Virtuous cycle

Bartlomiej Owczarek weblog

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Should you dump del.icio.us for Blinklist?

It was only a couple of days ago when I became a happy user of del.icio.us. My happiness did not last long, though, even if I thought I solved my bookmarking overload problem once for all.

Sometimes when you are hiking in the mountains, you can climb a mountain for half a day, then finally reach the peak… only to see the next one somewhere far above. I got kind of similar feeling when after couple of hours after posting about del.icio.us I saw this comment from Mike:

Since you are talking about taking bookmarking to the next level, I thought you might like to try our new service www.blinklist.com. No worries, you can just import all of your links from del.icio.us to give it a try. To compare BlinkList vs. del.icio.us you can just check out this page:
http://about.blinklist.com/category/general/blinklist-vs-delicious/

I started reading around first. Awful consulting bias towards researching instead of actually doing something yourself.

Finding a Blinklist review is hardly a challenge. Mike has been doing a heck of a job in terms of viral marketing. More difficult would be to find a reviewer unimpressed by Blinklist:

  • Techcrunch: “Worthy addition to the ranks of social bookmarking services, and one of our favorites”.
  • Blended Edu: “MindValley has created an impressive product with so many applications that learning communities–from grade school to corporate training?will be looking for ways to integrate BlinkList into their curriculum”
  • TipMonkies: “It doesn?t have as many users as some of the other services, but considering the quality of the service, and the obvious level of attention which it gets from its developers, I?m sure this will change soon. Definitely an A+ site, for sure”
  • Talkings of a Tyrant: “To conclude this rather short blog post, I hereby announce that I?ve switched over to Blinklist! No more ugly-looking del.icio.us for me!”

Reading these and a couple more got me interested in some Blinklist features that I thought I could like. They included ?starring? links to mark them out (I use this functionality in Gmail, though not very often), making links ?private?, and the social features in general, even if for me they are hardly a ?must-have? at this stage.

As a result, I eventually found myself ready to give Blinklist a personal try and sacrifice part of a weekend to evaluate it.

Fast forward: I?m still curious how useful in practice are Blinklist’s social features. The reason I don?t know it yet? Before you have the opportunity to play with them, you need to learn the basics, which in my case took a lot of time ? as a matter of fact more than it should. While I enjoy the idea of extending the social part of bookmarking, I have mixed feelings as to the way Blinklist handles the very basics. For now, I will stick with del.icio.us to cover my daily bookmarking needs, while keeping an eye on Blinklist, to get more used to it and maybe find a feature that would make me switch for good. Below I elaborate more on the experience that I had.

Maybe I should first clarify expectations that I have. I like tools that are simple, fast and focus on the tasks they are meant for. Yet, behind a simple front-end they provide a wide range of functionalities – when you need them. Or, they easily connect with other tools to do the job.

To give an example, Google could have filled half a screen with search options, yet they provide just one search form by default. When I want to refine my search, I use modifiers. If I want to search for images, I just switch to a different tab. That?s the approach I?m trying to describe here.

Consequently, what I need today is a tool to manage my bookmarks effectively (because I have too many). There are other features which are ?nice to have?s, but the basic job is just this. And from this point of view, I think del.icio.us is currently closer to ?keep it clear and simple? attitude. How did I come to this?

I started with importing my del.icio.us bookmarks to Blinklist, which went smoothly. Then I did some clicking around. It didn?t take long before I found myself looking at the screen, trying to understand where I was. It was split into parts ? left showing a number of tabs and an embedded browser titled ?recent?, and the right just with bookmarks, with similar ?most recent? label. Was it only my bookmarks or public space, non filtered or focused around some tab?

It took me a while before I figured out where to look for ?where are you now? information and how to switch between my own list and public, general view and tab-wise. Since I don?t remember spending much time to grasp what del.icio.us was about, I thought there was some issue here.

I wanted to make an attempt to identify what actually makes the difference. What you will find below is just some ?illustrative? stuff to my experience (you always go ?illustrative? in non-billable time)

First, for comparison, del.icio.us screen showing bookmarks from my list for ?blogging? tab:

Dotted blue line shows the part of the site which you use for navigation. You can always easily see your current location there. You use it to move back and forward as well. The stripe below the navigator tells you if you are browsing yours or public bookmarks. It also gives you one-click links to switch between those views. All in all, I guess the approach is pretty intuitive. When I saw it first time it just worked as I expected.

Now Blinklist screen in the same scenario:

Again, dotted blue line shows areas which I think are meant for navigation.

On the left side, there is a panel showing current location (this took me some time to figure out), as well as embedded browser with some sub tabs and other options like ?watchlist?. When you switch from your bookmarks for ?blogging? tab to public ones, you end up on ?discovery page? with a different layout and no left panel. Best way to do this switch I don?t know yet, currently I use search box, but it requires two clicks and is not very comfortable.

I think that lack of fixed navigation across the site is what makes it a bit problematic to move around, at least in the beginning. Also tags with similar labels (red line) showing different things are confusing, when you don?t know their function. Altogether it created a significant entry barrier, at least so far as I am concerned.

To wrap up: other reviewers often said that the (only) issue they see with Blinklist is its relatively small user base. I would add, if other people need as much time as I did to get to know the basics, it may be more difficult to gather the critical mass.

