December 13, 2005

Markmaking

Ok, so I finally decided I want to start using a bookmarking tool. I have a wealth of bookmarks from the past 8 or so years that I’ve painstakingly kept organized and categorized in a variety of browsers (Safari being the latest). This works out great, except for when I need to find something which I can’t recall the name or URL of. In those instances I would love to have some extra info attached to bookmarks like tags or descriptions. It’s been on my mind all year, but the uncertainty of investing that information somewhere else (alongside the time involved in doing so) has kept me a bit guarded. And which tool would I use?

As I thought more about this, one of the biggies in bookmarking made some changes. Last week del.icio.us was acquired by Yahoo, who also bought Flickr and Upcoming.org (among others) earlier this year. Hmmm. Del.icio.us is a great idea made even greater by the fact that it wasn’t made by a company, it was just one guy. From the info page: “Joshua Schachter created del.icio.us in 2003 to help him and his friends save and share web pages.” Since del.icio.us was just one guy, he didn’t set out trying to capture the marketplace and outdo competitors, but this is precisely what Yahoo as a business needs to do.

What is it in me that just wants to support the independents? I use other products like 37signals’ Backpack on a daily basis, and I feel good knowing that the money I pay them makes the product better and makes my experience better. I felt like it was also a safe bet that the stalwarts at 37s wouldn’t likely sell to a larger company. Why is that Jason, you say? Because 37s isn’t in it for the money. Actually, that’s not entirely true, let me rephrase that; 37s isn’t in it for the profit. Yes, they want to make money, but that isn’t all they want, and it most certainly doesn’t seem to be the first thing on their list. They want to make a living doing what they love. That’s a big difference.

There is something that feels really dirty to me about what just happened with del.icio.us. A great tool is made and a great community forms around it, then the tool is sold and the community along with it. If I signed up for del.icio.us, I would do it because I appreciate and support what the people behind it are doing and because it makes my job/life easier. But, if after I was a member, they sold their product to a larger company that I didn’t appreciate, well, that would piss me off. Granted del.icio.us is free to users, so I really can’t argue too much, but what if a pay service like one of the 37s products was sold?

The overhead for making some sort of application to serve the masses is ridiculously low nowadays; one or two band together with a good idea take a shot at turning it into a gold mine in a year. But, how long can a system like that last? Entropy must come in to play at some point and people will just stop investing their time and energy into these seemingly fleeting ventures (I’m not saying anything about bubbles or popping). Acquisitions obviously aren’t a new thing, cell phone carriers are playing musical chairs every other month, but what effect does this have on a business. Do customers respect their brands? How can you even associate good feelings with a brand that’s a moving target?

I don’t have any direct problems with Yahoo, these are more observations than anything else. What I am mainly getting at here is the devaluation of brand and temporary nature of these companies. I’m not trying to pick on del.icio.us either, they popped in focus because they are in the news, and I was looking at bookmarking applications.

Perhaps this is the way things are headed; maybe web software, in the midst of opening up the social lines, is actually sacrificing itself by generalizing too much. Do they even need a brand anymore when the end result is to get bought? The brand in their case may just exist for the sake of gaining users and to essentially qualify themselves as a valid purchase, while the company becomes little more than a functioning software entity. This can only be further evidenced in the way a company is assimilated; we will have to see if del.icio.us keeps its name or becomes just another of Yahoo’s umbrella services. It begs the question, when the hype and 2.0 hooey has fallen away, what leg does your new company have to stand on?

Maybe I’m already blowing this out of proportion. Is it any different than when an independent band you like signs to a major label? What are your thoughts on all this?

Commentary (41):

1. bruno says… dec 13, 2005 | 3:34 pm

I recently fell head-over-heels for del.icio.us and constantly find new uses for it. The news of Yahoo aquiring it worries me. I think one of the keys to creating these great web tools is the community that stands firmly behind them. The community tests the product, gives feedback and provides many solutions.
My question is: Will the individuals working behind the scenes on del.icio.us still posses the collective brain power of the community? Or will the community abandon them in favor of a new “social start-up”?

Only time will tell.

