Did Joshua Schachter Make a Mistake Selling del.icio.us to Yahoo?
October 21, 2018 5:00 AM   Subscribe

Joshua Schachter’s groundbreaking social-bookmarking site Del.icio.us, founded in 2003, popularized the idea of “tags” — organizing bookmarks by appending just a word or two. At its height, Del.icio.us was the toast of budding social sites known as Web 2.0, had millions of users, and served as a direct inspiration for sites like Reddit and Pinterest. Schachter talked to Intelligencer about his decision sell Del.icio.us to Yahoo in 2005 — and how it felt to watch as the company was mismanaged and sold off to a series of buyers before being permanently shut down in 2017. posted by gen (53 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Del.icio.us was really my first big indicator of how much of the web was going to turn to shit. It was the first of the beautiful functional web 2.0 site that was mutated into awfulness by commercial decisions. I considered it's degradation worse than Google Reader's shutdown. It was just so sad.
posted by srboisvert at 5:37 AM on October 21, 2018 [56 favorites]

MeFi's own Joshu.
posted by the webmistress at 5:37 AM on October 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

And I am frustrated about what happened with Del.icio.us at Yahoo. Yahoo Answers ended up being this huge thing, and the engineering team was doing both, and they ended up de-staffing Del.icio.us in favor of Yahoo Answers. Del.icio.us had, like, one engineer.

How babby died.
posted by srboisvert at 5:45 AM on October 21, 2018 [37 favorites]

"Is neoliberal capitalism bad?"

posted by The River Ivel at 5:58 AM on October 21, 2018 [23 favorites]

Ah, Delicious. Ah, Web 2.0.
posted by doctornemo at 6:00 AM on October 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was so disappointed when del.icio.us was sold to Yahoo. I moved my 4,500 bookmarks to pinboard but never really embraced the transition and haven't had a good practice of tagging bookmarks since.
posted by grimjeer at 6:13 AM on October 21, 2018 [12 favorites]

What a vile fad periods at random in a URL word was
posted by thelonius at 6:15 AM on October 21, 2018 [20 favorites]

I was never sold on the long term viability of storing and tagging links, with all it's social and privacy issues the constantly updated massively distributed reverse index of currently available online datastores (google) seems to be much more functional. I know the few delicious links I stored were revisited infrequently and an even a small number was unwieldy. ( "...hmm I know I kept that link, what was it... I'll just do a few google searches to remember the reference, then find the original site and only then recall the entry in bookmarks")

If the core process was viable an open source community distributed ad hoc process would grow up organically, but in the time it takes to consider that option, most just google
posted by sammyo at 6:39 AM on October 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Social bookmarking kinda died out with Digg, Reddit, Facebook and countless others sites that gave you an never ending feed of interesting stuff to look at. Also, most of us discovered just how pointless and unruly huge lists of links are when we could just find sites thru Google and a small flat link collection.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:40 AM on October 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

It took a year for reality to set in. If you wanted to get hardware, you went to the “hardware request committee” with your proposal. They assumed that engineers liked spending money for no reason, so you’d have to go back and present again in two weeks. So there’s a month gone.

It's amazing how fast a startup can ossify. Yahoo was only ten years old by then but that sounds more like my work experiences at 100+ year old companies.
posted by octothorpe at 6:42 AM on October 21, 2018 [16 favorites]

I loved del.icio.us

posted by infini at 6:53 AM on October 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

Yeah, del.icio.us was key for the fanfic world. You need a 20,000+ word-long coffee shop AU Doctor Who/Star Gate crossover with a PG rating and H/C resolving in schmoop? Someone, somewhere has written that, and someone else has meticulously tagged it.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:05 AM on October 21, 2018 [26 favorites]

most of us discovered just how pointless and unruly huge lists of links are when we could just find sites thru Google and a small flat link collection.

I moved to Pinboard and have been an almost daily user since - I find it hugely useful for keeping track (and quickly making note online of) books and films I want to find, images for a DC history-related Facebook group I moderate, quick linking and tagging / annotating of sites on my work's otherwise huge, unwieldy, and saddled-with-crap search function intranet, etc.

