I miss del.icio.us – the web’s discovery-engine and link classifier

Delicious (stylized after its domain del.icio.us) was a social bookmarking website. It might not sound all that interesting, but it was one of the best websites in the early 2000s. Here’s why I miss this defunct website so much.

Delicious let users bookmark their favorite links and annotate them with comments and tags. You would primarily save links you valued enough to remember. The site’s true value was all the organizational work and link comments.

The resulting database was a constantly updated catalog of new and all-time hits on any topic you’d want to browse. You could discover great new reads on any tagged topic or combination of tags. You could also see what others had written about any given link and how the community had taxonomized it.

It’s a bit difficult to explain Delicious. If you’re curious, you can check out this video demonstration of Delicious from 2007. (It’s apparently recorded on a typewriter; I guess those were still fashionable in 2007.)

Yahoo bought the website in 2005. The acquisition made sense at the time as Yahoo was still operating as an independent web index. Delicious’ link database must have looked like an irresistible human-curated database of the web’s greatest hits.

Yahoo abandoned its search engine a few years after the deal, and partnered with Microsoft to deliver its search results instead. Yahoo’s lackluster stewardship ultimately led to Delicious’ decay and caused the service to falter. This ultimately paved the way for competitors like Digg and Reddit.

There’s nothing quite like Delicious today. Google dominates discovery and recommendations, and most social link-sharing has moved to Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter. None of these platforms focus on organizing and discovering links.

Reddit is a loose collection of disjointed communities. You have to share something that will be popular with a particular community or risk getting down-voted and lose community standing. The premise and experience are completely different.

Twitter lets you broadcast what links you like, but there’s no structure or organization to it. It’s not easy to find links, and you’ll mostly find hundreds of nearly identical messages with the same link. You also risk adverse reactions — or worse, having the link you share completely ignored.

You need to perform and be entertaining to an audience on Reddit and Twitter. You’re not just saving links with a service that coincidentally turns out to benefit the community. You might not have a good time on the websites even if your links meet your target community’s standards.

Delicious focused on being useful to you and your links and interests. It was a collaborative resource organizational tool and an excellent tool for discovery. You could use it as a self-contained archive of your favorite reads.

The closest thing I can find to Delicious today is Pinboard (not to be confused with Pinterest, Flipboard, or the half-dozen other apps also called Pinboard). Pinboard is essentially a clone of Delicious. Pinboard also currently owns the Delicious brand and dataset.

Unlike Delicious, Pinboard isn’t free — it costs 22 USD per year. The subscription cost presumably keeps the lights on and helps keep bots and spam out of the community. On the other hand, it has also restricted the community’s growth.

You need a massive community with diverse interests to get an experience similar to Delicious at its peak. Pinboard claims to have 30 000 active users today, compared to Delicious’ 5,3 million in 2008.

Pinboard also offers a more expensive subscription tier with full-text link archival. The archival service lets Pinboard maintain its value over time as the open web’s rampant link-rot epidemic wrecks havoc on historical links.

Who’d want to pay for a website without being able to test it first? There’s no free trial or demo, so recruiting new users must be a constant uphill battle.

The Pinboard service also looks a bit outdated. It doesn’t need a radical redesign, but it needs to be updated to work with today’s many small- and medium-screen devices.

In the last few months, I’ve contacted Pinboard about broken functionality on the website. I’ve also reported a security issue, but have not heard back about either issues.

Pinboard isn’t on a path to replacing what Delicious once was. Delicious was incredibly popular in the days of the early web, while Pinboard is barely worth a footnote.

I believe that Delicious made the web of its day better and more enjoyable. It was so much easier to find stuff in its vast curated database of everything awesome. The web of yesteryear truly was more delicious.

Modern search engines can only do so much to help you discover new things. Today’s social websites are built to keep you on their platform and maximize interactions; linking out to other and more interesting things elsewhere goes against their business model.