Are Bookmark Services Dying?

Some applications have great general usage patterns, while other applications are very specific in nature. Bookmarking is one of those general usage applications, but lately people have mentioned that they don’t use it anymore. The discussion of bookmarking started a few weeks ago when XMarks announced they would be shutting down, and a few days later stating there may be some life in the service. When news like this appears, people start talking about it. In particular, two people mentioned that they do not use bookmarks, but they are people more involved with the real-time web. One of the posts, from Mahendra Palsule, contains a good overview of the types of bookmarking applications exist and why you might use them. However, Mahendra, an editor for Techmeme, gives his reason for not using bookmarks:

I do not use any service that lets me save a link that I can read later. Because, by the time ‘later’ comes, there is already plenty of new stuff for me to check out.

Living real-time means it is always now or never.

I have nothing but respect for Mahendra and Mark Evans, the author of the Sysomos post, but the question is whether people fully immersed in the real-time web should be looking at the future of bookmarking. Bookmarks are long-term storage for content you want to review later. As a software engineer, I still use Delicious for bookmarking various posts that are tutorials, tips or introductions to new technologies.

Mahendra argues that Google search may be a better source of information because content changes all of the time. The problem with search is that it may find some good information but it may not find the article or blog post that you were looking for. Even if you do find something you were looking for, is it always a one-time search, or is it something you need to go back to in the future?

The real problem is not whether bookmarking has a future, but whether long-term bookmarking services like Delicious, Diigo and PearlTrees have a future when they are fighting against the newer bookmark synchronization functionality appearing in browsers. This becomes a bigger problem with the addition of devices like mobile phones and tablets. These devices promote the idea of quick review of content, but possibly not a thorough reading of content. For this type of short-term bookmarking, services like Instapaper and ReadItLater really shine. Both applications also have excellent mobile applications that make the services even better.

If you look at the traffic on Compete for Delicious, Diigo and XMarks, each service has declined over the past year. It could be that the general focus and usage of bookmarking has changed. With browser bookmark synchronization, and the rise of short-term bookmarking services, long term bookmark services could be in danger and the issues with XMarks may just be the beginning.

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14 thoughts on “Are Bookmark Services Dying?

  1. Agreed – his comment of “I never use Delicious anymore” isn’t backed in anything but his personal opinion. Content that is “breaking now” is not all there is and is an extremely myopic view of the internet. Bookmarking services like Delicious definitely still have a lot of use.


    1. Adam

      They (Mahendra and Mark) do have a point though. A lot of people are moving away from these services, potentially moving to Instapaper or even Chrome’s bookmark sync. I am not sure if I will move away from Delicious unless I am forced.


  2. I’ve used many of the bookmark-type tools out there, including Google Bookmarks, Google Notebook, Foxmarks / Xmarks, Firefox and Chrome Sync, and Evernote. I never got into the social bookmarking sites – not sure why, there was just never any appeal.

    The deal-changer for me as far as bookmarking goes is that now every browser does a great job of suggesting, autocomplete, and making my past history easily accessible. So much of what I might have wanted to bookmark before, I can more easily re-find by typing a portion of a URL or some previously used search words.

    I guess the new paradigms for me are more along the lines of “bread crumbs” and “search whirlpools” – things that lead me in the right direction without being a hard link to a specific URL.


    1. Shannon

      The newer browser autocomplete and suggestion features could be a big change for people. I have not tested that kind of usage, and I still need my bookmarks, but I wonder if those features would search your bookmarks too. That would be a great feature.


  3. I saw Mark’s post and didn’t agree personally. I still use Diigo religiously. So I asked the man with the data, Ilya Grigorik, founder and CTO of PostRank. PostRank tracks “engagement” of content around the Web, aka tweets, comments, bookmarks, Facebook shares, ect. Here’s his post:
    Bookmarking is alive, well and growing! | PostRank Blog


    1. Tac,

      I understand Ilya’s point that in terms of number of users, these services are growing, but you do have to wonder if Delicious and Diigo have a big future. I had used a quick compete search to compare traffic, which shows the services declining. Neither metric is really authoritative as there is API traffic to consider as well as basic usage patterns. I use Delicious almost every day, but I think we may be seeing the beginning of a change.


  4. I think it depends on the characters of the urls. If we roughly classify urls into news and tools, then it is clear to see that the social bookmarking services are still useful for storing and discovering specific tool links (those we keep for reference and might be useful later), while short-term services like Instapaper are good for news.


    1. Han

      Yes, that is a good point that I was trying to make as well. For long term storage of information, these tools are very good. News is very short term, so Instapaper fits that model well.


  5. Excellent post and I think you turned the conversation in the correct direction.

    I find it interesting that both of us have an engineering perspective and approach bookmarking in the same manner. As I told Mahendra, my bookmarks are my personal index of the web and many of these links are near impossible to find in searches.

    I’m truly disappointed that delicious hasn’t introduced any innovation in years and while I love Diigo I just don’t seen any adoption. In addition I think there is a huge opportunity for relevance/discovery engines to mine this data. As I stated here which action makes a link more valuable – a tweet or a bookmark? I tweet 20+ links a week but my bookmarks are tagged, often annotated, and much more useful.

    My hope is that someday a perfect combo of a web browser, social bookmark, and relevance engine will emerge.


    1. Keith

      I think search is the key aspect here. People do not search for real-time news, they just wait for things to pop up in their twitter stream. The other side of this is that twitter is useless when it comes to searching for anything older than a few days. As you said, Delicious has tagging and other organization that make it more useful for our purposes. Your hopes of a relevance engine will take some time to become a reality. Outside of general search, very few services look at other sites for information because it is a hard problem to solve. You need basic crawling and storage plus some concept of relevance to the various sites being searched. Some of this is being handled by things like Linked Data and very loosely by the Open Graph.


  6. Hi Larry
    I popped over here from your FaceBook post to find out what you were talking about. Bookmarking can have lots of meanings. For one thing, we all most likely use our personal computer bookmarks and the great thing is the ability to organize and categorize them to find the websites we use most often.

    If you are speaking about Social Bookmarking then the tops are Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, etc. and I’ve used StumbleUpon as my Social Bookmark of choice, although not often enough. Not really sure if there is a specific reason except ease of use and first one I was introduced to.

    All the other applications or programs you have listed above are new to me. Maybe they’re shutting down because not enough people know about them. How do they differ from the ones I’ve listed?


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