Why Mag.nolia and Reddit are going distribuited?

Muhammad Saleem of Mashable thinks that Mag.nolia open source move is a clear sign that bookmarks are dying. Saleen carries his claim as far as to saying that “all that is to say that bookmarking as a social activity is soon to become a thing of the past”. However, for him social news sites like Digg and Reddit should do better:

“As people move away from the rather passive activity of sharing bookmarks to actively participating in the submission, promotion, and propagation of news and networking on the basis of their interests, social news and networking sites are bound to replace bookmarking sites like Ma.gnolia and Delicious”.

But then news came that Reddit also is taking the open source route. According to Reddit co-founder, Steve Huffman, users are demanding more transparency: “Social news in general has hid behind algorithms, which has caused some consternation amongst users. Users don’t get why things aren’t showing up on the front page” (via – mashable). So now what we have are the two second place players in each sector going open source. They both bet on a distributed model to generate the critical mass that way two leads, Digg and Delicious, have. Clearly, Mag.nolia going open social cannot be in itself a sign of social bookmarking decline.

Yet, the discussion between social news and social bookmarking is still pertinent. Evidently Digg, the lead in social news is significantly bigger than Delicious, the lead on social bookmarking. There are probably several reasons why this is the case, but as far as I can tell this are the main ones:

  1. It is easier to consume content at Digg that it is at Delicious. On the long run one must expect 1% of users creating content, 2% interacting with it (voting, commenting) and 97% reading it/consuming it. Unlike Delicious, at Digg content can be partially read on the site and comments are one click away. Also at Digg the interface makes it easy to scan and skim through various headlines.
  2. The primary purpose to “digging” a story is to have it read by a wide audience. I have the impression that the primary reason people bookmark on delicious is to (a) keep their bookmarks online (not social related) and (b) to share it with their friends. At the most you may want to check out someone´s delicious page if you think he is a qualified influencer, but that´s about it.
  3. People can game Digg easier that they can game Delicious. There is a clear and strong structure of incentives to ask others to “Digg” your stories, hence driving traffic.

None of the handicaps Delicious suffers are structural in a technical level. Rather, the first two are user interface related while the third one is “in-built viral mechanisms” related. All of them can be added to the Delicious without changing their core offering. Hence, we don´t see Digg size as a strong enough proof that social news will thrive and social bookmarking will be doomed.

Still, if Delicious where to upgrade making it easy to “consume” content, could Delicious generate the critical mass the Digg has amassed? Other way of putting this is: what is the value differentiator of social bookmarking when we compared it to social news sites?

Digg is a popularity contest while Delicious is re organizing the web. The first has the challenge to remain a cool way to find interesting news while the second has the challenge of adding value to the “passive” user. The value differentiator for Delicious is that it is simple and more versatile. Digg, as it is now conceived, is restricted to novelty and freshness. Delicious, if widely adopted not only as a bookmarking site but as a content (source) discovery destination, it can provide an alternative “information organizer” on the web.

Certainly the buzz has gone from social bookmarking to other places, but I still hold high hopes for this sector.

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2 responses to “Why Mag.nolia and Reddit are going distribuited?

  1. I think for many Del.icio.us users the very fact that “critical mass” is not imminent- nor is it marketed to that effect – makes it work. Because more than social bookmarking, it achieves cultural aggregation and useful inter-linking, rather than being a user-generated version of meta-filter. Digg is more a barometer of cool. I’ve found that delicious is actually useful, and will probably survive on its core group of academics et al. My point is: if widely adopted, it would probably transform into another digg. The success of the site depends on the user, but is success a matter of hits… or a matter of proper use of the technology?

    • jonathangheller

      I agree. But wouldn’t it be cool if Delicious – content curated, relevant information – could offer an alternative to the algorithm relevant info from search engines like google? of course, you wouldn’t want it to turn into what you call a “barometer of cool”. Perhaps creating groups where you could “walled” content might do the trick: the info would be accessible the the wider Delicious audience (aggregated to the larger data stream) buy posting url’s to the group would be restricted….who knows…

      Anyway, thanks for commenting michu :)

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