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Summary:

When the social bookmarking service Delicious relaunched, people were concerned that it looked different. But now a litany of serious complaints is emerging: broken services, missing pages, deleted accounts. Were these mistakes deliberate — or just the result of bad planning?

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Lots of people were happy when Delicious was rescued by YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, and whisked away from the neglect it had been suffering under Yahoo. It was a chance for a rebirth of a small but well-liked social bookmarking service, linking up with some proven entrepreneurs who were trying to show they had a second act. It looked like it could be a case of two great tastes that taste great together.

But when the site relaunched yesterday, I noticed there were a few problems — a few elements that didn’t seem to work for me, or felt strange — and my old account had been deleted because I hadn’t gone through the transfer process.

What I didn’t expect was a high volume of comments pointing out that this was just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, the response in this comment thread was unanimous: This relaunch appears to be broken.

Here’s one commenter, Suman, explaining what went wrong:

I had a fairly bad experience with the new Delicious today. Just last week I had spent a few hours curating my saved bookmarks and organizing tags. The new Delicious doesn’t seem to know anything about it. All my effort is lost. There is no longer a bulk-edit function to redo my changes. I can no longer manage my tags – could find no option for deleting old tags. Some of my tags with special characters are now broken, I get a 404 when I try to access them. I am done. Goodbye Delicious.

Meanwhile, many seemed to have the same problem as Mindctrl, who said the transfer of accounts from the old Delicious to the new Delicious was proving problematic: “My account is gone, despite me going through the transfer process. I’ve emailed them and am awaiting a reply.”

And lots of people were angry about the changes to tagging and tag bundles. Ellen said “I’ve invested a lot of time and effort into sorting out tag bundles with hundreds of tags… but now only a small fraction of my tags remain listed, and the bundles are gone!”, and you could hear the anguish when DSP pointed out “I had over 4 thousand tags, now I have just 40. Please tell me this is only temporary!” And that’s just the start. The full comment thread is packed with people complaining about broken features, missing pages, dead feeds.

It’s not just our commenters, either. Over at ReadWriteWeb, Marshall Kirkpatrick said he wanted to like it but couldn’t. And Matt Lingard summed it up by showing the lengthy list of features that are “still in development” (many of which were entirely functional under the old design), stating simply, “if you’re this far from being ready, don’t launch.”

So what happened?

It strikes me that there were three possible reasons for this mess. Perhaps they were separate, perhaps they were linked together, perhaps there are others:

  • AVOS didn’t understand how people were using the website

The changes don’t appear to have a major impact on casual users, but how many casual, active users of Delicious were there? The visual chrome is a welcome addition for a site that’s trying to go more mainstream, but it comes at the expense of information: elements now obscured or made invisible include the tagging system (which has always been one of the site’s core strengths) and the network (the basic unit of social currency on the site). Without these, Delicious is of little use to many of the people who had stuck by it over the years.

  • AVOS didn’t get how people were using the API

Delicious had a lot of web developers and technologists as users. Many of them used the site’s APIs to pull data in and out, particularly to publish elsewhere — on blogs, news websites. Today, those things are pretty much broken — and, more to the point, there were no signals given beforehand. Nothing has been redirected or pushed elsewhere; no parallel systems seem to have been put in place to give anyone that was hooked up to the API the time — and warning — to change what they were doing. It just broke.

  • AVOS didn’t understand they were playing with a live product

This is probably the crucial element. In the web industry, we are all very used to developing sites in beta, testing things out, seeing the data that comes out. That’s the development process. Except Delicious wasn’t a new product; it was an existing one with a small but committed following. Those users who loved Delicious really loved it: they’d stuck around through years when the product was given minimal development or resources. They’ve been rewarded with deleted accounts and other problems, which has made them pretty angry.

Maybe the long-term future for Delicious lies away from that user base; but you can’t move them along simply by flipping the switch. Reworking an existing product is not the same as starting from scratch.

