Has Search Replaced Bookmarking?

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Is there really a need for online social bookmarking services anymore?

There’s no denying that I’m a fan of Delicious – the online social bookmarking service (I Blogged about my love for Delicious back in 2007, right here: Why del.icio.us Is Becoming My Default Search Engine For Research). I was really sad to hear that Yahoo (who bought the company in 2005) may be ditching the service (more that here: Leaked Slide Shows Yahoo Is Killing Delicious & Other Web Apps and here: Yahoo Claims It’s Not Killing Delicious), but not all that surprised.

Search has changed. Bookmarking has changed.

Most people used bookmarking as a way to remember where a piece of content was (or to make it more findable to others). We have to remember a couple of things:

  • Search keeps getting better and better, but there was a time when finding a piece of content took some digging.
  • Content used to come and go. Before the importance of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), it was not uncommon for people/companies to remove content. It was also not uncommon for them to move it (and break the link).
  • We didn’t have online social networks like Twitter and Facebook to ask our "friends" questions. We left that up to the search engines, and if we didn’t have the right word phrasing, we would often come up empty for our queries.

Do we really need an online social bookmarking platform anymore?

It’s a question worth asking. Search has come to a point where if I’m looking for something on this Blog, I tend to use Google for the query and simply add the words "six pixels" to the search string (it’s usually better than site search). I’ll often ask my connections on Twitter and Facebook if I need something specific (i.e.: "anyone have the latest stats on YouTube‘s growth?"), beyond that, I save the articles and Blog posts that I don’t have time to read on Instapaper (more on that here: Instapaper Is A Must), but that’s about it.

If it’s always there and online, is there a point in bookmarking it?

Things are findable. There are more people online who share and answer questions. Information is tagged and indexed better. It’s rare that you have to go beyond the second page of any major search engine to find anything. Knowing what people are bookmarking and tagging is still interesting, but not that much more interesting than seeing what they are now sharing on Twitter, Facebook and beyond.

Is there still a need for social bookmarking? Has search (and this includes social search) usurped it? What do you think?


  1. I think bookmarking for the sake of retrieval can easily be replaced by search, but the social aspect of a platform like Delicious is where the value is.
    Like your 2007 post, I still use Delicious to explore long tail content which different people find useful, but content that would not automatically rise to the top few pages on Google.
    That is probably the function of Delicious I’ll miss most – access to curated bookmarks from the crowd.

  2. I still think there’s a lot of value in a social bookmarking service like Delicious. Search by itself is hella powerful but I’ve never been impressed by Google’s attempts to work in social, recommendation, and so on.
    The key difference, and strength, that makes social bookmarking valuable is that you create the search engine yourself. Granted, you have to put in lots of time up front to build the results, but ultimately you have the control. You are not dependent on someone else’s algorithm, which can be changed without your knowledge, or gamed by third parties.
    Here’s another reason why social bookmarketing can be better: what if the search result that was most valuable to you was result 97 (or 297) from a search? Easier to bookmark that for future retrieval, I think.
    Having said all that, social bookmarking and search engines have a symbiotic partnership. Search engines provide a lot of the input to social bookmarking services, but only after the human filter decides what should be kept.

  3. I must admit I never “got” social bookmarking. I am pretty geeky and very social, but never understood the value in a site holding my bookmarks for me? If it is important / cool / noteworthy enough, I will share with my social tribe through a better platform (twitter, FB, LinkedIN, etc.)
    The lesson here, AS ALWAYS, is that free sites die people, if a site can’t monetize, don’t expect it to be saved by a purchase from Yahoo, Google, et al

  4. Social bookmarking for me will not be replaced anytime soon by ‘search’ and the reasons you mention. I agree with Daryl & Mark that both the network and you yourself optimizing the database are significant benefits.
    Asking friends on Twitter or Facebook questions can be valuable when you have a big and active network in the field of your business (= 3 parameters).
    Google results are also pushed back after time and finding the most relevant info for your request will not be easy. Some bookmarking services can however take screenshots so even when the site is offline you can retrieve the information you saved.
    Anyway, I’m glad Delicious is not being shut down. My 5.000 bookmarks + network are of tremendous value & used on a daily basis.

  5. For me, the most valuable part of social bookmarking tools has been the sharing features. I rarely used Delicious to bookmark things for my own safekeeping…I’m like you, my first inkling is to use Google. However, I did keep lists of bookmarks which I’d then share out to my students, by posting them via rss to a blog or Facebook group. It was a somewhat automated process and worked well for me.
    Lately, Instspaper has been my staple for performing this task, mostly because I can be on my laptop, iPad or iPhone and quickly save a post to Instapaper, then go into the tool and file it, and publish the ones I want to a Tumblr blog whichi share out to my students.
    With that said, I’ve never been one to get too upset when a tool goes away. It’s the cost of free. Keep local backups of the things you care about, and let the rest go.