In the appendix: bugs
(Actually I don?t believe anyone will reach this far)

We are talking about work in progress here, so bugs and rough edges are inevitable, thus I didn?t pay much attention to them. But just for the record:

  • What really gave a break at the very beginning was the way Blinklist imported my Firefox bookmarks. Instead of tagging links using names of bookmarks folders, as I expected, it exploded each title into separate keywords. Result: 306 links imported, producing over 900 tags. Ouch. I managed to delete all of the links and then imported bookmarks from del.icio.us instead.
  • Searching for an url returned a 404 error

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  1. November 28th, 2005 | 5:25 pm

    Wow, that is an elaborate review! Believe it or not, I read it in full, including the Appendix.
    Since you are looking for a del.icio.us replacement, please have a look at Simpy. I think you’ll find its full-text search (boolean, phrases, fuzzy, etc.), privacy options, etc. useful. You can import your bookmarks from your browser or del.icio.us. Bookmark folders will be used for seeding of your tags (as will titles, I believe). You can use Topics to watch other people’s bookmarking, you can use Groups for group collaboration (invitations, public/private…), you can save free-text Notes in addition to bookmarks, and so on.

  2. November 28th, 2005 | 5:43 pm

    Actually, you picked up on the navigation problems a lot sooner than I did. After using BlinkList for the last few weeks, I’ve only recently (read: a few days ago) noticed how strange and confusing the navigation system was.

    Doing something as simple as going from the tab “tech” to “tech+web2.0” (which is a simple link in del.icio.us) requires a search for such.

    When you’re is logged in, and you’re viewing someone else’s BlinkList, clicking on that user’s name brings you back to your list, not the root level of theirs.

    I’ve already complained about the search engine.

    I do think you’re not giving BlinkList quite the credit it deserves. One of its main strengths is the ease of the Friends system. Once you find someone’s bookmarks you like, you can easily make them your friend (click the face!)

    From your BlinkList, you can easily view your ‘Friends’ and ‘Fans,’ people you’re watching, and people who are watching you. This can lead to vast chains of friendship networks. For example, many people have named Mike as their friend.

    From the home page you can find out what your friends have bookmarked recently, and from your page, you can easily show a comparison of you and your friends/fans.

    Oh, and by the way:
    “Recent” is what new tags you’ve created recently. “Most Recent” are the individual bookmarks.

    You can always go to the home page by clicking the “BlinkList” logo at the top left.

    And if you feel kind enough to let the world see your del.icio.us bookmarks, go to “Option” at the top right, and click “Make all links public.”

    Try out the other tabs around ‘Recent’ I doubt many people view that tab much. More likely “My Cloud” and “Popular,” which are far more useful.

    Sorry if this seems random…

  3. BOwczarek
    November 28th, 2005 | 9:12 pm

    Hello,

    Thank you very much for your comments.

    Otis: after reading some techcrunch I realized how many bookmarking services are out there and now the nightmare scenario is coming to life: being asked to try each one of them:)

    Seriously, I will try to take a look if I have some spare time. In general, though, in the nearest future I will prefer to take a bit more high level view of this bookmarking industry. There are some questions that seem interesting and I already sort of started.

    Tyrantmizar: I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who ran into these navigational difficulties.

    I’m totally with you when you say Blinklist’s strengths are linked to its social features. That’s why I wrote that I still look forward to learning more about them.

    The point that I was trying to make is that interface creates kind of initial barrier which makes it harder to get to those features.

    I’m sure the Blinklist crew will aim to make it easier for us, though.

    Thanks also for the tips,

    Best Regards,

    /B.

  4. November 29th, 2005 | 3:39 am

    B: nightmare indeed. Luckily, Simpy has a demo/demo account to fool around with! :)

    As for social bookmarks overview – check out some studies I published at http://blog.simpy.com/blojsom/blog/2005/11/07/Web-2-0-Tagging-Study-Summary.html and feel free to ask questions about Simpy, social bookmarks, tagging, or search for your overview.

  5. November 29th, 2005 | 6:57 pm

    Personally, I never got into del.icio.us. I like the public page “hot now” and “most recent” tabs. I get a lot of bookmarks from those two pages. I agree the layout can look a little cluttered, but that can be worked on just like del.icio.us finally changed theirs. Your right about Mike making the rounds.

  6. November 30th, 2005 | 6:13 am

    B: Thank you very much for taking the time to write such a detailed review of BlinkList! Your comments are very welcome and your critique of the navigation in BlinkList is very helpful. As I have always said, we have a lot of work ahead of us and will most certainly take your feedback and comments into consideration the next time we improve the navigation of our site. I would agree with you that this is definitely a weakness.

    T: Thanks for chiming in and adding some additional points on how to improve the navigation. Also thanks for pointing out the “social aspect” as one of our key strenghts.

    In addition to the “social aspect” I would also highlight “starring” of links and tags as a key advantage so that users can quickly navigate to their bookmarks via the quick start page and via their favorite tags.

    Overall, I am just very thankful that you took the time to check out our site and that you took the time to share all of your excellent feedback and ideas! Hopefully will be able to make BlinkList better and better and eventually win you as a key member of our community. Given all your great ideas, we could sure use your help. ;) Mike

  7. December 10th, 2005 | 11:59 pm

    I thought I would throw more gas on the fire…

    Give LookLater a try. All bookmarks are private but you can tag any bookmark to Simpy, del.icio.us, Blinklist or any other social bookmarking site with one click.

    http://looklater.com

    Thanks,

    – Doug Martin
    Creator, LookLater

  8. June 8th, 2008 | 9:43 pm

    […] Should you dump del.icio.us for Blinklist? […]