Sunday, August 17, 2008

Diigo loses me again.

Image representing Diigo as depicted in CrunchBase

I’ve tried to get into Diigo, the much ballyhooed Delicious alternative, a couple of times. Each time I do, I’m confronted with shortcomings that kill the deal.

First, they were even later than Delicious in releasing an add-on that was compatible with Firefox 3. Obviously, I wasn’t going to use IE while waiting for Diigo to get its act together.

Next, there were problems with its ability cross-post to Delicious. It was always a crapshoot whether the bookmarks were actually going to get there, and the Delicious update has made things even more unpredictable. Obviously, this feature isn’t a must have. Indeed, having such a feature is a plus for Diigo, because it lets users hedge their bets when deciding whether Diigo is for them. That’s exactly I’ve been trying to do, and over the last two days crossposting has been working fine, despite Diigo informing me that my Delicious account is unvalidated.

Unfortunately, Diigo’s tool-bar / add-on hasn’t worked for me all that well in my most recent testing, and I’m almost ready to give up again. Sure, it’s now compatible with Firefox 3. And it’s beautifully designed to take full advantage of Diigo’s admittedly copious social features. But when I search for items in the sidebar or on the site, the search feature is either glacially slow or it simply FAILS. As you can see in the screencap below, a search request at the site gets me plenty of ads, but no bookmarks.


If you can’t see it, Diigo’s error message reads:

We are in the process of rebuilding the tag search index as part of a major server and database upgrade to provide you with speedier performance and to support Diigo's rapidly growing user base. This may take up to 24 hours. Thank you for your understanding.

Obviously Diigo is struggling to remedy their historically slow and buggy search capabilities. But because the Delicious Bookmarks add-on handles such searches effortlessly, it’s particularly difficult to tolerate Diigo’s poor performance. Diigo may be spectacularly social, but if Diigo fails to recall my saved items, it’s failing at bookmarking. This post offers a compelling list of “six reason Diigo is better than Delicious.” But none of that matters if you can’t find my stuff when I ask for it. None of that matters if you aren’t actually bookmarking anything for me.

Maybe my insistence on being able to search my bookmarks is a bit myopic. Perhaps I should view Diigo as a purely social bookmarking service, in which reference and recall aren’t really the point. Instead, maybe Diigo is more like an advanced version of Digg or Stumbleupon where sharing is the point and personal reference is an afterthought.

My conception of social bookmarking gives equal weight to both concepts. To be a social bookmarking service your service must embrace two functions:

  1. Quick reference to my bookmarked items, with the ability to privately store items as I choose.
  2. Flexible sharing options, including both passive sharing with a network of friends and the ability to export or post items to a blog or aggregator (e.g., FriendFeed, Swurl, Second|Brain, Socialthing).

But two recent posts I read call into question my assumptions about Social Bookmarking. First, Digital Inspiration shared some data indicating that Facebook and MySpace were among the leading social bookmarking sites, well ahead of Delicious. There’s an obvious caveat to the data. As RWW pointed out, most Delicious users probably share their items with the Delicious bookmarklet—not the “Share This” plug-in from which the article’s data was pulled. But I think the posts by RWW and Digital Inspiration raise a more important question:

Since when are Myspace and Facebook considered bookmarking sites?

Neither provides easy access to your history of shared items. Certainly there’s not a reference system for your bookmarks that’s even as robust as what Mixx or Digg provide. Delicious is a bookmarking site. Facebook, Myspace, Digg, and Mixx are something else entirely, because they focus on sharing and couldn’t care less about performing the core function inherent in the word “bookmark”: I want to save something for later, for my personal reference.

Social bookmarking is about sharing. But it’s also about extending the personal reference functions that were first featured in the pioneering Netscape browser. When it comes to Diigo, my question is, “how concerned is Diigo about personal reference?” Hutch Carpenter helped me focus on this question a few days ago.

Carpenter thinks Diigo isn’t about bookmarking for personal reference, but about using your shared content as a springboard for social interaction. Carpenter’s post is a superb overview of Diigo’s social features, and he perfectly sums up the differing social concepts of the two services:

The new Delicious continues its mission of organizing a massive number of user-generated bookmarks and tags. It looks cleaner, and I like the way information is presented. Information organized by an army of user librarians. “Social” in this context means your bookmarks and tags are exposed to others, and you can find related content based on what others are bookmarking and tagging. People are the basis for discovering content.

Diigo wants people to interact via common interests in content. It has a lot of social network hooks. “Social” in this context means establishing and building relationships with others. Content is the basis for finding people.

What Carpenter’s post doesn’t address is whether Diigo is an adequate substitute for Delicious’s powerful reference capabilities. In other words, is Diigo any good at bookmarking.

I really want to use Diigo. I really want to like Diigo. But I’m not going to have two freaking toolbars cluttering my browser. And Diigo isn’t going to make me a convert until it’s good at both social and bookmarking.

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