Social bookmarking appeal remains strong

As the service evolves to include more up-to-date elements, social bookmarking's basic function of sharing and tagging information is the key to its longevity, note industry watchers.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

The future of social bookmarking is thought to be bleak, due in part to the uncertain future of pioneer site Delicious, note a couple of industry watchers. Others, though, argued that the fundamental concept of social bookmarking will preserve its relevance in a Facebook- and Twitter-dominated Web 2.0 world.

Jeremy Woolf, senior vice president of public relations firm Text 100, defined social bookmarking as a way of storing, organizing and sharing bookmarks, or links and references to any online content that a person finds interesting or useful. Such content can be in the form of Web pages, images or video and audio files, he added.

The bookmarking service was one of the first Web 2.0 tools to become popular because it made grouping and sharing Web information easy for users, Woolf noted in his e-mail.

But its relevance appear to be waning though, said Craig Skinner, senior consultant at Ovum. He was referring to Yahoo's decision to axe Delicious--one of the earliest social bookmarking sites which was acquired by the Web company in 2005--last month. A subsequent report stated that the company will not shutter but be annexed to another company.

Elaborating on his point, the Ovum analyst said that the two distinct uses of social bookmarking--discovering new content and organizing it--have been increasingly replaced by alternatives that are fast gaining popularity among Net users.

For instance, people are increasingly turning to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to discover new information in real-time, and wikis to curate information, Skinner observed.

Woolf concurred. "The rise of real-time social networks, advanced search engine algorithms and social search have [raised] questions over the future of social bookmarking."

"If you can get great links, qualified either by your social graph, other users or powerful algorithms, why rely on a static link store?" he pointed out.

Evolving to remain relevant
That said, the concept of social bookmarking is still inherently useful today, according to Ben Cavender, associate principal at China Market Research Group (CMR). Without being overwhelmed by the vast amount of online content, a Web user can easily locate the information he wants and trusts, because other individuals with similar tastes and needs would have bookmarked and categorized such content, he explained.

Woolf, too, did not think that social networking sites will kill off social bookmarking services. Rather, he reckons social bookmarking is evolving with the technologies used in social media such as social algorithms, real-time updates and location-based services, adding that the aggregation of links will increase as the ability to tag and comment on content gets easier.

Users will also be able to filter content to meet their specific need. "For example, if you are looking for Japanese ramen in Hong Kong, you can search qualified bookmarks using filters such as social graph, demographic, influence of the commenters and so on," the executive explained.

Woolf even argued that that there is a business case for social bookmarking, which primarily serves consumer needs. He explained that as Generation Y workers bring their "tagging and sharing" behavior--cultivated from using social bookmarks--into the enterprise, filters and tags based on preferences, opinions and even project requirements will be used on company information and resources online or on the intranet.

In addition, Woolf noted that as companies move to less structured data storage systems, this ability to tag and share will become a critically important means of saving and finding data. "This is social bookmarking--but not as we knew it [before]," he concluded.

Jake Wengroff, global director of social media strategy and research at Frost & Sullivan, shared Woolf's sentiments. He said that social bookmarking remains relevant as people will always want to share information.

However, he noted that social bookmarking sites are no longer strictly just that. Sites such as Digg and Reddit have since morphed into news sites, rather than remain as link aggregators, Wengroff pointed out.

In fact, Keval Desai, Digg's vice president of product, stressed in a phone interview that Digg does not consider itself to be a social bookmarking site. He instead sees the site as a community-driven news platform, where members can engage in conversation and share opinions over stories that are of interest to them.

Desai also disagreed that there is competition from the likes of Facebook and Twitter, saying that Digg is a "natural partner" with social networking sites. He pointed out that because Digg is platform agnostic, a person can sign in using his preferred social network account and share information that he thinks is relevant to the contacts of that social network.

Maciej Ceglowski, founder of Pinboard, similarly took pains to differentiate his site from being just another social bookmarking service. Over e-mail, he described Pinboard to be a personal archive where people can store the things they find online and add labels and descriptions to their discoveries.

Ceglowski added out that while social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are "ephemeral" and "focus on interaction in the present", Pinboard is about collecting content that users would appreciate having around for many years to come.

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