as “Intuitive Life” and somebody should be able to query for “Intuitive Life” and get the bookmarks for the phrase and not the disconnected words, unless I choose to write my query as disconnected words. Actually, the service does appear to search through page titles using phrases, but the bookmarks themselves are not tagged by phrase, and even the searching varies between different search boxes for the service. It’s rather confusing.
    Incidentally, when I tried the service again just now, it was really, really, really, really slow. That’s not a positive feature. FWIW, this is *precisely* why the idea of a centralized service is such a really bad idea. Why isn’t the service implemented as a P2P app?? Are we still back in the 1980’s?
    Sharing of web page interests has a lot of potential, Del.icio.us doesn’t quite do it justice.
    — Jack Krupansky

  4. I take the point of some of the commenters about the user interface. I guess I’ve been using it long enough that I’ve forgotten the learning curve. Here’s part of what makes things easy for me: I have the Post to Delicious bookmarklet in my Safari bookmark bar. (grab buttons here: http://del.icio.us/help/buttons). In Safari, you can access the first 9 bookmarks by holding Command+[number of bookmark]. By pressing Command-9, in my case, I get a Delicious page with a simple form. The title and URL are filled in for me and the rest of the page lists recommended tags from my tag cloud, my complete tag cloud, and popular tags for that web page (if any). I can click on tags from any list to add them, or I can just start to type in the “tags” field and Delicious auto-suggests tags based on my keystrokes. Couldn’t be simpler!
    I’m not saying Delicious doesn’t have its flaws, but really, it’s become second nature to me, and nearly as unnoticable as storing a regular bookmark in the browser. And at the end of the day, it’s far more powerful and flexible than my heirarchical browser list, and to me, that makes up for any flaws.
    (To Jack: If it helps, the common practice at Delicious seems to be to write multiple words as one word (i.e., intuitivelife). You could also use hyphens or underscores.)

  5. Interesting to see the polarization of opinions here. I started in Dave’s place: “why is this so interesting to people? I don’t get it.” But the key is you need to start using it. Once you start collecting some links in del.icio.us its value and power becomes more apparent. Much like their delphic help text, it’s hard to explain its value to someone that isn’t actively using it.
    There’s a point that is mentioned on in your interviews but could use further elaboration: RSS. The ability to subscribe to tags (or collections of tags) is huge. I nuked almost all of my local bookmarks and instead created RSS bookmarks in my browser’s toolbar for my important del.icio.us tags. This makes del.icio.us almost completely transparent in my day-to-day use. I use a couple computers and a couple browsers (OmniWeb and Safari mostly), and all my bookmarks are up-to-date all the time. In OmniWeb it’ll even auto-complete URLs in the address bar for items in the del.icio.us feeds.
    I also bookmark the “post to del.icio.us” script that makes adding bookmarks very quick and painless. The fact that it suggests “recommended tags” based on a semi-union of your existing tags and popular tags for a given item is very helpful. But the powerful thing about “recommended tags” is that it nudges people towards using common tags. The whole tagging metaphor works best when people use the same tag names for the same concept. For example, I have some pages on the now-obscure handheld devices that ran Magic Cap, an OS created by General Magic. In del.icio.us I tagged them “magiccap.” Others have bookmarked them (and other pages) and also used the “magiccap” tag. Thus I can go to del.icio.us and look for all the magiccap tags and get a good list of pages related to Magic Cap. If people were left completely to their own devices, they might have chosen “magic_cap” or “generalmagic” or other such tags, and it would be much harder to get an aggregate list.
    These features are subtle on the surface but very powerful when you start thinking about them. As Jeff Barr stated, who would of thought that this kind of system would have the power it does? The tagging model *does* work in their case, largely because of how they use popular tags to recommend tags to you. You can integrate del.icio.us into your browser via the RSS feeds. Then you can go browsing del.icio.us to find other useful sites by browsing tags or other user’s lists. (I’ve found some great stuff this way.)

  6. Thanks for the post and the comments. I especially found the comments entertaining. As it happens I just signed up for Delicious last night out of curiosity and I now understand what it’s all about. But the ui? It makes Google Adwords look like the world’s greatest application.

  7. There is a Firefox extension called “Foxylicious” that will sync in your delicious bookmarks into Firefox, grouped by tag. After getting that going, I don’t use local bookmarks anymore, I bookmark a site with the delicious bookmarklet and view them through the regular bookmarks menu.
    Sean

  8. The one significant point I feel was missed is that participation in the del.icio.us community empowers others as much oneself, in terms of raising awareness, and that holds great value by itself.

