Using our "review-casting" rig designed to capture on video my interviews that involve WebEx demos, I had a chance to catch up with Yahoo director of engineering Joshua Schachter for a sneak-peek video of the preview version of his social bookmarking service del.icio.us. Schachter is the founder and inventor of the del.icio.us service which was acquired by Yahoo! in 2005 and continues to oversee its ongoing evolution.
The preview version of Delicious isn't available to the general public. For users that are a part of the preview program, the preview edition is sandboxed. In other words, there's no intermingling of the live production data that's associated with the current version of Delicious and what amounts to test data that's associated with the preview version.
So, what's new? In the interview, Schachter makes it clear that his HTML skills are nothing to speak of when compared to those of the talent at Yahoo. So, even though Delicious is getting a facelift, he seems to rate the changes under the hood as being equally important to changes that are visible to the rest of it. Not only was Schacter's self-described "spaghetti code" supplanted with something worthy of a Yahoo property, the new architecture is designed with performance and scalability in mind. Not only should pages load faster (without abatement as the number of users and bookmarks it tracks grows), the service should be able to take on new users and new functionality (over time) without breaking a sweat and without a rewrite.
In terms of numbers of users, the last time I met with Schachter (about a year ago, when he won MIT Technology Review Magazine's top innovator award), Delicious had just eclipsed its 1 millionth registered user. Any day now, Schachter claims that Delicious will register its 3 millionth user. In terms of scalability on the new functionality front, Schachter says the rewritten code will make possible the faster addition of new features such as the display of thumbnails to go with bookmarks (not planned for this release). Much of what's included in the new interface was based on feedback and requested features from existing users of the service. Over on TechCrunch's Delicious Preview screen shot gallery for example, you can see one commenter asking for a thumbnail feature (this would really come in handy when bookmarking images as I often do).
The video (and Schachter) speak for themselves in terms of the new look for del.icio.us so I won't go into any painstaking detail regarding each new feature. But here's a bullet list of what to listen and watch for:
- New top-level navigation for the four major views of your "delicious-sphere": Home, Bookmarks, People, and Tags.
- Selectable level of detail for bookmark display (eg: just the title, title and description, or a third level including title, description, and URL)
- Ascending or Descending sort on bookmarks by recency, popularity (# of other delicious users who bookmarked the same page), and alphabetical order.
- Bookmark search box (not a full text search of bookmarked pages, but it does search descriptions and tags). Results are displayed in groupings (hits on a network of pages bookmarked by you and your friends, hits on just your bookmarks, and then hits against the bookmarks of all Delicious users).
- Sortable and filterable tag lists and a more visually appealing presentation of tags.
- Clearly marked popularity rankings (shows how many other people bookmarked a selected page)
- The service will launch with new plug-ins for Firefox and IE that add-value to the service. For example, when viewing a page on the Internet, the plug-in tells you how many Delicious users bookmarked that page and how they tagged them.
Noticeably absent from the new user interface is any major Yahoo! branding or corporate color schemes. According to Schachter, the focus right now is on getting the architecture and UI right. While he didn't say the trademark Yahoo! branding would come later, he didn't say it wouldn't either. So, it remains to be seen whether the service will be able to preserve one of its most appealing aspects: it's spartan page design.
The preview edition looks like it's running pretty well. I asked Schachter what the target launch date is. His answer? "When it's ready."