  6. I have a delicious account with a couple of bookmarks I need to retrieve, but I always just kept a list of sites or specific pages that I liked somewhere else online. (Now that I think about it, it’s a Yahoo product too, Notepad, so I’d better start moving things.) I think I’d set up my own way of doing it, so I just never clicked with the delicious site. I’m sad to see it go simply because so many others have come to rely on it though. Maybe I’ll join the migration because I’m bookmarking with something 10x more clunky. 🙂

  7. I use Delicious to bookmark and share where I’ve been commenting. That way, it’s much much easier to go back and respond to developments in comments later on. Without bookmarking, that would be a real hassle.

  8. This is indeed a nice question to ask nowadays. Eventhough my own bookmark pool contains hundreds of bookmarks, I almost never use them. I am aware of the fact that I never go back to find a previously saved bookmark from my computer, I always use the Search but ironically continue to bookmark, so hopefully in the foreseeable future my bookmarking trend will disappear. However, if we are talking about the social platforms like Delicious, the social potential of them is a way different concept than the search itself. In my opinion, Search has partially replaced Bookmarking but can never entirely kill the social bookmarking concept. Unless, the Search upgrades itself and allows users to socially interact at the same time..

  9. I get where you’re coming from. I can’t say I referenced material in my Delicious account that often .. although I definitely used it as a way to obsessively save links to content I found particularly interesting and knew might come in handy later. Stats, tools, that kind of thing.
    A few months ago I switched to Pearltrees. I’m finding the sharing capabilities a lot more interesting than the one I never used in Delicious. Pearltrees lets you see your links and their groupings visually. It also lets you find and “take” (ie. copy) other people’s bookmarks … even entire groupings of bookmarks .. really easily.
    And when someone “takes” one of your pearls, you’re advised, which is another nice way to discover people who share the same interests. (note: the downside, of course, is that the user base I have on Pearltrees isn’t nearly as large as the one I had on Delicious)
    I copied all my Delicious bookmarks to Pearltrees a few months ago and haven’t looked back.
    Yahoo: hands off Pearltrees. I’m serious.
    p.s. No, Pearltrees is NOT a client 😉

  10. I use Delicious for a very specific bookmarking function: I bookmark travel destination tips (restaurants, hotels, tours etc). I read a lot of travel sites and if I find an insider tip I bookmark it so that when I plan a trip to a city I have everything already prepared.
    That said, if I see the demise of Delicious it would be disappointing but would only cost an afternoon searching for the same information.

  11. Interesting thoughts. I never really used social bookmarking services like Delicious, but I do continue to bookmark sites I believe I’ll return to later to get more info/check out updates to content, etc.
    But if it’s THAT interesting in terms of regular new content, I’ll use RSS (like I do for Six Pixels) or Instapaper (thanks to your suggestion) to read later — and I’ve found that though I bookmark perhaps a dozen sites a week, I return to those sites NOT through the bookmarks, but, as you suggest, via new searches — most often Google.

  12. Mitch, as a serious Delicious user who is now going through all the stages of grieving and panic, i really do appreciate this post. Thanks for providing a different way of thinking about this process.
    Recently i was introduced to Pearl Trees it’s a cool way to keep sites organized in a visual manner. I think this development is going to be an opportunity to rethink how i organize and access the flood of information.
    Thanks for helping. Just realized I had subscribed to Instapaper and wasn’t even aware of it! LOL

  13. I started using social bookmarking after following you IAB Social Media course last year. However I can’t say I developped a habit of using it. Never found a particular use for me to use it or to return to it. I much prefer “staring” Google Reader articles for later reference or sharing them if I like as that’s part of my reading & discovering habit.
    I don’t see the usefullness of social bookmarking in the future.

  14. I sometimes used to have the same doubt, but I think, for me at least, bookmarks – better if on Delicious – are the best way to keep track of some information you’re more confident in storing following your own mind scheme rather than a search engine’s one.
    For example, I use the “howto” tag on Delicious to keep track of guides I find around on topics that I am interested in (using another tag, like “design”, “programming” etc).
    Searching for that information on Google could be an option, but would prevent the chance to have an “overhead” view on all the things you stored through the months, and sometimes it’s easier to search something on a list rather than on Google.

