Why I hate social bookmarking

There are one or two web trends that I really don’t understand and one of them is social bookmarking.

Here’s my procedure for storing a local bookmark:

  1. Search in Google
  2. Find interesting website
  3. Bookmark it locally

And for a social bookmark:

  1. Search in Google
  2. Find interesting website
  3. Bookmark it online

Not much difference is there? The point is that having access to other people’s bookmarks makes very little difference to me in terms of finding something that I want to bookmark. I’m told that social bookmarks are more likely to direct me to what I want to find, because they’ve been filtered by humans. Erm, no. Most people just import their local bookmarks to a social site with little if any editing, filtering, rating or annotation. I’m unlikely to be interested in 99% of other people’s bookmarks. Bookmarks are just not that useful as pieces of information. They’re for short term storage of something that you need in the near-future and don’t want to forget, nothing more.

Anyway, today I decided that it was time to do away with local browser bookmarks and store them online. Which brings me to another aspect of the web that I don’t understand – the popularity of del.icio.us. It looks ugly and lacks functionality. Get this – the whole point of social bookmarking is to share bookmarks. Yet if I import my 600+ local bookmarks to del.icio.us, they expect me to go through one by one and mark each one for sharing. Their reasoning is that I should think about whether I really want to share. Well – I have and I do. So make it easy for me, OK?

Next up I tried Furl. They also offer an import facility. Apparently it gets confused by link titles or descriptions that contain certain characters, because I ended up with a bunch of links starting with “&” or an apostrophe. I gave up and looked for a way to delete my account. There wasn’t one. So I deleted my 600+ imported bookmarks. 25 at a time. Rubbish.

I moved on to Ma.gnolia. What is it with social bookmarking and these dumb URLs? Now I’m relatively satisfied with this one. For a start, it looks great. It imported my bookmarks without mangling them (though it did date them as as Dec 4 1969) and made sensible tags from my folder names. It has an API. It has multiple tools to export your bookmarks as feeds or HTML. It has groups and discussion forums. It lacks a few useful batch operations and is slow at times but IMHO, it’s by far the best of the bunch.

So if I was going social bookmark, I’d go Ma.gnolia. But what I want mostly is something like my local bookmarks, only online. For that, I’m going with plain, simple Google Bookmarks. Easy to add via a bookmarklet, easy to edit/remove or add tags and best of all, a Firefox addon called GMarks, which presents them to you in your browser very much like local bookmarks. No sharing yet, but I’m sure that will come.

Social bookmarking made me angry today. When computing makes you angry, something is very wrong.

10 thoughts on “Why I hate social bookmarking

  1. Deepak

    Hmmm I think this is one where I will disagree. For my work and otherwise, del.icio.us has proven to be the most useful web service. I can’t think of any other than I use (only Google). That said, I use it more like a bookmarking service (and the Direfox integration makes it very easy). In fact, other than the 20 websites or so I access daily, all my bookmarks are on del.icio.us (and many are private).

    I think the difference is, I rarely ever use the del.icio.us site itself. Everything is done in Firefox. Yahoo has done a terrible job with del.icio.us, IMO. The one thing that has improved .. the speed.

  2. Bill

    I dropped del.icio.us when greedy scumbags Yahoo bought ’em, and switched to Simpy. If you’re up for trying one more, try Simpy — it doesn’t look as slick as Magnolia, but it’s faster and more reliable and has all the other benefits you list (API, user group, etc), plus Otis. Otis is the guy who built it, and he’s very good about responding to questions, and he’s not some faceless company just waiting to be bought by Google.

    The point of applications like these, for me, is not sharing — though I do share all my bookmarks and notes — but never to have to use local bookmarks again, except for a few things I use a lot and want to have right there in the toolbar. Exactly the point you make in your last post! Also, when you have a lot of bookmarks, tags are much more useful than folders. Tags are also the one way I can get some value out of the “sharing” part — browsing links by tag is a pretty good way to find new stuff.

  3. Stew

    Having access to the rest of the worlds bookmarks is a bit pointless, I agree – but when you restrict it to just the people you’re interested in it becomes much more useful.

    On del.icio.us you can add people to ‘your network’ (crap name, should be ‘your stalk list’). There’s a network page where you get a list of bookmarks from those people all in one place. There’s an RSS feed.

    Subscribe to that et voila – everything that, for example, Alf, Greg, Roland, Pierre or Deepak (just to namecheck some blogger del.icio.us users) bookmark publicly, which is usually very interesting.

    Of course when one of them researches a holiday you find out about that too, which is slightly creepy, yet strangely fascinating…

  4. Pierre

    My main social bookmarking site is connotea because it has the ability to recognize web pages with scientific papers (using doi or pmid…). You can upload a batch of bookmarks once logged using this page : http://www.connotea.org/upload , see http://www.connotea.org/guide#importris : it can take as input firefox bookmarks. Time to time, I also synchronize my connotea bookmarls with del.icio.us . As said Stew, their ‘network’ option is really powerful for knowledge discovery (e.g. http://del.icio.us/network/lindenb?setcount=100). It also gives an API to upload many bookmarks.

    Pierre

  5. Matthias

    I’m not using any social bookmarking site, pretty much for the reasons you’ve mentioned above (though the previous commenters have made some valid points). *If* I’d use social bookmarking, I’d go with unalog made by Dan Chudnov. It’s wonderfully clean and simple, and it’s backed by very smart guys from the library community. –m

  6. onlycrook

    I just checked and I have 3,602 sites bookmarked at delicious. I’ve probably checked other people’s bookmarks five or six times during the months I’ve used it. I teach in a different town, I work as an online reference librarian, and I find it indispensable. For example, I was subbing one day when a student said, “I need an online resume site.” I went to my delicious page and pulled up the 7 sites I had under “resume.” We chose one, she created her resume, and I later copied the links and emailed them to her teacher. When I run across something one of my kids might like, I tag it “show[name]” and when they’ve all seen it, I delete the tags. I had no interest in uploading all my bookmarks at once. I *wanted* to check them one by one to make sure they were valid and to add annotations, so that aspect of delicious didn’t bother me. Delicious makes me happy.

  7. Bill

    Unalog looks great, but the notice on the bottom of each page worries me a little: “this beta service might go down, go away, or lose data at any time – be warned”.

  8. Matthias

    Bill, I agree that the unalog beta disclaimer is a bit worrying, however, it may be just their standard disclaimer (I mean isn’t this true for any online service?) or a left-over from the early days. In any case, I’m sure Dan Chudnov would be happy to clarify the status and future plans for unalog.com. -m

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