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del.icio.us: it's not just the bookmarks …

I won't have been the only blogger surprised by TechCrunch's "two-part" story about del.icio.us: first this, then this.

In the latter, Yahoo's own figures:

  • Page views, usage and new registrations have been increasing at least 10% month over month this year
  • Del.icio.us is at all time highs with daily registrations, daily posts and active monthly unique users
  • Over 53 million posts (on 25 million URLs) have been created on del.icio.us to date, and that post growth has increased 250% since the acquisition

They also mentioned that they’ve grown from twenty servers at the time of the acquisition to over 100 today, and that any perceived lack of new feature launches is due to a move to the Yahoo MyWeb platform from the legacy del.icio.us platform.

Last Thursday, there was news on the del.icio.us blog of innovations related to networking. The Yahoo! Search blog explained the background:

del.icio.us started out as a tool for helping you remember interesting things you find on the Web, but it quickly grew into something more: a unique online community where the actions of individuals provide very real and immediate benefits to others. When you use del.icio.us to bookmark and tag a Web page, you're also automatically helping other people find that page, and you're also contributing to a cooperative effort to make the Web more understandable.

As the del.icio.us community has grown, what we've found is that it's not just the bookmarks that are interesting – it's the people, too. del.icio.us is filling up with people who are building collections of really interesting, relevant, timely links on a huge range of subjects. These people and their collections are every bit as interesting as the links themselves. Imagine if you could find these people as easily as you find links by searching del.icio.us or the Web.

The del.icio.us community. Back in February I noted:

I am also committed to del.icio.us because of its user base. Joshua said last week that del.icio.us is not a community — there are no conversations and the aim is instead to let individuals and communities use del.icio.us — but I value it very much for the way it enhances so much my eyes and ears: because I know people through it, most of whom I may never have met physically, whose expertise or interests add to or complement mine, I find news, ideas, research, etc that I would not come across outside of del.icio.us. My del.icio.us inbox is, in effect, a net in which to catch "interestingness" — web interestingness. (del.icio.us as an attention lens.) **And**: tagging! So hard to put my finger on this, but what the people whose eyes and ears I've come to trust (whose judgement and taste have become important to me) choose to tag pages with is often provoking and interesting in its own right and builds its own kind of … community network.

The moving of user subscriptions from 'inbox' to 'your network' back in April was announced on the del.icio.us blog with these words:

del.icio.us users discover interesting things on the Web every day. We want to make it easier for you to find and connect to these people, so that you can benefit from their knowledge and they can benefit from yours.  Today the “inbox” feature lets you subscribe to other users’ bookmarks, but most people don’t know about it and it’s not terribly easy to use in your everyday life. To make sharing easier, we’ve just released a new feature called “your network”.

When Yahoo! bought del.icio.us last December, Greg Yardley wrote:

… most importantly, the del.icio.us acquisition says ‘hey, community is worth something.’  The technology behind del.icio.us was easily duplicated - thanks to the open-source clone de.lirio.us and the social-app-building service Ning anyone can start a similar service, just like Yahoo did with My Web 2.0. It’s the del.icio.us community that can’t be duplicated. Yahoo didn’t buy del.icio.us’ technology; it bought our bookmarks and tags …

He then went on to write (in February) that 'It’s becoming obvious to me that Yahoo hasn’t changed del.icio.us and Flickr much since their acquisition because they just don’t understand them'. I'd question this.  The technological infrastructure of del.icio.us has improved greatly since December (to judge from current performance) and the interface has grown in sophistication and usefulness in ways that haven't overwhelmed the user as I'd feared might happen (Yahoo! messiness/over-serving).

Much more importantly, the post by Bradley Horowitz that Greg Yardley was responding to in February seems to me to have foretold the way things have unfolded with del.icio.us since last December. Greg took Horowitz in this way:

The majority of commenters seemed to love Horowitz’s post.  I think it’s a good reason to short Yahoo - that pyramid’s a .44 caliber shot in the foot. Once you start believing 90% of your audience is passive you can’t help but shape your existing communities and design new ones with the passive consumers in mind.

What I took away from Horowitz was this:

Mostly this is just an observation, and a simple statement:  social software sites don’t require 100% active participation to generate great value.

That being said, I’m a huge believer in removing obstacles and barriers to entry that preclude participation.  One of the reasons I think Flickr is so compelling is that both the production and consumption is so damn easy. … One direction we (i.e. both Yahoo and the industry) are moving is implicit creation. … The act of consumption … itself an act of creation, no additional effort expended …

Without anyone explicitly voting, and without disrupting the natural activity on the site, Flickr surfaces fantastic content in a way that constantly delights and astounds.  In this case lurkers are gently and transparently nudged toward remixers, adding value to others’ content.

Flickr is not del.icio.us, but, mutatis mutandis, I find there's something in what Horowitz describes that's suggestive of what's afoot now at del.icio.us: it's not difficult to participate, it's not hard to start finding users/bookmarks/tags with "interestingness", it's easy to network and to be networked — and in this way del.icio.us surfaces "fantastic content" (links + comment/excerpt; tags; original or challenging patterns of thinking, ways of seeing …). It's a community of users, howsoever different from Flickr, and the act of consumption is itself an act of creation.

In many ways, I am using del.icio.us to see the world through the eyes of people whose understanding of things and use of the net interest, stimulate and challenge me. It's not suprising, then, that, more than ever, I want to know how Yahoo! sees the relationship of search, MyWeb2 and del.icio.us.

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