Life after social bookmarking

Social bookmarking, one of the most talked about and crowded web 2.0 spaces, has transformed the way people save, share and discover bookmarks on the web., owned by Yahoo and one of the best known social bookmarking sites, recently had a blog post about achieving 1 million users after 3 years of service. Although this is no small feat, Myspace has managed to attract 100 million users in roughly the same timeframe. So, what’s holding back widespread adoption of social bookmarking services?

As I see it, the short answer to this question is that bookmarking is hard and requires effort.

Let’s look at why bookmarks are hard - or why they are easy to do wrong, and hard to do right. It’s easy to bookmark everything remotely useful we come across on the web, notwithstanding the huge manual effort it requires, but the not-so-useful bookmarks will quickly begin to outnumber the really useful bookmarks we may need someday. Soon we can’t see the forest for the trees, and finding a bookmark once we need it becomes difficult as a result. The hard part as a user is to be able to perfectly balance this in a way that prevents the following situations:

  • If only I had bookmarked that page when I first read it - Now I can’t find it using Google (Insert favorite search engine here)
  • Out of these 73 bookmarks, none of them point to the page I’m trying to find again
  • There’s just too many bookmarks in my collection! I can’t find anything anymore and cleaning up seems a waste of time considering my already busy schedule.

The problem is that when we read a page on the web, we have to immediately decide whether it would just collect dust and take up space in an already growing collection of bookmarks, or if we might need it again sometime in the future. Time has shown that predicting the future is anything but easy, and bookmarks are no exception.

The “requires effort” downside of bookmarks is of course linked to the “hard” aspect of this discussion. As I have mentioned before, we already have an abundance of things that are fighting for our precious attention, and bookmarking can take up a fair share of attention on its own. What’s worse is that bookmarking imposes a cognitive overhead during the process of solving whatever goals we set out to solve. When we are in the zone it disturbs our flow of thought, when we are the most focused and productive. 

Bookmarks considered harmful - then what?

Social bookmarking has been a step in the right direction towards getting more value out of each bookmark we spend time creating. Tags make it easier to structure and access the collections and to find useful bookmarks created by other like-minded people. Social bookmarking has come a long way from the hierarchical menu most current browsers have, but at the end of the day it’s still about having to create the right bookmarks, with all the associated difficulties for the average user.

What’s the alternative to bookmarks? One possible solution is to use attention data, the clickstream, that is generated when we view content on the web. The beauty is that a clickstream is generated as a result of what we pay attention to anyway, and it can be recorded effortlessly from the perspective of the user. Clickstreams however are not without their challenges, but they have the potential to create enormous value for everyone that use the web. Once the clickstream has been recorded, multiple attention services can provide the users with valuable services such as personalization, discovery, recommendations and search.

When the value in clickstreams and other types of attention data is finally unlocked for users, it will be interesting to see who the major players are, and whether widespread adoption will follow. Only time will tell…


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