Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Delicious, yet it’s leaving an odd taste

If I have a major reflection on the past week’s revelations around the “sunsetting” of the Delicious social bookmarking service, it’s that while some things may not generate cash, they do generate highly valuable goodwill. While a service may not be a “strategic fit” for the organization, somewhere and somehow it is a strategic fit for the people who use and love it.

This seems to have happened with Delicious. Much has been said about the value and loss of Delicious, and what might be going on inside Yahoo:
For me, one of the biggest observations is how Yahoo’s trust and reputation have been compromised, and it didn’t take very long from when the story broke on Twitter.

I’ve used Delicious since around 2004, firstly for my Masters research, where I compiled all my references for writing my papers, and have used it since as a safekeeping place for articles and tags I want to remember. I loved it, it was easy, it met a need. For me, it’s been integrated into all my online reading – through the various browser toolbars that made it so easy to save and tag at a click. I’d tried other things, but nothing seemed to have the stickiness of Delicious for me. It had become a habit.

Fast forward through to the breaking story of last Friday, Melbourne time, which I discovered first thing in the morning via the flurry of tweets around rumors that Yahoo were closing down Delicious. Firstly to find out if it really was true, then the “oh no” moment through to finding out what were the alternatives. To me this says that many people valued and used, relied on and even loved the service.

Such is the nature of the current web, and having valuable memories in ‘the cloud’, where things can change and disappear – inconvenient, yet a reality. The interesting thing to me is the immediate impact on trust in Yahoo, and the multiple services it offers. Through association, the thinking seemed to be “if Yahoo can do that to Delicious, what could they do to all the other services?” Data, lists and tags are being hastily extracted, exported, backed-up offline and looking for new homes.

Definitions were loose as the story emerged. When it first came out, sunsetting meant “closing down”. Then after a little while, it meant “find a buyer”. Of course I don’t have all the information; yet something doesn’t add up here for me. Maybe it’s all down to interpretation, but the messages from Yahoo have not been clear enough to its (more than 5 million) Delicious users, and I am one of them.

On the web (and in life), some things need to be ‘for free’, to be a hook, to complement paid services or just because it makes sense to give something to the community of users. I believe these models can work together in business. The challenge is in deciding what, where and how ‘free services’ strategically fit in, and how the value of goodwill is handled. In my view, this challenge is here to stay, and each organization will need to sort this out along with how it communicates in the environment of social media, where small leaks can have big consequences.