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Delicious and how every excellent web service ends up eating itself

Hard to believe, but once upon a time Delicious was a really great bookmarking service. The offer was very simple: install a plugin or bookmarklet and send all your bookmarks to your delicious account for synching and, more interestingly, sharing.

This was all before Facebook and Twitter took off. Back then, we weren’t really interested in sharing personal updates – blogging and bookmarking were our online currency. And Delicious did bookmarks really well: the crowd determined what was popular, generating a folksonomy. There were no dismal clickbait lists or adverts, unlike now:

The Delicious home page

The Delicious home page.

Delicious’s history – and decline – is completely typical. In 2005 Yahoo bought the service, forgot about it and sold up in 2011: as with most Yahoo ventures it never made money. Like a bad debt, various companies have taken the service on in an effort to wring some cash out of it, only to sell it after a couple of years.

What made Delicious good was its non-commercial, decentralised nature. Other users rather than advertisers determined what links surfaced – there was no editorial voice. But investors want a return on their investment, and the only way to do that online is through serving some form of centralised, paid-for content to users. It’s a contradiction in terms.

There do appear to be some signs of life in Delicious, but why use a service that exists to serve you adverts?