2. Trey Piepmeier says… dec 13, 2005 | 3:38 pm

So have you decided on a bookmarking app yet? I’ve been enjoying del.icio.us for several months now. The only thing that bugs me about it is that you can’t put hyperlinks in your descriptions (so no “via” links). I have over 1000 bookmarks, and I can usually find what I’m looking for right away.

Now if Shaun would release his little private app, I’d be really happy. Especially if it would import from del.icio.us! :)

3. David O’Hara says… dec 13, 2005 | 4:02 pm

It’s for simliar reasons that I’m quitting using Konfabulator (I never got into del.icio.us). Once Yahoo! gets their mitts on something, I feel dirty just using - like some of that “Web 2.0 marketing goo” might have rubbed off on me. To say nothing of the awful cross-promoting, up-installing, general irritating that all their sites & apps seem to do now. Sad really…

I look forward to seeing what you come up with as an alternative though.

4. Ian says… dec 13, 2005 | 4:07 pm

I was pretty scared when Coca Cola bought Fresh Samantha. My concern being that they would load it down with preservatives and concentrates, thus rendering the product practically sterile. The good news? They just discontinued making it.
One has to wonder - was this related to sales? Was this the result of the brand’s loyal following assuming the fears I laid out above and eschewing the product? Were these cynical, health-minded “organic” types merely not interested in buying a Coke product based on principal?
I can’t answer these questions, but I sure could use a four dollar Desperately Seeking C.

5. Nick Toye says… dec 13, 2005 | 4:12 pm

What about Magnolia?

However, I’m sure it is a matter of time before they do well and then a big company comes in for you.

The friendsreunited people in the uk have recently sold their application to ITV I think it is, they made alot of money. Money that could go towards giving them a better life, or more money to gamble on in party poker.

I guess it comes down to how much you need the money or how is your conscience. When someone comes in with an offer of millions, its hard to say that you are not in it for the money.

6. feaverish says… dec 13, 2005 | 4:24 pm

If you do decide to go with del.icio.us, del.icio.us + Cocoalicious + delicious2safari is an unstoppable combination.

Cocoalicious is a desktop del.icio.us bookmarks manager, and delicious2safari integrates Safari and del.icio.us, storing your del.icio.us bookmarks in Safari’s bookmarks folder, and even organizing them by tags, if you want. This is great, since searching bookmarks in Safari is usually faster than searching del.icio.us.

7. Jon says… dec 13, 2005 | 4:41 pm

This sort of thing has happened in every industry - your friendly neighborhood business is bought by a larger company and is either assimilated or discontinued and the product is watered down or made obsolete. Only now our neighborhood is vastly larger and there are a whole lot more businesses and products that we come to use and love, so we see it more often. Plus, as you said, it’s cheap to not only make, but to market a product these days. This is a great benefit for Mac users in particular, who get to take advantage of cool programs like skedit and CSSEdit and SubEthaEdit to name a few in the edit field. In theory, these great products will get bought out at some point as well, and we’ll look for a new one. Consolidation is what happens in business. Innovation becomes the standard, then becomes unwieldy, then becomes evil, and is replaced by a new innovation.

8. Jason Santa Maria says… dec 13, 2005 | 4:47 pm

Nicely summarized, Jon. What I suppose I am really getting at here is the fact that speed really is playing into this equation more than it seems it ever has. When a company can start, gain a following, get bought and renamed in record time, what happens to the basic ideas of having a company, brand, and customers? Also, a small neighborhood store may get bought by a bigger one, but what did I really have invested in the small store other than my patronage? I don’t keep my groceries at the store after I buy them :D

feaverish: That is a pretty damn hot combo.

9. Mike D. says… dec 13, 2005 | 6:03 pm

I think the key is to just always allow your users to export their data and take it somewhere else. That’s the approach we’re taking at Newsvine.

As a company, you’d obviously love to be able to create the sort of lock-in that closed data formats provide, but the reality is that there are going to be enough similar services around to where eventually nobody will even use you unless you’re open. Instead, you should strive to provide emotional lock-in… that is, instead of making it impossible to leave, just make it so that someone would never want to leave in the first place.

Oh and by the way, you’re all communists. :)

10. Jason Santa Maria says… dec 13, 2005 | 6:09 pm

Mike D.: Exactly. And then we get back to brand and your users’ perceptions of you. Very good points.

