I just dont get this whole bo.okmar.king thing.

Published on Author Christopher Fahey

What ARE these things??

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”.

5 Responses to I just dont get this whole bo.okmar.king thing.

  1. magnolia, minus it’s fine design is wak as far as i’m concerned. It’s like they polished the whole concept in an elegant interface to try to get the folks that don’t want to be hanging around in the low-rent design of delicious.

    But delicious rox. This is how I use it, if I’m on a page that I’ve come across in a way that doesn’t seem to fit in my normal search patterns, I bookmark it in delicious. Most of the stuff I bookmark are reference however… CSS hacks that I’ll never remember, tips on javascript or obscure PHP libraries that I may need sometime in the future. I rarely bookmark anything entertainment or art related.

    here’s my delicious page btw: http://del.icio.us/twhid

  2. Yup twhid, that’s what I do. All my important bookmarks I keep on delicious, the important ones I keep “at home”.

    It’s a great idea…maybe. It’ll fly with early adopter techies, not the general public.

  3. Okay, so I’ll admit–I am one of those del.icio.us add.ic.ts that has a link log displayed to the right of my blog. I’m not sure if this will clarify anything, but here’s my take:

    Del.icio.us, for me, is sort of like a giant footnote. I spend a lot of time online reading, surfing, and consuming. Frequently in conversations I’ll reference articles I’ve read, or funny videos I’ve seen, and, rather than writing down a link or looking it up to send in an email to someone, I can simply say, “It’s in my del.icio.us feed,” and they know where to go. This, of course, is assuming I’m talking to my friends who know that I have a website and know that I use del.icio.us in this manner (and have a basic understanding of what del.icio.us is).

    It’s sort of like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. Any time I find something interesting online, whether it’s an article, an image, a video, a blog post, whatever, I usually bookmark it using Firefox’s plugin. Sure, there’s plenty of stuff I don’t bookmark, but any time I sense that what I’ve read/watched/seen is something I’d like to be able to find again in the future, I’ll tag it with a few keywords for safe keeping.

    So the appeal, for me, is having searchable bookmarks. The appeal for people “tuning in” to my del.icio.us feed is that they can see some of the content I consume regularly.

    Think del.icio.us feed : remaindered links :: livejournal : MovableType.

  4. Glynnis, thanks for your explanation! I think I’m starting to see that, in fact, these aren’t the same as what I think of as traditional “bookmarks” — shortcuts to sites that you think you’ll need to retrieve quickly. They’re more like a permanent record of things you think are cool or useful or interesting. The “social” aspect is simply that you can use the tool to share links with other people, but not (as I assumed) that the links would be used to help you find other people you may find interesting. Or something like that.

  5. The entire “social” aspect of bookmarking is somewhat interesting. It’s easy to spot trends. I subscribe to the Delicious (I refuse to use the dotted notation) “popular” RSS feed, and sometimes I get some gems.

    But I don’t actually *use* Delicious anymore. The browser makes it easy for me to make a bookmark. I hit cmd-d, and then I usually hit “enter”. Bam! Bookmark created. With Delicious, even with the “bookmarklet” utility, I interrupt my flow. Not a good thing, especially when I am trying to concentrate.

    I used to use Delicious not for the social aspect, but rather portable bookmarks. Awhile back, browsers didn’t let you synch your bookmark file. Now Safari, and Camino both allow for this. Now my bookmarks travel with me.

    Ironically, I find myself not using bookmarks *nearly* as often as I use the browser history auto-complete. I can type “gmail” faster than I can move my hand to the mouse, select the bookmarks menu, and click the appropriate bookmark.