My Delicious Bookmarks

Ever since I started using Delicious to save bookmarks I always thought one day they’d start offering ways for you to go back through them spotting patterns and surfacing interesting things. They never have, so I downloaded all my bookmarks, wrote some PHP to parse out the data and created a bunch of graphs and stats from them.

Some Thoughts About this

My initial motivation to do this was just because, like a lot of this personal informatics stuff, you plod away repeatedly recording stuff day by month by year and at some point you expect to get something back (in my case I want colourful graphs — always). It seems like Delicious never really got round to that part. Perhaps in the process of being mushed into Yahoo! and in the rush of the web 2.0 and social networking revolutions the idea of presenting your bookmarks back to you in some useful way got lost.

My initial idea was that these would be bookmarks I’d want to come back and look at. That’s why I thought I was tagging them and describing them so I could easily find them again. Only I never really did.

A Stream?

What with the rise of Facebook and Twitter since then the idea of online bookmarking has been overtaken by more of a “hey, look at this” kind of behaviour which was always part of Delicious but maybe only one part. Twitter and Facebook were definitely not (at first anyway) creating an archive of everything you put into them in order that you could then go back and find it again, so maybe the influence of these two drew Delicious away from that kind of thing too.

Also searching for things online (even things I’ve bookmarked) is simply always a matter of Googling. The actual effort required is so much less and usually the results are just as good. Only very occasionally have I found myself coming back to these bookmarks and attempting to find something I’ve saved before. A lot of times I’ve tried and failed.

So Delicious was left more as a disposable stream of my online activity for others to watch but not really for any other longer-term purpose.

A Collection?

Then recently with Facebook’s timeline and reading things like Matt Webb’s thoughts on Instagram (and Phil Gyford’s response) made me question whether there isn’t some more value in looking back at all this and trying to get some meaning from it. Whether all this activity over the years couldn’t be turned back into something of use after all.

Having taken the time to try and do this I’m still a little unsure. Personally my own store of bookmarks doesn’t reveal a huge amount I couldn’t have guessed. Things like the top tags, or the analysis of the descriptions, seem only to confirm what I’d have thought they’d show. It’s nice to see little bits of my personal history popping out in places but they are fairly few and not intensely evocative.

Perhaps I’ve looked at the wrong things. Maybe there’s more to glean here by looking more closely at the long tail and at the individual bookmarks themselves. Maybe the larger patterns at the top end of my usage are always only going to reveal the obvious.

So Where's The Value

I think the real value in Delicious is perhaps not for an individual. The real value only becomes apparent when you gather the usage of all the people and start to look for patterns in that. This was undoubtedly seen by people right at the start and arguably was the driver behind a lot of folksonomy style sites. What’s interesting to me is that the overall benefit was always meant to be tied to an individual benefit too. This is far clearer for a service like Flickr where your individual archive has a unquestionable value for you personally as well as for the group as a whole, but now I wonder what the personal value of Delicious might be. Is it simply the sharing?

There’s a question over the lost links too. Now that content has disappeared should I keep those bookmarks? Should Delicious automatically cull them for me? Or are they actually now more useful as historical markers to remind me of those things I was looking at back then and of the strangely finite life of some of the content on the web?

Even bookmarks themselves seem a strange breed when you really look at them. Always slightly illusive in their purpose. Always fighting that battle with the search-engine for speed of use and actual utility. Do I actually want to curate a gallery of bookmarks and prune and cut them into some kind of shape or form? Would that be of use as anything other than self-expression? Should I simply be posting these things directly to Twitter instead now as “hey look at this” or more simply “this is where I currently am” (a web analogy for location).

And So?

I think I would like to see Delicious try and find ways to feed back my usage to me. I’m not sure if what I’ve done would really be the right way (although I am a sucker for colourful graphs!) but I can’t help feeling there must be something in it. I think in general though there is a question over what we're doing when we add to services like this. Whether that’s just something we need to work out for ourselves or whether it has wider implications for the way services like Delicious allow us not just to see what we’ve done, but to draw meaning (and therefore value) back from it; it will surely be more and more important in the future.