When you’re rebuilding or redesigning, you have a legacy to maintain. Yes, that can be a pain — but what else was AVOS buying if it wasn’t the brand and the user base of the site, and the data that they’ve put into it? It clearly wasn’t the technology, which was the first thing to get thrown out the door. When you rebuild a product, you have to remember that it needs to take into account all those people who rely on the service for all sorts of things. At the very least you give them options to fall back on, rather than simply telling them that all the stuff they’ve been using for years will be in the product again… just not yet.

My colleague Mathew Ingram thinks that the only way Delicious can prove it’s really useful in the long term is if the owners can pull quality data out of the site. He may be right, but the trouble is that if the new owners alienate everybody who stuck by it during the bad times, they might not even be able to get that far.

  1. My account is still there, but all my saved bookmarks are gone. :(

    And the login page is buggy. Sometimes, I don’t get logged in, no error message pops up, and I get take to the home page after submitting the form.

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    1. same with me

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    2. If Lady Gaga just bought the Library of Congress and she is determined to bring it to “mainstream”, what would you expect to see?

      I think the youtube founders are very capable but because they don’t use delicious themselves. They *will* take delicious to the direction they are more familiar with, which may not be the one existing delicious users would be mostly happy with.

      I have written a blog post on this if you feel like reading more:
      http://blog.trunk.ly/2011/09/29/like-lady-gaga-bought-the-library-of-congress-why-new-delicious-fail/

      Disclaimer: I’m the co-founder of trunk.ly, a competitor to delicious.

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    3. I’m with Delicious communications, and can assure you that if you opted into the new terms of service, your bookmarks are secure but might not all be displayed. More info on our blog: http://www.avos.com/missing-bookmarks/

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      1. So where are our missing accounts despite opting in to the new terms. You have messed this up, just admit it

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      2. I lost four years of work without being notified. What happened to my tag bundles? I used delicious as a knowledge bank. Most tags had a description at the top of the page — gone. I could “cross-index” content and reuse it in a variety of ways with tag descriptions. What a trivial piece of junk. Anybody know how to retrieve my original 13000 tags in their former state? Help.
        http://www.delicious.com/ahasteve

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      3. I’m in the same boat as Steve. I’ve used Delicious as a database for recipes, blogs, tutorials, education, etc. for years. It was a highly organized resource and cookbook, which your glossy simplification has laid to waste.

        I am at a complete loss to what possible motivation could exist for removing the organization of users’ tags and disabling all maintenance/organizational features. What does this gain?

        I am not at all a fan of being greeted with this irritating “featured stack” page when I press the, now, not-so-aptly named “My Delicious” toolbar button. I could, however, stomach it more if I could simply press another button to get back to my organized, bundled tags.

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      4. I cant access delicious much of the time. Nothing comes up in the window – and I get a “cant access this site” message from Safari. Do I need to find an alternative?

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  2. I couldn’t agree more. The new delicious is an absolute mess! I can’t see all my tags, and the ones that are there are jumbled with no way to either make a cloud or alphabetically sort them. It’s quite unbelievable that anyone could get this SO wrong!

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  3. That is unfortunate about the affected users. Then I checked into all my bookmarks and the functionality of APIs – I don’t seem to have any of the problems the article suggests (I transferred my account about 3 months ago). Maybe it was only clumps of users on specific servers facing these problems? Or high-end users specifically?

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    1. I certainly didn’t have the problems that have been reported, but then I am not a heavy user… I essentially migrated away about a year ago to pinboard.in

      How about you? What APIs were you calling? How many bookmarks/tags did you have?

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    2. I also switched months ago and had no issues with missing links or tags (only have a few, though). Could the data of those who opted in later been specifically corrupted or removed somehow?

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      1. I opted in months ago, too but I’ve still got a mess. I used delicious with its firefox plugin to override my browser’s native bookmarks. All of my links are still there but if I edit any of them, they lose all of their data. I can’t see my full list of tags on the home site, my browser bookmarks are painfully out of sync, waht bundles I had are gone (admittedly I didn’t use that feature much), none of the fields for saving a link are labeled so it’s nearly impossible to tell where tags and page titles go without pulling up and older bookmark; it’s a disaster.