As w/RSS readers (another thing w/out which the web is overwhelming and unusable to me), I think there may be some generational divides at work, though. I'm a survivor from the BBS/proto-web era.

Yeah, del.icio.us was key for the fanfic world.

MeFi's (and Pinboard's) own Maciej Cegłowski: Fan is a Tool-Using Animal.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:10 AM on October 21, 2018 [20 favorites]

how pointless and unruly huge lists of links are

My browser links are definitely unruly, but there's a search function
posted by thelonius at 7:12 AM on October 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Companion reading: How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet, a 2013 postmortem by MeFi's own Mat Honan. Also The Other Yahoo: How Protecting Its Core Business Doomed Innovation.

Yahoo was already on its way to becoming a terrible and irrelevant company, albeit excruciatingly slowly. Then this brief burst of interesting activity centered on Brickhouse: Flickr, Delicious, FireEagle, Upcoming, ... some of the smartest Web developers of the time tried to do creative work and Yahoo smothered them. They still bear the scars of it.

At least we have Pinboard to replace Delicious. There's really nothing that replaces what Flickr could have been. I mean it's Instagram, functionally, but that doesn't have the same kind of public community.
posted by Nelson at 7:14 AM on October 21, 2018 [9 favorites]

This post violates Betteridge's law of headlines. The answer is a clear "yes."
posted by MythMaker at 7:16 AM on October 21, 2018 [11 favorites]

Pinboard is the only thing I do that remotely resembles a coherent workflow. I bookmark and tag links, and then once in a while actually search my own tags and find something I need. It's the least damaging form of hoarding in my life. Don't tell Marie Kondo.

I enjoyed his description of Yahoo culture. I thought academic change was grindingly slow.
posted by mecran01 at 7:19 AM on October 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Now I am become Yahoo, destroyer of value.
posted by scruss at 7:26 AM on October 21, 2018 [38 favorites]

When delicious died (right after the Yahoo sale and when the url changed) I moved to tumblr to organize my research and links by tags and snippets. That was in Jan 2011, now that thing has become a social media monster with over 60K followers and still growing. *sigh*
posted by infini at 7:31 AM on October 21, 2018

Oh man, Delicious was a godsend, when it first came out. I could dump all of my bookmarks and sort them by type and if I wanted to look at my webcomics, there they all were.
Each new iteration, it got worse and less user friendly. I had no interest in the "Social" aspect I just wanted easily controllable bookmarking.
Well I'm back to links in my browser task bar.
Also, this sort of killed webcomics for me. I no longer spend a chunk of my day 'catching up on my stories".
posted by evilDoug at 7:34 AM on October 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

People underestimate just what a large user base fandom can be, and I think there's also still stigma. It's not just women, it's women with slightly uncomfortable niche interests! It's somehow more embarrassing than having a pornbot or spam problem, even though - since fandom tends to love categorizing - it doesn't break the user experience the same way.

Archive of our Own is massive, and it got to be that way because of fans. It's not because fans are loyal to each other and it's fan-made; it's because it's damn useful. One of the things that makes it so useful is its tagging system, which codifies a lot of the tagging practices that grew up organically in fandom.

By driving away fans, Yahoo really doomed del.icio.us. I stopped using it when they finally broke tags too much, but if it was still around I bet it could compete with AO3's bookmarking tool (which is clunkier to use, especially for bookmarking off-site works).

Another thing that del.icio.us was really useful for was research papers.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, "social bookmarking" might not seem like an obvious tool, but fans loved it, and there are a lot of fans. I think that del.icio.us was broken before it really even gained all of the users it could potentially have had... there was a fairly short window between when it became a "thing" in fandom and when Yahoo killed it off.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:51 AM on October 21, 2018 [19 favorites]

It’s really amazing how terrible Yahoo has been with essentially everything they ever acquired. I’m hard pressed to figure out how the company was ever worth anything, as they seemed to be incredibly good at buying a valuable, popular thing and systematically destroying all value it might have. The items they didn’t outright destroy, they ignored, allowing them to wither on the vine as competitors ate their lunch.