11. Neil Cadsawan says… dec 13, 2005 | 7:30 pm

As Mike D. said in trying to create an “emotional lock-in” for users. He’s right. As Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message,” I think we’ve gone beyond that to the point where now its “the experience is the message.”

12. Jeff Louella says… dec 13, 2005 | 8:49 pm

I’ve been using and app called Pluck lately. Plus saves your bookmarks on the web and you can use a plugin for IE or FireFox. It also is an RSS Feed reader and saves your feeds. See for yourself. It doesn’t work in Safari though.

13. Greg says… dec 13, 2005 | 9:25 pm

It would be interesting to compare the branding efforts of the companies/apps that have been purchased by Yahoo! and compare what roll (if any) the brand had in establishing it as something that Yahoo felt needed to aquire.

14. Jonathan says… dec 13, 2005 | 10:09 pm

I was a little caught off guard when I heard that del.icio.us was bought out by Yahoo!

Only time will really tell weather or not this was a good ‘buy out.’ Recently a local music store in my area was bought out by a larger, national chain of music stores. Originally I wasn’t really pleased because I liked the idea of supporting the ‘little guy’, but having seen the changes that the new ownership has brought (better buying power from their suppliers = better end prices for the consumer, better products, etc.), I like it better this way. I realize that comparing a small music store to a web start-up is a little like apples/oranges, but I suppose it brings on the same initial feelings.

As was stated above, Yahoo doesn’t have a particularly good reputation when it comes to the takeover department, so we’ll have to wait and see how it affects the end user experience.

Google’s takeover of Urchin I’m sure generated a bit of negative feeling at first, but since then they’ve released Google Analytics (for free even) and vastly improved the product. Granted, they totally underestimated the initial demand and haven’t been able to catch up yet, but the over all experience has benefited greatly from Google’s expertise.

If Yahoo can take what del.icio.us has started and make it better, I’m sure most users will retain their affection.

15. Nathan Smith says… dec 13, 2005 | 10:13 pm

I’m curious to see if anyone will put a bid up for Digg, now that Del.icio.us has sold for a pretty penny. I agree with Greg too, and am curious as to how Yahoo will re-brand each of their aquisitions. I’m guessing it will be something along the lines of konfabulator, aka Yahoo widgets.

16. Luis de la Rosa says… dec 14, 2005 | 12:07 am

I’ve got a bookmarking tool for Mac OS X in public beta right now: WebnoteHappy Lite. It is freeware and runs on 10.4 (Tiger).

It was born out of similar frustrations… I had all these bookmarks, but they were hard to use. The theory behind WebnoteHappy Lite is that when you care enough about a page to bookmark it, you probably want to write something down about it to help you remember. Just freeform, whatever you’re thinking, as a note or as you refer to it, a description. I’ve done a lot of testing with the interface and have tried to make it as easy as possible to write a note.

Later, when you want to remember all the things that related to something that’s on your mind, you type in the search field. It searches your notes, the URLs, and the titles. Since it is a native Cocoa app, the search is fast.

All the data is yours on your local system and its stored as XML, so you can get to it whenever you want.

Check it out and let me know what you think. I’m working on adding smart folder and tagging/del.icio.us support now to the Pro version.

Luis - An aspiring Mac indie

17. gregR says… dec 14, 2005 | 2:35 am

Maybe you want to have a look at Blogmarks.net : bookmarking with screen capture and Export tool.

Or install Scuttle (OS clone of del.icio.us) on your server. I’m personnaly looking for bookmarking applications that you can install yourself.

18. Javan Makhmali says… dec 14, 2005 | 3:05 am

Is is just me or have the del.icio.us servers been frequently unavailable since Yahoo stepped in?

19. Nick Toye says… dec 14, 2005 | 5:30 am

Well I have decided to see what all the fuss is about with deli.cio.us

I must say it looks very messy, and there doesn’t seem to be a way of importing all your bookmarks in one fell swoop.

There must be a better cleaner solution.

20. june says… dec 14, 2005 | 8:38 am

You said:

“What is it in me that just wants to support the independents? “

For me, there is something about a small independent business that just seems more human to me. My downtown is full of locally owned small businesses. And to go into a small store and have someone recognize you, ask you about your dog and so on …is so much nicer than going into a gigantic store where you can’t find anything and when you ask for help, you get a cold half-assed response from someone who hates working there because they aren’t getting paid enough because the big boss needs more $$.

