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November 2011
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January 2012

What Delicious Could Have Done (But Sadly Never Did)

Delicious

This time last year Yahoo announced their decision to 'sunset' the Delicious social bookmarking service. At the time I bemoaned the fact that Yahoo had done nothing with the service for five years inspite of the fact that it had so much potential.

A few months later it was bought by the founders of YouTube (who had cashed out). Since then, they've invested in a few changes that seem to have taken it more in the direction of becoming a sort of social news service. Fair enough I guess, but (personal view) these changes have done little to improve the core reasons I use the site - the ability to bookmark, organise and share great content.

Seems I'm not alone. Charles Arthur has just written a piece in The Guardian about how they are moving their bookmarking service over to Pinboard. The reason? Delicious's apparent strategy to move away from being "something like the plumbing for the net". He's right. It's strength was always in the fact that it was one of the earliest Web 2.0 services that was truly built on platform thinking, with it's functionality embedded in browsers, websites and blogs alike. But whilst this core functionality provided an excellent base, it needed to develop and be augmented in order to keep pace with not only competitive services, but evolving user requirements and expectations. For me, there are 4 key areas where that needed (and still needs) to happen:  

1. Capitalise on the network. Delicious was one of the first (pre-Twitter) places where I connected up to smart people whose opinion I respected and who shared really good content. The feed from the network used to be a great source of interesting links and it still is, but it's usefulness has been surpassed by networks that offer improved levels of curation, filtering and organisation, not just aggregation.

2. Improved functionality for content - I'd like Delicious to enable offline reading (like Instapaper), and perhaps clipping, improved note-taking, mobile functionality (like Evernote), easy posting to Tumblr. I use each of these services for different reasons, but I use Delicious the most so if I could do it from one place I'd prefer to. I guess better curation of content is at least part of the thinking behind the recently launched Stacks feature, but sadly (despite being a long-time user) this functionality was never introduced or explained to me - it just appeared with the redesign.

3. Better search. It's never been any good, and yet with the amount of bookmarked content on the platform there must be a huge potential to deliver back real value to existing users, but also a great utility for potential new users.

4. Make some money. Charles Arthur's piece in The Guardian makes a clear point about Pinboard establishing a model around being a paid-for service and the relative freedom that gives them. Pinboard have no doubt been able to pull this off because (at least in part) of the ground broken by Delicious. I would pay for a premium Delicious service but I've never been asked. I've been bookmarking links on the service for five years. That's over 8,000 bookmarks. Every day, hundreds of thousands of Delicious users are busy tagging, organising and categorising a wealth of content on the web. Why has Delicious never thought to use that enormous wealth of data? Data that could have created the basis for a highly targeted advertising service. Or even better, a powerful recommendation engine that could serve up recommendations for great content based on what it knows about my preferences from five years worth of bookmarking, or even real-time recommendation based on what other Delicious users are bookmarking around the subjects I'm interested in right now. 

It's easy to say all this in hindsight I know, but I say it because I'm still willing Delicious to succeed. Partly because I have so much invested in it, and partly because I still think it's fundamentally a good service that has such a powerful base to build on. I still use it, but it needs to get better. Under Yahoo, it suffered from innovation inertia for too long. I've just joined Pinboard (which has a business model where the more users join the more new users pay) but I sincerely hope I don't get to the point where I have to use it. 

Image courtesy


The New Content Curators

Percolate

It's great to see that Noah Brier's Percolate has secured it's first round of funding. I think it's a truly interesting service that fullfills a growing need, and the slight pivot they have just done to refocus more on offering curation services for brands rather than individuals makes a whole bunch of sense.

Brands can map their interests and goals against a wealth of content sources that Percolate scrapes daily. The Percolate algorithm then bubbles up the most interesting stories, and presents them to a 'brand editor' to curate and comment on before publishing.

As brands increasingly become content producers, and move into content hungry practices and channels, creating interesting stuff on a sustained basis is becoming a real challenge. As does mastering not just the stock, but the flow (flow being "pieces of content, produced rapidly and at a low cost"). Brands simply do not have the resource capability to accomodate this emerging requirement without utilising different forms of curation including algorithmic, social, as well as professional. As usual, it is by overlaying the best that technology can offer, with the capability of smart, talented people that works.

This begs an interesting question about the growing requirement for 'Brand Editors'. Is this a new role, or simply a new skill? As an aside, I think many media owners have been very slow at realising the opportunity that exists for them in applying their assets and skills in content creation and curation in new ways in order to generate new partnerships with brands, but that's another story.


Driving By Looking In The Rear-View Mirror

Rear-view mirror

It's predictions time of year again. And like most things there's already the good and the not so good. I was rather taken with this comment from Seth Godin on a post by Fred Wilson about a talk by Forrester CEO, George Colony at last week's Le Web conference. Colony talked about the 'death of the web' and how 'social' is reaching saturation meaning the emergence of 'post-social' (le sigh).

Whilst there's some interesting points, I'm personally not keen on regarding the emergence of one thing meaning the imminent death of that which went before, and even less keen on viewing social as a 'thing'. As Jeff Jarvis commented social is not an application, it's a layer, and as another comment put it "humanity is social...social peaks when humanity does". But it was Seth's comment that made me really sit up. He said:

"The problem with just about every prediction made by industry firms like Forrester (all the way back to 1985 when these firms said that the Commodore 64 was going to change the world--until the VCR interrupted to become the next big thing) is that they are based on sophisticated analysis of what's in the rear-view mirror. A tough way to drive. The trends are legit, but we have no idea what unexpected breakthrough in human interaction is going to change everything."

It's a rather good metaphor. And it reminded me of that design-thinking thing about how undervalued the abductive thinking (imagining what could be possible) that is typically taught in design, is in comparison to the inductive (based on directly observable facts) and deductive (logic and analysis, often based on past evidence) approaches that often characterises business school teaching. Nothing wrong with the latter, but an over-reliance on framing the future through the lens of the past has missed opportunity written all over it.  

Image courtesy

The Digital Talent Time-Bomb

Bomb
A fair bit of my recent working life has been taken up working with the smart folk at Econsultancy on a truly fascinating piece of research into how client organisations are structuring their digital marketing capability. It's been something of a massive task to navigate through the complexity of variables and surrounding factors and trends that impact how companies decide to resource this area. But the process and the results have been hugely enlightening.

One of the findings of the research focused on the fact that some of the key digital disciplines that companies identify as already being the most difficult to recruit for, also happen to be the ones that they anticipate will be the biggest areas of growth in resourcing in the near to mid-term future. Most notably disciplines including data and analytics, content marketing and social media.

This can only mean one thing: a looming talent time bomb. This is a very real issue, so I've penned a piece on the Econsultancy blog to expand on it. As I say in the article, there's reason to believe that this is not an issue that is likely to go away any time soon.


IKEA 365 Campaign

I'm rather intrigued by the concept behind this campaign (from earlier this year). To show their versatility, IKEA in Holland made a different TV ad for every day of the year. It's a wonderfully disruptive idea. But the thing I like most about it is that it's so far removed from the campaigning mindset that characterises so much of what we see - a continuous stream of communications that enables them to be far more topical, tactical and agile over an extended period of time. If you take this kind of thinking and marry it with a continuous but ever changing stream of digital communications and stories, then you've really got something. Something that is slow, fast, and spiky.