Social bookmarking service Delicious announced five years ago last Thursday that it had been acquired by Yahoo The first comment posted on the blog entry announcing the deal was from TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, saying "Congratulations! Yahoo sure does get tagging I see." When I heard the news, I felt very differently. I was deeply saddened that it wasn't US Library of Congress to acquire Delicious. Five years later, Yahoo announced internally today that it is closing down Delicious. No date has been given for its closure.

It's a loss not just for the many people who used Delicious to archive links of interest to them around the web, it's a loss for the future - for what could have been. Five years later, people are just beginning to appreciate the value of passively published user activity data made available for analysis, personalization and more. That could have been you, Delicious.

Update: 24 hours later, Yahoo! has issued a statement saying they would like to sell, not close, Delicious.

Above: A leaked slide from the internal deck shown today at Yahoo, listing a host of services Yahoo will sunset, merge or turn into features of other services.

How ReadWriteWeb Used Delicious

For the past several years, ReadWriteWeb has been using Delicious in a way that I think points to the potential the service truly had. Here's what we did.
  • We had a researcher grab URLs for companies and products that ReadWriteWeb had written about already and look them up in Delicious to see who had bookmarked those same links first.

  • Then we scrolled back through the bookmarking history for each link to find the first 20 people who tagged the URL in question.

  • We then grabbed the usernames of those 20 people and pasted them into a spreadsheet.

  • We repeated that process more than 300 times.

  • Then we sorted the names in the spreadsheet and identified 15 people who on five or more occasions were among the first 20 people to bookmark a link that ReadWriteWeb later wrote about.

  • Then we subscribed to the RSS feeds of all those peoples' bookmarks in the future. We regularly find things that way before our competitors do.

Who were those 15 people? Their names below.

Thanks for All the Bookmarks, Folks

angusf - Angus Fraser, Experience Architect at News Digital Media

Ani625 - Anirudh HN, Programmer, Web Enthusiast, Hate-machine, Located in Bengaluru

f_david - Félegyházi Dávid

geneboy - Ling Yi

Heather_Rasley - Heather Rasley, Support and Marketing at Hii Def Inc.

Israel.avila - Israel Avila

marcioangel - Marcio Angel Medina, Web Developer

markgr - Mark Greenfield, member of the higher education Web community.

pcheah - Morton Fox, Geochacher, Flickr user, script writer

Preoccupations - David Smith, Teacher, educational manager and IT specialist

pval - Patrick Valenzuela

randyzhang - Randy Zhang, Sr. Software Development Manager at IBM

rmorrell - Richard Morrell, IS Education Support

section_one - Andrew Delaney

TechiMi - Jaemi Kehoe, Web Support Associate at TeleManagement Forum
Web Designer/Developer, [Former] IT Girl Geek

Kabissa - Space for Change in Africa

Tell an everyday person they can put their bookmarks online, making them accessible from any computer via a service like Delicious, and they are often amazed.

Tell them they can then see other bookmarks that other people have tagged with the same categories - and they begin to see another world, a world where the Web is social and interconnected, where we all benefit from the trails of data created by one another's everyday use of the Web. That's just the beginning, though, of the story that could have been told with Delicious, a wonderfully, simple service that died too young.

I've used Delicious in many different ways. In addition to analyzing its patterns to discover early influencers, I've also used it for:

Blog discovery Interested in discovering new leading blogs on a given topic? Take your known experts, look them up in Delicious, see how they are most often categorized by users there. Then, look up all URLs bookmarked with those keywords+blog, discover which URLs are most popular in that set, and there you go. (Unfortunately, Delicious co-founder Joshua Schachter says he was never able to complete a Popular with Multiple Tags feature before selling the company to Yahoo. See our post "How to Find the Weirdest Stuff on the Internet" for an in-depth explanation of this method.)

To Power a Lightweight CMS Several years ago a small accountant training firm came to me and said that the content stream they were licensing from a big publisher wasn't fresh or topical enough. They heard about this thing called "RSS" and thought maybe it could help. I worked with them to build a big OPML file full of accounting-related RSS feeds, including scraped feeds from government agencies that didn't publish any. Then I showed them how to pick an RSS reader to subscribe to them in. Then we set up a system where they could tag in Delicious articles they wanted to post on their own site with tags like "headline1" or "headline2" and with their own editorial summary of the article in the Delicious Notes field. We then syndicated those feeds onto their websites, with links to the curated articles and their notes below them, as a sort of industry newsfeed - powered entirely by Delicious curation. They loved it and reported that time on site increased dramatically. Was it "too complicated" for these utterly non-technical users? No, it wasn't. See here for a more detailed description about how we did it.

Key news threshold Have you ever tried to put together a reading list of the most important articles on a given topic? I know I do that all the time. One of the best sources is the delicious/popular/tag page for that topic. Goodbye!

Postrank input Postrank. It's a way of life. This service tracks social media engagement for each item in any feed and allows you to subscribe to just the most popular items in that feed. It scores items by inbound links from blogs, mentions on Twitter, votes on Digg and Reddit.... and bookmarks on Delicious. No more. Sad.

In other words, I've used Delicious in many different ways over the years. I've told new social bookmarking startups that if they really want to get new users, they should sync with Delicious. That way, I could try out a new service in a serious way, bookmarking things I want to save in it without fear those bookmarks would be lost forever if the service didn't work out for me.

There are so, so many things that a simple service like Delicious was good for, saving things for reading later just being one of many uses.

And from the trail of data created by the service' users came so much value. Value that was wide open for analysis, with clean URLs, RSS feeds and pages full of links everywhere you looked.

It was beautiful. And now it's gone.

The Library of Congress should have bought it, similar to the way it has now archived every Tweet ever tweeted.

So much value. So unappreciated. So tragically lost. Where will we all gather next, where our bookmarks can be centralized for maximum network effect? Perhaps this story demonstrates that's not the right question to ask.

What are the other good services in this same market? I don't even know where to ask that question anymore.

See also: Delicious's Data Policy is Like Setting a Museum on Fire