Del.icio.us And The Unwashed Masses : Why Del.icio.us Is Still Just a Dorky Web App That Your Mom Could Care Less About

Read/Write Web points to something I find both sad and a little perplexing: del.icio.us, the granddaddy of social bookmarking sites, isn’t catching on. They don’t really dig into why it isn’t catching on. Still, it’s a bit disappointing. I ran an Alexa chart and the results were even more disappointing:

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Note: I always take in Alexa charts with the proverbial grain of salt.

So what gives? Why is a service that is as cool and useful as del.icio.us not able to catch on? Some theories:

  • Nobody really needs a way to centrally store their bookmarks. The browser is just fine. Ouch. This one hurts. As much as we’d like to think that the sea level of technology is rising and lifting us all towards enlightened levels of productivity and social interactions, reality is quite different. Most people keep a few bookmarks – their bank, some news page (CNN and such), a handful of special interests…and that’s it. Most people also don’t need their bookmarks centrally stored. They use one computer and their bookmarks are on it.
  • Most people don’t understand what del.icio.us does. Another big factor. Read/Write sort of alludes to this by pointing out that 8 of the top 10 delicious tags are technology related. Ask your uncle what del.icio.us is and he’ll probably just tilt his head and lose interest almost immediately. Also, del.icio.us’ web presence isn’t exactly inviting. I’ve always loved its minimalist style, but for the uneducated, it doesn’t help a whole lot. Compound that with the 15-minute tutorial that "tagging" deserves and you’re left with a real challenge.
  • People don’t feel compelled to share del.icio.us with others. Unlike viral sites like Facebook and Youtube, you don’t need to go back to del.icio.us to reap its rewards. If I find a worthwhile link on del.icio.us, I’m just going to share that link with others, not its representation in del.icio.us.

I personally love del.icio.us. I think it’s a great service and I don’t mind taking the time to evangelize it. However, I think there is a lesson learned here: sympathize with your audience; appreciate what they don’t understand (or don’t care to understand); and finally…figure out what you’re really going after.

It could well be argued that del.icio.us targets a niche need (bullet #1 above) and not much else. I’m skeptical of that excuse though. The needs and wants can get pretty blurry if the value is there. It’s more a matter of making that value accessible. And good, thoughtful, empathetic design is the only way to get there.

After all, nobody really needs an iPod. Or do they?

8 Comments Del.icio.us And The Unwashed Masses : Why Del.icio.us Is Still Just a Dorky Web App That Your Mom Could Care Less About

  1. Nick Dominguez

    Del.icio.us was from the beginning built specifically to serve it’s author’s needs and everything about the application shows this. I don’t believe it was ever really built with a mass audience in mind.
    I love del.icio.us and couldn’t imagine being without it, but it definitely took me some time to get my head around the app initially. I see Yahoo taking some steps to bring this service to a bigger audience but fundamentally I think they just need to do a better job at communicating and designing this service to serve the needs of the average user.
    The thing about this is… I have grown to love the way del.icio.us works, it’s simple ui, etc. What I found to be a little odd at the beginning I have now become accustomed to, so redesigning the site would throw me way off.

    Reply
  2. Dmitry Nekrasovski

    Nice post. One more theory for you:
    The migration path from a bunch of disorganized bookmarks on a browser to a set of nicely tagged links on del.icio.us is anything but trivial.
    If Yahoo really wanted to bring del.icio.us to a mass audience, this would probably be a good place to start.

    Reply
  3. Hay

    I’ve been using del.icio.us for a few months but still can’t get around some of its obvious shortcomings. Why can’t i see ‘related’ links to another link,? Why must i type in the complete title of a website i bookmark? Why can’t i sort search results by the number of people who added the link?
    IMHO they should focus on two things and redesign the site for that purpose: make it easy for people to view their bookmarks from multiple computers (the main reason i use the site) and somehow use the gigantic dataset their users have built up to create a powerful user-build search engine.

    Reply
  4. Yos

    Major part of Del.isio.us success is – “look how cute is our URL!!!”.
    When I first typed the URL, it did all the marketign work for delicious, I could never forget it and got easily back again.

    Reply
  5. randy

    I think point one is pretty accurate. I have a short list of bookmarks that I use on a regular basis. From a regular user’s stand point, I can see why they would be less inclined to use the service. Personally, I use a Firefox plugin (Foxmarks) to sync my bookmarks between 3 computers. I’ve used del.icio.us and ma.gnolia.com both and think they are both great services, but neither has made me convert.
    I think one of the major things keeping people from taking to the service is search; they most likely found the site using search, and they know it can be found again. I find myself bookmarking less and just using google to find what I need.

    Reply

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