I also find comfort in the idea that by supporting a small business I’m more than likely helping someone feed their family than helping a CEO finance their next Yacht or vacation home.

There are, of course, exceptions to the above…but thats been my expereince more often than not.

I’m also proud to say that I haven’t bought a single a christmas present at the mall this year. But I’m also fortunate enough to live in a town brimming with small bussinesses.

21. Matt Henderson says… dec 14, 2005 | 8:42 am

If you’re on a Mac, you might want to check out BookIt. I wrote a small article about it a while back:

http://matt.makalumedia.com/2005/11/01/mac-bookit

22. Nick Toye says… dec 14, 2005 | 9:16 am

If I lived in New York, I would like to do most of my Christmas shopping in shops like “The Little Shop Around The Corner” from You’ve Got Mail.

It’s places like this that you find all the wonderful secrets of the world, not in places like Bookland or Waterstones (UK Shops).

Mind you with Amazon around how long will small business last?

23. Walker Hamilton says… dec 14, 2005 | 9:24 am

Try out scuttle. You can install it on your own server. It’s an opensource php app and really simple to setup and use.

24. ramanan says… dec 14, 2005 | 9:59 am

It should have been clear the moment del.icio.us got venture financing that at some point del.icio.us would need to start generating revenue or get sold. VCs are trying to make money. So, I think you posted this a little bit too late. Selling at this point to Yahoo makes sense.

They drove a big dump truck full of money up to my house. I’m not made of stone.? - Krusty the Clown.
I think it’s silly to worry about the indie cred of del.icio.us. I can’t imagine the site changing much at all. Perhaps it will carry adverts. Beyond that, it looks like Yahoo! hasn’t mucked around with any of its other acquisitions. Why would it start now?

25. ac says… dec 14, 2005 | 11:24 am

You might want to take a look at BlinkList (http://www.blinklist.com) which is best described as delicious meets gmail.

it’s still an independant, it’s respectful of your data rights (lets you import and export your marks) and is as easy to use as any other social bookmarking service out there.

26. Jason Santa Maria says… dec 14, 2005 | 11:27 am

ramanan: Great quote!

But, I think you are missing the point here. It has nothing to do with indie cred. The bigger points I am making is the breakdown of user expectations and a company’s outward perception.

Yahoo! hasn’t mucked around with any of its other acquisitions…
You haven’t done your research :D Why just this week Yahoo relaunched one of its new purchases, Konfabulator, as Yahoo Widgets.
27. Kim Siever says… dec 14, 2005 | 11:41 am

I’d be using del.icio.us more if they would finally get the bloody import feature working. I have hundreds of bookmarks stuck in my browser and I do not have the time to add each one individually.

28. Nick Toye says… dec 14, 2005 | 11:55 am

No me neither, I think I’ll try Blinklist.

For the record though I don’t care if yahoo buy stuff, but if they do mess around with it and make it function less - then I’ll look for alternatives.

29. ramanan says… dec 14, 2005 | 12:09 pm

I had forgotten all about Konfabulator. Point taken, though besides the rebranding I didn’t think it had changed at all. (I haven’t used the newer versions.)

Anyway, here is something else to think about: Before the VC funding, was Joshua making any cash from his del.icio.us project? I certainly don’t think so. (And VC funding isn’t quite the same as ‘making money’ anyway.) So, I think it is a bit unfair to compare del.icio.us to something like Basecamp; it is a bit unfair to place the same sort of expectations on del.icio.us that you would place on Basecamp. Basecamp does generate revenues for Jason and his group. Jason and 37signals are under no pressure to sell-out because they have a steady income. As soon as Joshua took venture funding this is exactly the sort of pressure his del.icio.us project would have come under. I think the moment he got funding is the moment peoples expectations of del.icio.us should have changed, for better or for worse.

I’ve re-read this comment again, and I’m not sure if I am actually addressing your point.

30. Mark says… dec 14, 2005 | 2:03 pm

I’ve skipped the comments, and I haven’t weighed any pros/cons/implications. That said, my reaction to the Yahoo!/del.icio.us news was the same as yours: Ugh.

I’m loyal to Google products, though. Part of it might be the Google/Yahoo! rift and my alignment with the former.

