Del.icio.us panic — What Now?

Del.icio.us should not be confused with The Delicious, of which I am also a huge fan. Click to watch this short film by Scott Prendergast.

It’s got dots, Deputy loves dots. -McNulty, The Wire

So it’s been over a week since everyone who loves del.icio.us, the social bookmarking site, panicked over the news of its impending doom. In the aftermath, all the proposed alternatives to the site became overloaded and it was hard to evaluate all the different potential options. I’ve been keeping up on the news since, and after the dust settled and everyone’s servers came back online, I’ve tried to evaluate the various alternatives.

First off, some background — del.icio.us, or delicious.com, is a social bookmarking site. It was one of the early proponents of using ‘tags’ to organize information, and allowed you to save massive amounts of websites as highly organized bookmarks. Additionally, you could use the site to share these links with other people or other sites — for example to add them to the sidebar of a wordpress blog. Delicious amassed a huge following, with many loyal users to this day. I myself had over 3,500 links stored from over 5 years of using the site.

But around the time I first started using delicious, it got sold to Yahoo! who have spent the last few years squandering what they bought — along with a number of other services they now plan to shut down or sell.

Here are some links:

But even though Delicious might get sold, there’s no guarantee. Insiders report that the technology has been integrated heavily into Yahoo!, making it more difficult to separate the delicious site. Some of its biggest assets — its dedicated programming team and streamlined interface are gone, thanks to layoffs and a pointless change which doubles the amount of time it takes to save a link on the site. The remaining major asset of the site — years of data — might be valuable to someone but it might not be valuable in a form enjoyable to its existing users. The site could end up archived as a static record of years of browsing habits, or sold to someone who covers it with advertisements or otherwise mismanages it even worse than Yahoo! did.

So what should you do? Well, first off you should backup your links. The easiest way is using delicious’ built in tool, but this link offers some alternatives. After you download your links, you can choose to keep using delicious for now — but you’ll be stuck with its recently devolved interface and the chance that the site will become unusable in the future.

Of all the alternatives I explored, the single best was pinboard.in. It wonderfully simulates the older, simple, quick delicious interface while adding a few great new features like archiving links from Twitter and a page for storing unread links. I can send links from my phone by email, and it reposts my links to this blog as seamlessly as ever (see the bottom of my home page). You can eavesdrop on what public links other people are posting, too, which was always one of the strengths of delicious.

The one thing pinboard deliberately doesn’t do as well is the social aspect. Its creator has compared it to a card catalog which is curated for you, but which you allow other people to rummage through. There’s no inbox or other way to send links to another user, and though you can follow other users’ links you are only shown a count of how many users follow you but don’t get to see their names.

Of course the other major difference is cost — pinboard charges a one-time fee which increases based on the number of users on the site. As of the time of this writing, it is $9.05. This is not a lot of money for some people, but I know it can be enough to make a difference — I was only able to afford a site because a friend gave me one as a gift (yes I’m that broke). In a bit of happy news, I learned on Sunday that pinboard is offering free accounts to librarians.

Sadly, none of the other options are as good a replacement for delicious if delicious was exactly the perfect site for you. But some of them are interesting projects in their own right. These are the ones most worth investigating:

  • Diigo — Diigo will import your del.icio.us bookmarks, but the site offers a plethora of other social content sharing options. This means it is much less stream-lined than delicious or pinboard. It’s much too feature heavy for my needs, but that makes it perfect for those who felt constrained on delicious.
  • Zootool– Zootool will also import your delicious bookmarks, but I don’t recommend it unless your bookmarks were primarily pictures; even then, it doesn’t properly recognize flickr links. However, if you want to keep a collection of very visual content from around the web, you should investigate this site.
  • Pearltrees — Don’t import a big delicious file into pearltree, it organizes them into a hopeless morass. Pearltree is not really intended to be a delicious replacement, but rather a way to visually organize information. I don’t think I would use it for everyday bookmarking, but I think it could be great for laying out your online research for specific projects much like many of us were taught to do in school with index cards. See below for an example user-curated pearltree about robots.


I hope this helps some people. In closing, check out my pinboard if you want to see how I’ve been using it.