Their track record is not to be believed. If you wrote it in a story, a company that is the Angel of Death for all it touches, your editor would tell you that any company like that would go under so fast it couldn’t possibly be believable by the reader.

And yet it exists.

Still waiting for SmugMug to disconnect Flickr from the Yahoo login I grudgingly created after that acquisition, so I can sever my one and only tie with that graveyard of the web.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:13 AM on October 21, 2018 [12 favorites]

Another thing that del.icio.us was really useful for was research papers.

This. I used delicious for research all though undergrad.

These days I'm not allow to used unsecured software for work purposes, but if I ever move to the private sector I'd try out Zotero.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:22 AM on October 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yahoo! is the worst. Serious question: is there anything they bought that they didn't ruin?
posted by dobbs at 8:47 AM on October 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Here's a list of Yahoo acquisitions if you want to get your hate on. I mean Yahoo is officially a failed company now, so really they ruined everything they bought.

But I'd argue they didn't screw up Overture; it let them keep the company running for many more years. Google did eventually outcompete them though. They haven't really fucked up Tumblr, but then again they haven't done anything good with it either. And it was a late acquisition, all about Marissa Meyer establishing herself as the one in charge. Tumblr remains with Oath, now part of Verizon.
posted by Nelson at 9:05 AM on October 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yep, add delicious to the sites left out of this. And don't forget Memepool! Joshu's projects were a big part of what made me believe not only that there was value in the web in those early days, but real community too. Pinboard does a good job of retaining that vibe-- I still use it (although I keep my account private now) And Maciej Cegłowski has become one of the sharpest critics of everything shitty about the internet, and in the wider world as well.

What a vile fad periods at random in a URL word was

I'll take ran.dom.domai.ns over link shorteners any day.
posted by gwint at 9:21 AM on October 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

Thankfully, pinboard.in is still rocking it, and importing all of my old bookmarks there from delicious was easy peasy.
posted by trackofalljades at 9:34 AM on October 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

I'll take ran.dom.domai.ns over link shorteners any day.

Very true, Socrates. They are the worst.
posted by thelonius at 9:44 AM on October 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

From what I gather reading a lot of Maciej's tweets over time etc, the bookmarking business can support approximately: 1 full-time person. There just isn't much demand these days, I think the demise of Delicious may have killed a lot of it permanently.

I get that a lot of people just prefer to use their in-browser bookmarks, but that doesn't work for me because I don't know how to sync those without making an account with the web-browser publisher, and also I use different browsers for stuff on phone vs. computer, etc. so that is not workable for me. I really like Pinboard.

Also he does archiving of websites, up to a certain size limit, for a small fee, per year. Then you can search through all the contents of what you have bookmarked. I've been meaning to sign up for that as well, when I have the money to spare. Info here.

And I don't know about other people's experience of "just googling it, it's easier"-type thinking, but google has gotten less and less useful to me over time (I have heard this sentiment expressed by many others in recent years). It can be very hard to find certain types of things. Ymmv, I don't know what kinds of stuff other people tend to search for and their success rate.
posted by cats are weird at 10:10 AM on October 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

Here's a list of Yahoo acquisitions if you want to get your hate on.

As someone who was part of one of those acquisitions, it's kind of hilarious to see all the various numbers reported for just how much we got bought for.

And Schachter's experience matches up with everything I know about startup acquisitions. The buying company *always* says "you'll be the same company, just with our resources behind you!" The reality *never* works out that way.
posted by asterix at 10:28 AM on October 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

What a vile fad periods at random in a URL word was

Well if one wanted a domain name, one had to do things that seem vile now.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 11:00 AM on October 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

From what I can tell, Yahoo is a fantasy football and e-mail company that also does, I don't know, some other stuff somewhere.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:16 AM on October 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Back when we called it "Web 2.0" I taught thousands of educators about Delicious. And Flickr, RSS, etc. Delicious was a very easy tool to introduce, and many educators resonated with its bibliographic bent.

