UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for December 20th, 2010

Lessons From Delicious’s (Non)-Demise

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 20 December 2010

“delicious. i rest my case.”

Niall Sclater made his point succinctly:

@mweller @psychemedia delicious. i rest my case.

The case Niall was making was, I suspect, that one shouldn’t be promoting use of Cloud services within institutions. This is an argument (although that might be putting it a bit too strongly) which Niall has been having over the past few years with Tony Hirst and Martin Weller, his colleagues at the Open University.  As I described in a post on “When Two Tribes Go To War” back in 2007:

Niall Sclater, Director of the OU VLE Programme at the Open University recently pointed out that the Slideshare service was down, using this as an “attempt to inject some reality into the VLEs v Small Pieces debate“. His colleague at the Open University, Tony Hirst responded with a post entitled “An error has occurred whilst accessing this site” in which Tony, with “beautifully sweet irony“, alerted Niall to the fact that the OU’s Intranet was also down.

Back then the specifics related to the reliability of the Slideshare service, with Tony pointing out the the Slideshare service was actually more reliable that the Open University’s Intranet.  But that was just a minor detail. The leaked news that Yahoo was, it appeared, intending to close a social bookmarking services which is highly regarded by many of its users, was clearly of much more  significance.  So is Niall correct to rest his case on this news? Or, as Niall wrote his tweet before we found that the news of Delicious’s death was greatly exaggerated, might we feel that the issue is now simply whether an alternative social bookmarking service should be used?

My view is that we do need to recognise that such service may disappear and plan accordingly.  But such plans need to be based on how such services were used,  and what might be the most appropriate alternatives. Such alternative could be based within the institution – but this may not need necessarily be the case.

My Use of Delicious

I created my first delicious bookmarks back in December 2005.  I used delicious to bookmark the main URLs for my peer-reviewed papers, with the intention of being able to identify others who had bookmarked my papers – if they are interested in the papers I’ve written. I’m likely to find that they have bookmarked similar resources which will be of interest to me was my initial use case for delicious.

I subsequently discovered that the category used for my bookmarks could also be of interest; for example a paper on “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility” was bookmarked by “madeliner: using the tag H807_block_1 – hmm, might social bookmarking have a role to play in suggesting how resources might be being used?  Was this paper being used in block 1 of an Open University course H807.  Further investigation reveal that this is a course on Innovations in elearning. So by using a social bookmaking service I am able to identify that a paper of mine is used by someone in the context of an Open University course. This might provide some evidence of impact which could prove useful.  Further investigation revealed that Lars Nyberg’s has bookmarked several of my papers using an ‘accessibility‘ tag. This suggests that I should read such bookmarks if I plan on writing further papers on this area.

My second use case for delicious was in bookmarking the resources I used in my presentations. If, for example, you visit the page for the seminar on “Web 2.0: Opportunities and Challenges for HE” which I gave at Coventry University in March 2006 you find that the resources used in the slides have also been bookmarked using delicious with the “coventry-2006-03″ tag.

This illustrates my second main use of delicious: bookmarking resources I use in my presentations. The reason I do this is so that people in the audience won’t have to scribble down URLs as they know that all the links I refer to in my talk are available online.  Using this approach also means that I have a record of when resources were used in various presentations and also how popular such resources may be.

The reason I am describing the different uses I make of Delicious and the benefits it provides are to help to appreciate what the requirements are, especially if alternatives are being considered.

Alternatives To Delicious?

The news that Delicious was one of a number of Yahoo services eamarked for ‘sunsetting’ has damaged Delicious’s brand and over the past few days many Delicious users have been exploring alternatives.  If I was to explore an alternative, what should I be looking for?

An important requirement is that the service should be widely used – after all my first use case was in helping to find others with similar interests.  In addition the service should be popular across a global research community and not restricted to the UK or, even worse, to within an institution.  This is a reason why I don’t feel that an open source solution such as Scuttle is appropriate for my requirements.

My solution is therefore to continue with the approach I’ve taken over previous years – to continue to use Delicious with periodic backups to Diigo.

Should We Have Predicted The Dangers?

Should the risks that Delicious may not be sustainable have been identified earlier?  The answer is, of course.  And, indeed, such risk were flagged, in my case going back to 2006 when a Risk Assessment page was created which listed the various externally-hosted services, including Delicious, used to support UKOLN’s IWMW 2006 event.  Back then we wrote:

A number of del.icio.us tags (e.g. iwmw2006) are recommended for bookmarking resources related to the workshop and to individual talks and sessions. There is a reliance on ongoing access to the relevant del.icio.us page

This Risk Assessment approach was subsequently described in a paper on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” which was published in the Program: electronic library and information systems journal.

More recently a paper on “Moving From Personal to Organisational Use of the Social Web” was presented at the Online Information 2010 conference. This paper built on our previous work and suggested that organisation should be carrying out audits of the use of third party services and documenting possible risks and strategies for addressing such risks.

Although that paper focussed primarily on use of blogging platforms the approaches are equally valid for use of social bookmarking services.  As mentioned above, Social Web services used to support UKOLN’s recent IWMW events have been accompanied with a list of the services and a summary of possible risks.  The risks that the Delicious service may not be sustainable have been addressed in two ways: back in 2008 a Diigo account was set up and a backup copy of Delicious bookmarks taken. In addition, since an important use of Delicious has been to provide short-term access to resources after an event, it is accepted that there would be no significant data loss  if such resources were no longer embedded within the appropriate event page.

What Have We Learnt?

I feel that the important lesson if to have a plan B.  For me the plan B is likely to be another Cloud Service, since an institutional service will not adequately address my requirements.

I also feel that this incident has helped to highlight the important of planning and understanding risks.  Such planning processes can be helped by an audit of use of such services, which can be applied at an individual, departmental or institutional level.  I will revisits such audits in a future posts but I feel I should conclude by making the reminder that institutional services may also not be sustainable, so there needs to be an audit of use of institutional services too.

Posted in Social Networking | 8 Comments »