        I spent the better part of yesterday getting all of my bookmarks loaded into google bookmarks (with the gmarks plugin I can still load individual tags on my bookmarks toolbar) and diigo (which imports perfectly from delicious, keeping tags, notes, privacy, etc.). Neither perfectly matches the functionality I had come to expect from delicious. For instance I have to manually go to Diigo to delete a link. For Gmarks I have to find the appropriate link in my toolbar and right click to delete. With delicious’s plugin, I was able to CTRL-D on a page I already had bookmarked and delete a link on the resulting popup (I use this feature A LOT for work). I also can’t control the order each tag on the toolbar sorts in gmarks (diigo doesn’t have tag on toolbar functionality at all). With delicious I was able to make my list of media articles for work sort in chronological order while my gaming links I preferred in alphabetical order.

        THese may seem like little things, and if everything weren’t so broken perhaps they would be. But amidst such a pile of broken, I miss them greatly. My use of bookmarks depended on them, but I guess I’ll adjust.

        But what I really want to know is who relaunches their site and doesn’t fix their own browser plugin at the same time? It’s absolutely criminal that they didn’t update the plugin to go with the new api.

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  4. Well said, indeed. Two days ago, it worked – it was sometimes a chore to use, but Delicious was there and we’d all grown used to it. Today? Today I’m missing about a thousand bookmarks, my network (which I relied upon heavily to find content) is completely gone, and I’m looking for a place to start over and coming up short. Why does this fix look much more like breaking something that was working? It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t living up to its potential, but it was working.

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  5. Firefox add-on is broken as well.

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  6. Been using delicious since its inception – have an embarrassing 15k bookmarks

    Missing links aside. Nothing works as it should. The old bookmarklets are now not functional – the new ones save your link with out any tags or titles, they force you to a stack. all my tags and bundles are gone years of work and value to them if they knew how to leverage them. I am stunned. Why would they launch if they did not even have the basics right.

    Also gone my the feed of those I followed and so so much more – I could go one – but why bother – they are dead to me – what a waste

    The win was clear

    – maintain and improve basic functionality
    – leverage the largest human curated semantic data for new aggregate value and offerings

    Should have been a no brainer –

    #sad

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  7. Indeed they removed the linkroll feature, the only true reason to use Delicious. Besides, I can’t log in my account even though i did proceed to their transfert back in April

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    1. Same here. I cannot log in even though I followed everything they asked for. Also I was getting some strange messages on my account a few days ago, so went over to the Delicious Support Forum and reported it, and a little later there was a response from a Delicious techie who told me, and others who also had the same problem that we should simply ignore the messages. Now Delicious has removed my ability to check messages on the forum which was available to the public at large before this latest development…

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  8. Oscar Antonio Moralí Torres Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    When You have a successful product…why to do something like this?. I mean, just improve it but don’t touch the features. Where are all the tags gone?; where is my network?, We want our tags back, we don’t need the stacks!. And what about the delicious.com/tag/system:filetype:mp3 or the delicious.com/tag/system:media:audio functions?. Just improve it or the number of Delicious users will fall very fast…

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  9. What a mess, have been a user since 06 and I have amassed 11K+ bookmarks or Links as they are now called. I carried out the ‘move’ as requested some weeks ago. It does seem that all the links are there, but what happened to the UI. No proper search results, can’t locate some of my tagged bookmarks, no bulk editing. Not good!!!!

    Also not able to use the Browser (Firefox) plug in to save any urls!! Only discovered that when after bookmarking two sites and visited the Delicious site to find no bookmarks (sorry links) had been saved!!!

    Seems to me that product management need to get their act together and get a better beta version released asap.

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    1. The Firefox plugin problem you’ve seen should be fixed.

      We are working on the remaining issues. Please bear with us! It’s been a long 2 days (or rather, 5 months and 2 days), but we are certainly committed to the site and are working around the clock to address issues raised.

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  10. I was a very satisfied user of delicious for years but I jumped over to pinboard.in months ago when the rumors started that delicious was done. Very happy with their service so far.

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