  15. Mitch, I find a practical limitation to the use of search engines when I am trying to retrieve information I may have seen some time back. Very often what was on the first or second page of search has, with time, slipped to a page well down in the search results. I tag posts almost every day. Then, I can use delicious to help me find those important, but obscure or old references. There will still be a need for this type of tagging. Throw in the ability to share these bookmarks with coworkers and friends, and you have something that is indispensable. It is sad that Yahoo has neglected delicious to the point that a once innovative service is endangered.

  16. There is still a place for bookmarking; it’s SOCIAL bookmarking that I’m less sold on. I tend to use Google Reader’s sharing capabilities to point people to great content. Or I tweet or retweet content (essentially using these tools/platforms now for social sharing).
    I wonder how many people (and how often people) really go to social bookmarking sites to look at what OTHERS have bookmarked.
    RE bookmarking: I think the biggest values are research and time (i.e., not reinventing the wheel). After much trial and error, I’ve finally identified a tagging system that allows me to put things into categories where I can find them again. This is particularly helpful when I’m working on a presentation or have a topic I want to track but don’t need to deep dive into right now.

  17. I am the type of person which fairly often *replies* to questions where sth is. And my main tool are (were?) delicious bookmarks. Having tried many ways of saving and categorizing content, I find tagged bookmarks to be the best shot at usability and recoverability of information.
    Regarding social aspect: this is the reason why delicious used to hint me 5 good tags whenever I bookmarked something. This feature is bigger than it seems.

  18. I think it is imperative that we save URLs to content that is important to us – or even copies of that content – because to depend on any company to control what we can find is foolish at best and dangerous at worst.
    What if the search engine decides to filter out what you want to find? How many will notice that it is gone?
    I regulary link to exceptional content I have saved from the many blog posts I publish across the blogosphere and it is often NOT easy to find again in any search engine. Are we really willing to surrender control over what we read to others? Do you really want to advocate that idea?

  19. I don’t think bookmarking can be replaced by Search just yet. Unless you have scads of time to go searching for something, then filtering through it, I just don’t see it. Delicious allows me to “forget” some tags, such as who wrote the article, so that I can focus on looking for relevant tags without worrying if Emarketer wrote it or Mobile Marketer. Just my 2¢.

  20. I agree with most of what others above have said. My three points below build on that. In a nutshell, I don’t think that search should ever replace bookmarkign. Note that I didn’t write “can’t” or “won’t”, but simply “shouldn’t”. And here’s why:
    1> There’s an entire aspect of content curation that search can’t necessarily (or readily) provide that book marking can. I like to go back and see just what I bookmarked to avoid having to search the entire web for it (though, as you and others say, it is getting easier to do).
    2> Offline (generally speaking) access and the ability to re-find a link in search (knowing that search algorithms can duynamically change where links appear from one day to the next). Plus, theability to back up and archive this record (this bridges points one and two).
    3> The size of one’s network (for those that use social search) limits the broad availability to find something. Sure, as network size grows, it helps. But until then, it’s limited.

  21. Absolutely. Many links I bookmark would take hours of searching to find again. My Diigo bookmarks are my digital library and invaluable to me.

  22. I am not an active or social Delicious user, but I will miss it. I use bookmarks for things that search can’t easily replicate, like recipes: I found a vegetarian Italian sausage recipe so good that my dad walked into the kitchen, sniffed, and said “mmm, Italian sausage.” But it took many searches and trials to find it. And what could I search for to find it again? “the veggie Italian sausage that fooled my dad”? And if it did come up in the search results, how would I know which one it was? They all use black pepper and fennel. Better to bookmark it.
    What I will miss is the online part. I exported my bookmarks to my browser, but that doesn’t help me in my itouch.

  23. I guess it really depends on what kind of page, or content you’re bookmarking. If it’s trivial and seasonal, I guess it’s not at all needed, but if it’s something important and quite helpful, I would be more inclined to bookmark it to avoid searching it repeatedly in Google.

  24. i can’t rely upon search because content changes. for me, findability is not repeatable or predictable for specific pieces of content over time with google, ultimately resulting in more time to find stuff i’ve previously found. social bookmarking works because the tags don’t really change.
    that said, i’ve noticed that my kids never bookmark and never type into the browser address bar. everywhere they go is a result of a search. even going their favourite sites, that they visit X times a day, its always a google then go…

  25. I think the most useful reason for social bookmarking is when you want to save an artist or images. So many times I have found artists that I love and then later been unable to google something like “cute art prints with girls and wood”. Bookmarking these sites has saved me the sadness of not being able to find them again. Until we can paste an image into google to search for similar things, bookmarking, in some form, will probably still kick around.

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