October 27, 2006

Yahoo! Bookmarking and Broken Roadmap

[Update: [This response came from Nathan Arnold an engineer on the Bookmarks/Social Search team

It would seem that either we've under-communicated the roadmap ideas, and you've gotten the wrong impression of what's going on.

No MyWeb user is being forced to use Bookmarks or Del.icio.us just yet. Del.icio.us continues to stand on its own, and MyWeb and Bookmarks continue to share your data. If you save something in Bookmarks, it will be private in MyWeb. If you save something in MyWeb, it will show up in Bookmarks and you can edit it their (bookmarks being private, only you can access it).

The eventual roadmap is to migrate users off MyWeb only when the good social elements of MyWeb have been integrated into the bookmarks product. Until that time, users can continue to use MyWeb as they see fit. When we do shut the switch off to MyWeb, the same features will be available on Bookmarks.

At that time, they will ALSO have the option of migrating content to del.icio.us.

Hope that clears it up...]

I have received a lot of response to one item from yesterday's post, Yahoo! Bookmarks Beta (or Alpha), which looked at the new bookmarking replacement from Yahoo!. The response has been rather harsh and critical of one move, that is pulling the MyWeb 2 content into the Bookmarks Beta. Most IMs and e-mail are from people who are really livid that their social bookmarking content is pulled into a closed system. Had Yahoo been smart and clearly stated they were doing this on the Bookmark Beta page it would not have helped it seems as they took people's information from one context and are breaking that context. Not grasping this essential component has be questioning if Yahoo really has thought this through. Yesterday I focussed on the design and development problems, today I am focussing on the product issues.

Bookmarking Beta

Yahoo! drastically needed to update their Bookmarking tool. It is a tool that is widely used and was really clumsy in today's web works. The ease of use of the new tool and adopting MyWeb 2's saved pages and adding tagging to folders was essential. Bookmarks is a closed system as it always has been, but some elements of sociality are integrated that are seemingly familiar and comfortable for regular people.

Bookmarking Beta has a good overview video highlighting some of the new functionality and possibly helpful help pages (ironically the link for help is broken in Safari and the in Firefox you can get to the help page, but the content is not viewable). The marking and explanation around the new Bookmarking tool is good and is needed.

Breaking Social Bookmarking

Yahoo! moving the the small base of people using MyWeb 2 into Bookmarking Beta was flat out foolish. I thought so yesterday, but there were so many other things that needed addressing I lumped it in with the rest. The livid responses I received about this one made me realize it really needs more focus. Yahoo! never explained or marketed MyWeb 2 well, if at all. It is a rather good tool that did some things really well. One of the things that was quite good was its ability to share and recommend items from your friends and contacts. This was a component that oddly was well ahead of del.icio.us and was in the product before Yahoo! acquired del.icio.us. The potential for great social interactions, recommendations, and interactions was central for most of the people that used MyWeb 2 regularly. For others it was a more friendly interface to a social bookmarking tool than del.icio.us (I will get to this in more depth in a moment).

Moving MyWeb 2 content, which is content with intent to be social into a tool that is not social is really backwards thinking. The strong reactions by people who use the tool prove this out. Connecting those dots to begin with deeply has be questioning if Yahoo! gets what they are doing. It is an old web mistake, a really poor old web mistake.

Shrinking 3 to 2

The stated roadmap for MyWeb 2, Bookmarks, and del.icious has Yahoo! moving three main products into two. Two are similar and one is different. Bookmarks is different as it is not traditionally a social tool (not saying it could not or should not be, if done well). MyWeb 2 and del.icio.us are similar tools in that they are both social bookmarking tools. While they are similar the audiences for both are vastly different and the I am really not sure they will or even should mix.

Yahoo! Innovation and Focus on Regular People

Yahoo! in recent years has bought some incredibly innovative companies. There was a whole lot of questions about integrating products that were innovative into the standard Yahoo! offerings. The first of these companies was Flickr, which was a product that was (and is back to being) incredibly innovative. Flickr was vastly different than Yahoo! Photos and many questioned how Yahoo! would integrate them. What Yahoo! did with Flickr is take some of their innovations and integrate them into their mainstream Photo product. What Yahoo! did that was brilliant was leave Flickr as a its own product and let them innovate and test the waters. The Flickr team has grown and they are back to doing insanely brilliant things. Integrating a Flickr into Photos would not have been good for either product. Photos is aimed at regular people who love the product and it serves them well. Flickr is a different beast as it is very social and it is very emergent and it has a fan base that gets that. Flickr has passionate users that love the new features, functionality, and sociality. It has an interface that meets those passionate fans.