31. Jason Santa Maria says… dec 14, 2005 | 2:11 pm

ramanan: I am fine with companies and individuals wanting to earn an honest buck, more power to them. Like I said in my post, this is not meant to pick on Josh or del.icio.us (I am sick of typing that url then having to go back and correct where I put dots), this is more to voice some concern with the general bandwagon hopping that has come with many of these new applications getting popular. At a time when it seems that anyone can shell out a product, mention a few spotlight technologies and garner a following, it feels a bit shortsighted for entrepreneurs and for their target users. Who knows, natural selection will probably take care of them, I suppose I am just bemoaning the irony of starting a community while having little regard to what happens to your users after you’ve turned that honest buck.

32. Peter Venero says… dec 15, 2005 | 5:22 am

That’s all great - I don’t think you’re blowing anything out of proportion - so, the question is: what bookmarking tool ARE you gonna use? :)

33. Ted Drake says… dec 15, 2005 | 11:28 am

When Yahoo! bought Flickr, they didn’t rebrand it and shove it back out. Yahoo! was transformed by Flickr. They’ve truly changed the way things are done around here. The de.licio.us purchase, I’m assuming, goes with Yahoo’s movement towards social bookmarking as the future of web search.

Don’t think of it as buying an existing company’s customers. Think of it as acquiring Joshua’s influence. Sure, it may get absorbed into myYahoo, an existing product. However, the concepts will get spread to all of the Yahoo products.

Of course, I am not speaking for the company, I’m just a lowly frontend developer trying to make things pretty. If you haven’t checked out Yahoo in a while, give them a shot. Like the ad says, it’s not your father’s Yahoo.

34. Jason Santa Maria says… dec 15, 2005 | 11:42 am

Peter Venero: I am still leaning towards del.icio.us, especially because, from what feaverish says above, it sounds like I can keep my bookmarks in Safari and del.icio.us simultaneously. The key is for me to have a way to take my info somewhere else if I like. I am also considering a standalone hosted solution on my site like some of the ones listed above… but one of the best things about something like del.icio.us (obviously), is that I can benefit from everyone else’s links too. So, I’m still thinking about it.

35. Michael Berneis says… dec 15, 2005 | 3:09 pm

I always believed in the Syncronization of Bookmarks instead of central storage. (I even had a dot-com doing this for a long time - Wikipedia Link )
Especially when you move a lot between different physical machines (i.e. Home and Work) it is nice to see exactly the same bookmarktree without any need for manual interaction. It’s all about unobstrusive interfaces in my opinion. “Don’t make me think” !

And Jason, I just like to say how much I enjoyed your presentation at AEA.

36. Trent says… dec 15, 2005 | 8:49 pm

del.icio.us had to eventually change something about themselves. There was very little in the project itself that was capable of generating enough revenue to keep it self-sustaining. I can see Yahoo! being interested, though, as it’s a very clever way to get huge numbers of people to contribute to the creation of metadata for URLs, essentially the same task that Yahoo! began with.

I don’t think it’s in Yahoo!’s interest to change del.icio.us too much; the value for them, I think, would be in using the hand-generated metadata in order to organize their own searches.

del.icio.us is a great service and part of the value is the huge number of other users who can help lead you to relevant additional resources. For that purpose alone, I would choose del.icio.us if I were in your shoes.

37. Cory says… dec 16, 2005 | 12:16 pm

Michael,

Great tool! (syncIt), this is exactly what i’ve been looking for. I too, like the idea of syncronization over central storage. It’s nice being able to access my bookmarks from a browser menu rather than going to a website, logging in, and then viewing bookmarks. Thanks!

38. joshua says… dec 17, 2005 | 11:25 am

Hey, you don’t have to keep me on this commentary but check out:

www.onfolio.com

I Love it.

39. ryan says… dec 18, 2005 | 10:29 am

Use www.shadows.com. It’s ran by a bunch of guys that admit up front that they want to be bought!

40. gazpacho says… jan 5, 2006 | 5:19 pm

yahoo bought flickr? where have I been?

41. Danny says… mar 1, 2006 | 10:34 am

I know this is this an old article but I want to share mag.nolia. Much like the other marking site but better organized, unbloatted and easy on the eyes.