  9. To me the allure of del.icio.us is that I control how bookmarks are organized. Meaning the structure of the information is relevant to me; to the way I think. On top of that, the social aspect of things is very powerful.
    What do people who have similar interests to me look at? With del.icio.us, I know. I get exposure to new and different ideas.
    I concur with some of the other comments that del.icio.us may not be the most appealing to the eye. Try out this webapp called del.icio.us director and see if the interface is more appealing to you.
    http://johnvey.com/features/deliciousdirector/
    Yahoo! is also looking at tagging with their offering “My Web 2.0” and with their purchase of Flickr.
    http://myweb2.search.yahoo.com/
    Tagging = Relevance. Relevance leads to a better overall experience.

  10. Naoya Ito, a director at Hatena Co. told me a nice little story with del.icio.us during a roundtable discussion which would be published very soon on monthly ASCII magazine (in Japan and in Japanese language).
    He keeps eyes on his friends’ del.icio.us bookmarks.
    Earlier this year, he started seeing some bookmarks which included the term “Web 2.0.”
    Soon after he started seeing tons of them and this is how he realized “Web 2.0” is becoming a big new trend.
    del.icio.us also can be a way to catch the next big wave early on.

  11. I have a delicious account but use Furl more. Furl’s archives offer more information in a better way than the My Delicious page does. I do visit Delicious daily to see what’s the hot web page, but I use the service only as a back up to Furl.
    With both these services I’ve almost abandoned my brower’s bookmarks. I’ve wanted a way to synch bookmarks across computers for a long time and both these services allow me to do that.

  12. del.icio.us is a prime research tool for groups collecting blog and web pages. The power of the for:joesmith construct is awesome.
    It is a simple idea presented in a simple way that works – I like the lack of clutter.

  13. I would have to agree with Dave that I don’t find del.icio.us all that great of a service. I do find value in having lists of highly related links that add value though. Like a big list of free directories.

  14. Hey there, I ran into your blog again regarding this del.icio.us post… i couldn’t find your post about the thinkpad tablet that you loved. I ended up buying the Fujitsu lifebook T4215, i like it a lot better then my thinkpad.
    Sorry for off topic, but your tablet insite was useful!

  15. This is a very informative post. I’ve been using del.icio.us for some time now, but what I still couldn’t figure out is why is my saved bookmarks page not indexed by Google at all. I understand the precaution of placing nofollow attributes on my links to guard against spam, but it’s so uncool for del.icio.us if they’re puting some script to prevent the my page from being indexed. I’ve tried linking TO my del.icio.us page from several sites, but it remains uncached. What gives? The no follow attribute should be enough.

  16. Ok, I just have question. Why do I want to use delicious to store bookmarks when I have my bookmarks in folder/sub-folders that I can quickly access on my local machine? Why would I want to create hundreds, if not thousands, of folders/sub-folders by adding additional tags and notes to each bookmark. I just don’t have the time to do all that extra work. If I know where a bookmark is in my folder/sub-folder structure I can go right to it. With the tags I have a huge list that keeps getting bigger and bigger that I need to search to find the results that I want. I haven’t yet found a search engine that really does the job. So with delicious I end up with bigger, longer lists’, additional work on each bookmark and I have to access a website that slows the entire process down? I am not against this, I just haven’t heard a good reason to engage it. Please help me out here. Thanks!

  17. I am still a del.icio.us user and find the service useful for bookmarking. Using tags, I can quickly find old bookmarks, since I usually remember which tags I used. Iā€™m using delicious as my search engine more than google these days šŸ™‚

  18. I think the bookmarking benefits have yet to be really tapped. It takes a little bit of time for your bookmarks to be indexed and given any sort of weight. I do think its an excellent long term concept though. Most people get the idea that if they bookmark something they will immediately see some sort of benefit.

  19. Has anyone used Delicious for serious research? For example, if I wanted to check the latest trends in management consulting, how could Delicious help me? I’m interested in whether there are websites collectively organized to discuss issues like organization health and executive team development. Maybe I’ll scout around Delicious a bit more and see if I can find such a constellation. Thanks for your views guys.

  20. del.icio.us is basically a bookmarjing site. As a virtual sales person I use it to bookmark the sites of my clients. Combined with a proper online marketing strategy it delivers nice results.

  21. I use delicious and digg mostly for all sites. What i mostly like is that they both have a lot of traffic, and if you got some news related site it is pretty good for generating traffic.

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