Yahoo! has an incredibly large user base (around 70 million people). Its focus is on regular people and serving their needs really well. It is currently going through upgrades to its interfaces for many products, see the Yahoo! homepage for a sample of the great interfaces that are aimed and working really well for regular people and are seemingly being brought to other products, like Bookmarks. These regular people are not the alpha geeks and followers of the innovative products, they want products that work as they expect and they are comfortable with allowing them to do what they want and need. Yahoo! gets this really well and are marrying the innovation and improved design that will work across browsers for these regular people. Yahoo takes time and care ensuring that the products are as smooth, bug-free, and usable as any product or company out there (possibly better than most). They build real products that real people can use.

Innovation and del.icio.us

The big problem I see, which is far worse than the big mistake of moving MyWeb 2 into Bookmarking Beta, is taking an innovative product like del.icio.us and pushing it mainstream. Currently, del.icio.us has about 1 million users. These users are not the normal Yahoo! regular people users, they are ones that will use and enjoy innovative products. The del.icio.us interface is one that many of the regular people understand or like (I have done a decent amount of user testing around this) as it seems very "geeky" and I have heard comments along the lines of "I never liked DOS". This is fine as many of those that use and passionately love del.icio.us enjoy the interface. The interaction design, like the compound tag terms are really foreign to regular people, who more easily understood the comma separated tags with spaces between real words (as that is how most regular people write a string of terms). It has a completely different base of people using it than regular people.

Yahoo! really needs del.icio.us to keep innovating. Joshua Schacter and his team are doing incredible things and they need to keep trying new things and pushing the envelope. Yahoo! really needs a del.icio.us, just like it needs Flickr to remain a distinct product. I have constantly wondered why del.icio.us never took on Yahoo! branding like Flickr or Upcoming, but of late I had thought it was letting del.icio.us innovate and be free, which makes a lot of sense.

Poisoning the Water

What the Yahoo! roadmap seems to be doing is poisoning the water. Bringing del.icio.us into the mainstream will piss off many of those people who are passionate about del.icio.us and its innovation. There were fears of this with Flickr, but Yahoo! proved that leaving Flickr alone was valuable to the company as a whole. Either Yahoo! does not care about the innovation or the passionate users that help provide feedback on social bookmarking to Yahoo! or they don't get what they have. There are two very different sets of people using Yahoo! products and those using del.icio.us. Mixing the two will more likely alienate the passionate del.icio.us users or not be a product that will work well with regular people. Like Flickr and Photos they are two separate groups of people. Yahoo! needs both groups of people to maintain is regular people using Yahoo! and to keep the innovation going.

What Roadmap?

It really makes no sense to poison del.icio.us by pushing it mainstream. So what roadmap? It seems like Yahoo! should have a self supporting tool with del.icio.us with a revenue neutral product (at least revenue neutral) that is ad supported. It needs that quick moving testing and innovation platform (it also needs them for many other products, like calendaring, address book, file storage, etc.) to keep the pipeline filled with good well tested ideas that work with people who are understanding of emergent systems. These good ideas can then flow into testing for the tools for regular people and see if they work there. Yahoo! needs its social bookmarking advocates that love del.icio.us, they can not afford to lose their eyes, interest, or input.

So where does the social bookmarking tool or features for regular people go? Yahoo! needs its new and improved Bookmarking tool and it needs del.icio.us. Changing del.icio.us to go mainstream would be a monumental screw-up. Bringing more sociality into the regular Bookmarking tool, would be a better option. Yahoo! already screwed up by putting content from a their social bookmarking took into a non-social bookmarking tool. The failures of MyWeb 2 were largely no marketing and no iteration to fix the many rough bits.

New ideas explaining and time. Innovation takes time to become integrated into use by regular people. Innovation and understanding of new constructs and concepts get adopted through reading the manual (FAQ or Help), watching a demonstration, reading about it in their normal media streams, watching friends and co-workers, and recommendations of friends. Yahoo! is beginning to take these steps with Bookmarking Beta, they never did this well for MyWeb 2. Bringing the new tools of sociality into the regular Bookmarking tool with highlighting the need for it (triggering the lightbulb moment) and various means of educating would make sense. The social networking tools should become part of the mainstream. Tying these interactions and relating them to known social constructs in peoples lives for sharing information with some groups and not all is something many regular people get. It takes explaining it in terms that regular people understand. Yahoo! does this explaining very well in many other places, why is it so difficult to grasp for social networking?

One avenue for introducing social bookmarking into the mainstream is sharing bookmarks with Yahoo! Groups that they already belong to. Many people have their bridge club in Groups or their kid's soccer (football) team. They have groups of people that they are comfortable sharing links and other information with already. Limiting the new Bookmarks tool to e-mail and SMS is fine, but it seems like there is a ready audience waiting for a well explained tool that would solve technology problems they already have, which is sharing links and bookmarks with people they already know and trust. Yahoo! really needs to use what they do well in various contexts and various audiences that use it.



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