Personally I used the hell out of Delicious back then:
-storing research article URLs
-following bright people
-sharing links to interested folks
-checking back to see what I could learn from my older links
-keeping a central links source when I worked across multiple devices

As Web 2.0 morphed into social media I still used Delicious, but a bit less often. Diigo's group function was pretty useful, and Pinboard appeared. For a while I used all three.

Now I duplicate link storage between Diigo and Pinboard.
posted by doctornemo at 1:44 PM on October 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was looking up other social bookmarking sites the other night - I used delicious, but before that I think I used "Furl" and "Simpy".

Glad pinboard exists, I keep thinking I'm gonna sign up then don't.

Furl even had a blue F, i think, so it must have been either before FB existed or got as dominant as it now is.
posted by symbioid at 1:48 PM on October 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

With an unknown purchase price of less than $30 million but if we assume it was in the 7 or 8-figure range, it wasn't mistake for Joshua Schachter to have sold Del.icio.us, for Joshua Schachter anyway. The world feels poorer for it though.

Unfortunate I see bookmarking to be in the same realm as messaging - it's ~impossible to make non-creepy money off of it, which means under capitalism it's not viable, doomed to be reinvented every few years due to stagnation, as well as changing demands.

I say that Pinterest, and not Pinboard is actually the modern successor to Del.icio.us, as a result of a changing web. In the 90's, with the screech of a modem connecting to the Internet meant that images took noticeably long to load, and Del.icio.us, with its text-heavy workflow, was perfect for its time. Saving bookmarks to a centralized website was "the cloud" of its time. But for today, a picture is worth a thousand words, so... just save a bunch of pictures? That would be longer than many articles of the day, even.

I'm surprised that Google didn't buy it, actually. It seems that humans curating links they consider quality would be great input for a search engine. Arguably as operators of Google Chrome they know everyone's bookmarks that way.

As far as personal use, there are very few cat gifs that can stand the test of time (but this is my vote for inclusion on the next Voyager), so I have only a few bookmarks, especially because, well, Google, but at work, where there's an HR form I need to find and internal search is, well, terrible? I have a ton of bookmarks and I find them pretty valuable!
posted by fragmede at 1:59 PM on October 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

In regards to human curated links and Google, consider that they never mined their own Google Reader which had the social share feature, too. So it does not seem surprising that Delicious was not of interest for them. Afterall, they kill their own, too.
posted by jadepearl at 2:24 PM on October 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

i sold blo.gs to yahoo at about the same time. no regrets, even though they never did anything with it and eventually passed it on to automattic who seems to have done even less with it.

at the time, i feel like google was locked into a build-it-ourselves mindset and wasn't making the same sorts of acquisitions as yahoo was.
posted by jimw at 3:36 PM on October 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

I was a Del.icio.us user who moved over to Pinboard. This MetaTalk thread and a lot of Twitter discussion got me there, almost 8 years ago now. It's been good.
posted by limeonaire at 4:32 PM on October 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

From what I can tell, Yahoo is a fantasy football and e-mail company that also does, I don't know, some other stuff somewhere.

They still [celebrity advertisement] do some news [advertisement pretending to be news] aggregating [fake news] as Yahoo [outbrain] news [news with boobs].
posted by srboisvert at 4:48 PM on October 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

"These days I'm not allow to used unsecured software for work purposes..."

Oh yes you are. Your employer may believe otherwise, but I assure you that you use unsecured software for work purposes.
posted by el io at 11:26 PM on October 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

From what I can tell, Yahoo is a fantasy football and e-mail company that also does, I don't know, some other stuff somewhere.

Yahoo is just a brand name of the Oath division of Verizon along with aol, Tumblr, Techcrunch and Huffington.
posted by octothorpe at 3:27 AM on October 22, 2018

The whole argument about "just google it" has a number of cases where that just doesn't work with Google's algorithm:

* The best links are frequently pushed down by recently popular links. Last week I had to hunt for a year-old article about an artist in the middle of last month's news about the artist.
* You have to remember exactly the right keywords to push your link to the front page, which means remembering exactly what language was used in the original article.
* Synonyms: separating out documentation for the statistical computer language "R" from homework help on high school statistics is an exercise in frustration.
* Monetization: That blog post that has exactly what you need ends up buried under reddit, tumblr, and stack exchange spam these days.

