Yahoo has announced that it’s selling the social-bookmarking service Delicious to YouTube’s cofounders, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, who plan to make it part of a new startup called AVOS. Delicious was one of the first startups to tap into social media and user-generated content, but it has languished for the past couple of years. Hurley and Chen say they’re going to support and improve Delicious, but they may have to work to remind people why social bookmarking is still relevant.
When Delicious was launched in 2003, the site was a revelation. Born of the personal experience of analyst Joshua Schachter—who maintained a site called Memepool on which he collected interesting links—Delicious allowed users to publicly bookmark sites and add tags to describe them. The main function was to store this information and make it easy to retrieve. But it soon became clear that the real power of the site lay in its collective data.
To this day, if you go to Delicious and search for a term, you’ll get a rich repository of useful links. Searching “Yahoo” brings up a combination of links to news articles, instructions, and information about the company’s services—a wealth of collective wisdom.
People used Delicious to collect their personal links and search through other users’ links. Researchers also mined Delicious for data. The Palo Alto Research Center, for example, used the tagging data created by Delicious and other social-bookmarking services to build an engine for Web search and exploration.
But Delicious has largely been superseded by Twitter and Facebook, and researchers are jumping to mine data from those sites instead. Some companies are building data from Twitter and Facebook into search engines to make results more real-time and relevant.
Though there was an outcry last December in response to rumors of the imminent demise of Delicious, the site had faded from the spotlight. Yahoo acquired Delicious in 2005 and allowed it to languish without much new innovation.
Delicious also suffered from the classic social-media problem: it never showed a clear path to profitability. In 2006, Schachter told Technology Review that he had struggled to expand the site’s audience. “You have to solve a problem that people actually have,” Schachter said. “But it’s not always a problem that they know they have, so that’s tricky.”
But this stagnation shouldn’t be seen as a sign that social bookmarking is no longer relevant. An enterprise version of Delicious known as Dogear is still a key part of Lotus Connections, the social software for business that’s sold by IBM. The company uses tags and social bookmarks to improve search functions and enable employees to organize information from both inside and outside an organization.
Yahoo says AVOS will begin managing Delicious around July 2011. Hurley and Chen plan to start reinvigorating Delicious by creating an extension for Firefox 4. After that, Hurley said in a statement, “We see a tremendous opportunity to simplify the way users save and share content they discover anywhere on the Web.”
AVOS hasn’t given any details on what that might mean, but social bookmarks maintain some definite advantages over other ways to share links, such as Twitter. For one thing, they gather related topics together. Delicious can create a living, breathing archive of relevant information surrounding important keywords. It can also create the same type of information for individuals who use the service. And all of that information can be viewed easily in one place, rather than picked out of a scattered stream of data. Delicious is also designed to keep long-lasting stores of data, unlike the tweets and social-network posts that flit ephemerally down the data stream.
If Hurley and Chen can find a way to harness these strengths, they could bring Delicious back from its years in the doldrums.