For years I had been an active user of Delicious, the social bookmarking service. I started using it in 2004, a year after its launch, and stopped using it in 2015. By then the service had been repeatedly sold, and much of its useful social features had been deprecated. It’s one of those great services Yahoo bought and then never did anything with. As I describe in a posting on bookmarking strategies last year, Delicious was useful originally because it showed you who else had bookmarked the same thing as you, and with which tags. It allowed me to find other people with similar interests, and especially if they used very different tags than me for a page they would be outside my own communities and networks (as ‘tribes’ will gravitate to a shared idiom). I’d then start following the blogs of those other people, as a way of widening my ‘very large scale antenna array’ of feed reading. Tags were pivots for triangulation. Delicious is one of those tools that were really social software, as opposed to a social media platform with its now too common self-reinforcing toxicity.

The current owner of Delicious is Pinboard, and according to Wikipedia the Delicious site was officially made inactive last August. That became obvious visiting my Delicious profile in the past weeks (on the original de.licio.us url, not the later delicious.com), as it would regularly result in an internal server error. Today I could access my profile.

My delicious profile

I decided to download my Delicious data, 3851 bookmarks.

After several attempts resulting in internal server errors, I ended up on the export screen which has options to include both notes and tags.

Delicious export screen

The resulting download is a HTML file (delicious.html), which after opening at first glance looked disappointing as it did not show tags, nor the date of bookmarking, just the description. Loosing most context would make the list of bookmarks rather useless.

My delicious html export

However, when I took a look at the source of the HTML file, I found that thankfully tags and dates are included as data attributes of the bookmarks. The HTML is nicely marked up wit DT and DD tags too, so it will be no problem to parse this export automatically.

My delicious html export source showing data attributes

My original notion was to import all bookmarks with their tags and notes, as back dated blog entries here. But randomly clicking on a range of links tells me that many of those bookmarks no longer resolve to an active web page, or redirect to some domain squatting spam outfit. So bringing the bookmarks ‘home’ into my site isn’t useful.
As the export includes tags, I can mine the list for bits of utility though. The collection contains a wide variety of open data usage examples I collected over the years, and that is of interest as a historical library, that I could try and match against the internet archives, using the bookmarking dates. Most other stuff is no longer of interest, or was ephemeral to begin with, so I won’t bother bringing that ‘home’. I will add the delicious export to the other exports of Twitter and Facebook on my NAS drive and cloud as archive. I have now removed my profile from the Delicious website (after several attempts to overcome internal server errors, and it is now verifiably gone).

Even though quite a number of companies regard social media as dangerous, I think companies have in fact a lot going for them as a suitable environment for social software.
Because social software tools all work from the same principles:
1 they thrive on large volumes of data and information (Flickr and delicious e.g. only come into their own when the volume involved is big enough)
2 they thrive when existing social networks adopt the same tool (your fraternity in Facebook, Wikipedians doing wiki maintenance, your blog roll)
Social software works well given these conditions because these tools are the internet’s response to the enormous volume of information the internet helped create. Social software is the answer to the internet by the internet.
The quantitative change in information availability (going from scarcity to abundance) leads to qualitative changes in our information strategies. Social filtering is one of those changed information strategies. Social software caters to social filtering.
Companies are excellent environments for social filtering.
Because they sit on large volumes of data and information, going largely unused.
Because organisations are a group of people with shared goals and tasks.
In short, companies are their own objects of sociality as well as their own user group.
An information manager of a large internationally operating Dutch company told me the other day that they had given a number of their professionals access to their business intelligence data. Because they were gathering so much data nobody really looked at for lack of good questions to ask of the dataset. The professionals put the data to good use, because they could formulate the right questions. They were adding social structures and context to the data. Basically adding social software design principles to a large volume of data.
The information manager was surprised by this, saying something like “and I have these BI specialists who never came up with this kind of use for the data”.
I wasn’t surprised. Throwing social relationships at large volumes of data works. We see it in our feed-readers, presence streams, yasn’s, wiki’s, and tag-clouds every day.

When I wrote about the dinner with Marc Canter here some 2 months ago I also mentioned thinking about social software as being composed of different triangles.

The notion stems from how I use Flickr and delicious. I track individuals and their bookmarks and through those two pieces of info I get to know their use of language as well as their general areas of interest for the day. But I also look at how the stuff I bookmark has been tagged by other people. Are these people already familiar to me? Different language use (in the tags) may hint towards different circles of people and communities.

You see that in both cases I don’t really look at the bookmark itself, and I certainly don’t use it as a singular piece of information. It is merely an object around which I look for existing relationships, and scout out possible new ones. An object of sociality that has served its role as soon as I used it to find new people, or connect to already familiar ones.

It works much the same way for Flickr, though the aspect to get a quick glance at what my existing relationships are up to is more important to me here.

In general you could say that both Flickr and delicious work in a triangle: person, picture/bookmark, and tag(s). Or more abstract a person, an object of sociality, and some descriptor. In every triangle there always needs to be a person and an object of sociality. The third point of the triangle is free to define as it were.

Flickr Photo as Object of Sociality

This becomes more interesting once you start using the descriptors to move from one object of sociality to the next, or when the descriptor is an object of sociality itself. Now you can hop through different applications while still doing the same thing you previously did inside one application: build connections to people based on their current interest, albeit a picture, a location, an event, a bookmark, a blogpost or a document.

We generally call the stacking of apps like this mash-up. But in this case more importantly it allows us as people to seamlessly wander from one application to another while not being interrupted because you have to consciously migrate from one ‘channel’ to another. It is not mash-up to bring more functionality into one new application based on existing ones, it is mash-up to more closely follow your own routines while building and maintaining relationships.

Plazes for instance puts itself in the place of the tags in Flickr, and presto, now pictures are tied to geographic locations and vice versa. Through which you then can find (new) people again.

Flickr and Plazes Mashed

To me this also means that self-proclaimed social applications that do not offer you the possibility to explore all sides of a triangle, aren’t useful as a social medium. A bookmarking service that does say how many others bookmarked the same thing, but does not let you explore who these people are or lets you see who uses what tags, only the tags used by themselves, doesn’t do much in a social sense. By maintaining the triangle you make sure that individuals keep their face in the masses even when you aggregate info. (You can always drill back to a person and her personal set of in this case bookmarks and tags)

You can enter any triangle through a single point. This is the most basic use of an application. I store pictures, I bookmark, I write, I geotag. But from that you can start exploring the sides of the triangle, finding new connections to people either based on the object of sociality, or by browsing the descriptors and hopping to the next object of sociality.

Social software I think is social because it puts relationships in the center view, and less the information that flows through these relationships. The possibility of triangulation allows you to also extend and broaden both existing and new relationships into new information domains, and thus increases the likelihood of new networks of relationships and meaning emerging from the background noise.

Photo Value of Triangulation by Roland Tanglao during the Seattle Blogwalk. (CC license)