Anyway, my migration path has been del.icio.us to pinboard, and then because I'm becoming a paranoid coot to Shaarli, Wallabag, and lately org-capture. I did just reboot and archive my old Shaarli with a few thousand links collected over 20 years that process rather than try a cleanup. Nextcloud Bookmarks looks promising except that android app development has stalled.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 6:41 AM on October 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

Oh, and there was a period where I was using Devon Think as a brain extension.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 6:46 AM on October 22, 2018

Googling something is a great way to find a ton of links to places where you can buy it, or at least something with a similar name. That's about it, these days.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:55 AM on October 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

This pattern of Yahoo buying competitors and then letting them die reminds me of when record companies sign artists and shelve them.

Their music never gets released and they're not allowed to leave the contract. Everything is squandered.
posted by sweetjane at 1:19 PM on October 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I knew del.icio.us (and you could use delicious.com if the other form offends you) was dead as soon as I saw the redesign Yahoo inflicted on it. It was blindingly obvious that the company had no idea how actual users were interacting with the tool. They made numbers nobody cared about huge (how many other people bookmarked the same link, maybe? I have a hard time remembering, because it was information nobody cared about), and text people did care about (like tags) tiny or hidden, and designed the whole thing to be pale blue on white, with visited links an imperceptibly darker shade of the same blue. I used to go to tag pages of interest and see at a glance whether there was anything new there. It became a squint-fest, because the lack of contrast made the text hard to read, and it was a guessing game whether a link was the visited shade or not. (OK, I get it, purple for visited and blue for unvisited was old school and probably offended some designer somewhere, but why even make them different at all if they're so visually close you can't even be sure when the two colors are next to each other?) I remember joining the yahoo forum created for user feedback and watching the customer reps be so befuddled that nobody liked the new design. It was prettier! Why do you hate pretty things? What do you mean it's hard to read? It looks fine on my top of the line large screen mac. What's accessibility?
posted by Karmakaze at 2:23 PM on October 22, 2018 [7 favorites]

Serious questions:

1) What's to stop somebody from rebuilding delicious' functionality under a new name? Can Yahoo claim copyright infringement against something someone starts up that functionally mimics something they have shut down?

2) How hard would it really be to code something simple here to resurrect the wonderful thing that delicious once was? It can't be that hard, right? I mean I can basically wire-frame it myself right now if I needed to.

I would honestly pay good money for a software or website that gave me back what I had when I had delicious.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:00 PM on October 22, 2018

So have you tried Pinboard, allkindsoftime? I feel like it does exactly what Del.icio.us used to do for me.
posted by limeonaire at 6:38 PM on October 22, 2018

it's ~impossible to make non-creepy money off of it, which means under capitalism it's not viable

I have some bad news for you re: capitalism
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:46 PM on October 22, 2018

How hard would it really be to code something simple here to resurrect the wonderful thing that delicious once was? It can't be that hard, right?

Depends if you want all the "social" stuff or just something that works well enough for one person. When the redesign was announced in 2008, I took a couple of screenshots of the old interface just in case, and once the redesign turned out to be exactly as awful as everyone expected I spent an August weekend writing a cheap and cheerful clone of it. I've been using it for ten years now as bookmarks.offog.org.

There were a couple of other free-software reimplementations around at the time - I don't know if any have been maintained...
posted by offog at 8:55 AM on October 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Coding the basic create-read-update-delete code is pretty basic webdev stuff. The complication that keeps me from rolling my own is figuring out how to replace bookmarklets on Android. Social makes everything a lot more difficult.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 11:24 AM on October 23, 2018

I would imagine a Android Share to... action would be where it would be at. I am sure there is plenty of examples of that online.
posted by mmascolino at 5:13 PM on October 23, 2018

As far as I can tell, a share to action requires an app to send the data out.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:43 PM on October 23, 2018

« Older When do you jump? And where do you land?   |   So this is probably my 10th client who is the... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments