Rob and I have been together for 12 years this month, but I still remember what it’s like to get over a previous love. Back in the day when there was a little more turnover in my love life, I found that moving on to a new relationship wasn’t enough to cure the heartache of a breakup. It wasn’t until I was two breakups removed that I’d really get over a previous love and stop thinking about him altogether.
I’m wondering if the same might be true of social web sites. I’ve loved delicious, the social bookmarking site, for almost five years now. It was the first social web site to win my heart: my first bookmarks are as old as my first blog posts. We’ve been together since “social media” was “web 2.0″; since the days when Yahoo’s delicious was simply Josh Schacter’s del.icio.us. Delicious has seen me through hacktivism and e-democracy, basecamp and yoga, CarShopping and decorating.
But a recent comment on my year-old blog post about delicious-twitter integration made me realize how we’ve grown apart. Twitter is my new boyfriend: the one I hang out with all the time. When I find a web site or blog post I want to preserve for future reference, I usually Twitter it — knowing that the tweecious extension will cross-post any URL I tweet to my delicious collection.
Delicious is now the old boyfriend: the one I rarely see but can’t get out of my heart. While I documented several options for integrating Twitter and delicious, I never use delicious to cross-post to Twitter via Twitterfeed, and since a rarely use Firefox I’ve stopped using FireStatus to post simultaneously to Twitter and delicious. My delicious bookmarks are there for me (like the boyfriend you know will always take you back if you call) but my primary URL-capture relationship is with Twitter.
Yet I can’t extricate delicious from my emotional attachment to the social web, largely because my exploration of delicious helped form my perspective and understanding of social media. The 2005 article I wrote for the Toronto Star focused on delicious as a window on the then-new phenomenon of tagging, explaining that “it offers users a great amount of additional value in return for only a little bit of extra work.” What interested me was the social impact of delicious-ing: that the selfish act of storing a bookmark would elide into the socially constructive act of sharing that bookmark with others. And the social experience of sharing (easily, effortlessly) on delicious would build the sharing muscles that turn me into a good social media contributor.
If that argument was correct, then Twitter’s success proves that delicious did indeed school us in the joys of sharing. We stored our bookmarks, discovered the value of making them social…and then found that the sharing was worth more than the storage. Twitter focuses on the sharing, not the organizing and retrieval — and now, it’s where we put our attention and find our links.
Or maybe delicious and I had it wrong from the beginning. Maybe sharing isn’t that big an ask: maybe people are wiling to share, waiting only for the opportunity. Maybe we’re naturally generous, or predisposed to vie for the attention we get by sharing what we know. Using tags to organize a record of what we’ve shared — as delicious does so well for bookmarks, and Twitter does less well via hashtags, largely due to that 140-character limit — is a nice bonus, but hardly the main point.
The obvious answer is that different people have different motivations. The genius of delicious was — and is — its dual value as a private organizational tool and as a way of sharing and publishing. Yahoo doesn’t care whether you’re using delicious so you can find your bookmarks across multiple computers, or as a way of establishing yourself as the definitive curator of Ikea hacking resources: they just want you to keep storing those bookmarks.
Twitter, on the other hand, still skews social. It’s great for those who like to chronicle their lives, build their reputations, or connect with friends. It’s at least as useful as a personal information tool — I use it to log hours into my time tracking software, track the latest news headlines, and maintain a private diary of my kids’ cutest remarks — but most people are surprised when I suggest that they might like using Twitter even if they never post a single public tweet.
Appealing to the productivity geeks as well as to the social networkers is a terrific way to build users for a platform. But I’m still happiest to see web applications that drive people in one direction: towards social, and towards sharing. Maybe the next one will be the new boyfriend that helps me finally get over delicious.