Zeldman’s gang over at Happy Cog have just designed and launched the brand new ma.gnolia, a new social bookmarking tool. Ma.gnolia seems to be something like del.icio.us, of course (as if you can’t tell already by the product’s na.me). And there are other sites, too, like Outfoxed and Stumbleupon, which also allow you to share bookmarks with other people. Social bookmarking is, apparently, hottt.
So I must confess: I have no idea what this social bookmarking thing is all about.
Sure, I could probably do a little research and figure it out. And I will. But, for the moment, please bear with me as I articulate the rationale behind my current state of partial ignorance.
My experience with social bookmarking so far has been this:
- I’ve seen del.icio.us mentioned incessantly by the blogerati, and I’ve seen it listed in the right column of many blogs.
- I know del.icio.us was bought by Yahoo.
- I’ve visited the home pages of both del.icio.us and ma.gnolia. I’ve skimmed a few internal pages, too.
You would think that at some point along the way I would have figured it out. But I have not. How is it possible that a hooked-up information architect like me can be hung up on something that so many others seem to really dig?
Barriers to Adoption
My first reason for my ignorance is that both sites do a horrendous job of explaining their product. You would think that their home pages would have a crystal clear articulation of what the heck they are selling. But no dice: neither site bothers to explain much of anything on their home page. Understanding the basic concept of “social bookmarking” is the most important obstacle to adoption of these products…. yet both sites treat the problem as an afterthought, relegating their explanation to bare-bones (even haphazard) FAQ pages. Shouldn’t these sites have big, bold explanations of their concept, like an elegant infographic? A succint, finely crafted 25-words-or-less “elevator statement” explanation?
Instead of doing this, however, both sites assume you already know what they are and what they do. Especially ma.gnolia, who seems to care more about attracting existing del.icio.us users than creating and cultivating new social bookmarkers.
My second reason for not understanding social bookmarking (and this may be my biggest obstacle) is that I have a basic incompatibility with the core concept: I don’t really use bookmarks.
Really, I don’t even use bookmarks!
Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. I do bookmark a few sites that I visit all the time for my job, such as webmail, client extranets, development/QA sites, and company timesheets. And, yes, I often bookmark pages I am researching so that I can quickly return to them a few hours later, or the next day. For example when I am researching a client’s competitors, I will open them all in separate Firefox tabs and then select “Bookmark all tabs in a folder” to save all of the URLs in a single batch… later, when I want to continue researching, I can open all 20 sites at once. It’s easy to see that I would not want these bookmarks to be shared with the public, and I would not want these bookmarks to be used to recommend other interesting sites to me, as these sites do not really reflect my personal interests.
I’ve also “bookmarked” about 20 blogs and news sites that I visit nearly every day. But I keep those URLs in MyYahoo, not in my browser bookmarks.
Other than that, I usually find what I need online by typing in URLs, clicking links on web sites, or using the old reliable Google.
I am a special, unique person
Perhaps my reluctance is similar to many people’s initial reluctance to accept, for example, Amazon’s collaborative filtering recommendations (“People like you also liked…”). Most of us like to think that we’re unique, that our tastes aren’t similar to anyone else’s.
I also have a sneaking suspicion that neither del.icio.us nor ma.gnolia are powered by anything as fancy as a collaborative filtering system. Instead, they seem to be based on real, actual connections you make with other people you choose to connect with who are users of the system. Amazon’s recommendations are pure math, and pay no attention to who you are, who you know, or even what the products you bought or rated actually are. All they care about is making fuzzy matches between your buying patterns and the buying patterns of hundreds of other people who enjoy the same products you do.
Maybe it’s just not for me
Maybe both sites are doing a good job explaining themselves, but maybe the reality is so utterly unappealing to me that I assume that they are simply not explaining it right. I also wonder how many people who talk a lot about these products actually use them.
Or maybe, just maybe, there’s a magical “a-ha” that occurs after really trying to use these sites, as if they were the embodiment of that classic product selling point, “Something you never knew you needed, but can’t live without”.