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A Delicious Example

Speaking of the need to be cautious of free stuff, as in a recent post, here’s an excellent example of why.

It’s called Delicious, and some of you old timers may remember it being one of the original web-based utilities for syncing and managing your bookmarks online. Back when bookmarks were actually a thing, in the early Google, pre-smartphone age.

In 2003, Delicious was a hip startup and got some big financing from a high profile venture fund and Amazon soon after going online. Adding to the hipness, they used a very funky, hard to type, address: del.icio.us. But the site did make it very easy to take all those links that were stacked in your browser and made them available from any computer. As an added bonus, Delicious was “social”, meaning you could share the resources you found and follow the links saved by others.

About two years later the company was bought by Yahoo! (back when that ! was not completely ironic), making everyone involved lots of money, and the service continued to grow and improve for the next few years. And it was still free, with every feature available to all. No “premium”, no “pro”.

Things started downhill a few years later as Yahoo began losing relevance almost as fast as it’s stock price was falling and in 2011 Delicious was sold to the guys who started YouTube (they still had some of the $1.65 billion in Google money to play with). Three years later, it was sold again. And early this year, sold again.

All this churn, of course, was largely caused by the fact that Delicious was free, and each successive owner couldn’t figure out how to make a profit by giving stuff away (or how to persuade users to begin paying for previously free stuff). At some point, one of them added advertising to the site, along with paid accounts that offered little more than relief from the ads. More importantly, the functionality of the site stagnated and declined. Plus the current owners, for some unknown reason, have decided to return the URL to the original mess: del.icio.us.

Also somewhere in the past few years of it’s history, I finally gave up on Delicious. I was one of those original users more than ten years ago, one who stuck with the service for most of it’s life. Even though I was very aware that making a free application with no visible business model a major part of my information workflow, carries a lot of risk.

Back when rumors had Yahoo planning to shut down Delicious, I moved everything to a paid service called Pinboard and posted to both for a while (made possible by IFTTT). But now it’s time to make a clean break with Delicious and review the first lesson of free: sometimes not paying can cost a great deal. Time, effort, and annoyance.

Free Doesn’t Mean Forever

Last week the big buzz around my small corner of the internet was the leak that Yahoo planned to shut down Delicious, the venerable (if anything on the web can be called that) social bookmarking site.

While the fate of the service is far from settled, the whole dustup got me thinking again about our dependence on free when it comes to web utilities.

These days, almost all the services I rely on either charge a subscription fee, or have a relatively solid “freemium” business model, one with a basic level that’s free (sometimes with ads) along with one or more paid levels.

Delicious, however, is the one important piece that doesn’t fit. I’ve been using it since before Yahoo bought it in 2006 and always wondered how they could possibly survive with no visible means of support.  We may soon have an answer.

Of course, when it comes to teachers and schools, free is very popular, especially when budgets are tight.  But even in good times, government bureaucracy can make it difficult to get approval for annual subscriptions from small web companies.

Which means many educators are building lessons and activities for their students on free services that may or may not be available in future academic years.

Doug at Blue Skunk Blog has also been speculating on the longevity of Delicious and other web services while trying to finish a book about this moving target.

I’ve also been attempting to predict which tools are more than a flash-in-the-pan. I’ve been using word processing software for 30 years. I think it is safe to say that in some form or another it will be around for the next 10. It would really honk me off as a time-stressed teacher to put a lot of time into a tool that won’t serve me for a very long time.

And even paying for an account doesn’t necessarily guarantee a site won’t disappear and take all your data with it, which I suppose is a good argument for do-it-yourself.

For myself, part of the concern in the uncertainty surrounding Delicious is that I’ve spent a lot of time and effort helping colleagues learn how this service (and others) fits into their information management flow, both personally and professionally.

I know it would be more future-proof to put everything in general terms – social bookmarking, instead of Delicious – but most in the still-just-getting-started audience are looking for specific recommendations, not concepts.

At the end of his post Doug asks his readers which of today’s technologies will still be used by educators in five years.

By that time I would hope terms like “blog”, “wiki”, and “social bookmarking” disappear in favor of the much simpler concept of sharing information online, regardless of content or format.

Hopefully, by then we’ll also accept the reality that somebody needs to pay something to make it happen.

Update (12/20): Clarence also speculates on the death of free in the wake of the Delicious news and changes in other formerly free web services.

Conference Time

I’m just about finished with my not-quite-at-the-last-minute prep for my trip to our annual state edtech conference, sponsored by the Virginia Society for Technology in Education.

Pioneers.jpg

The program starts on Monday but I’ll be headed to beautiful downtown Roanoke just before noon tomorrow, mainly so I don’t have to leave at 3am. :-)

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, Tuesday afternoon I’ll be doing a concurrent session titled You Don’t Have Too Much Information. You’re Using The Wrong Tools.

It’s a variation on the same presentation about why you should be using Google Reader, Delicious and Evernote I’ve been doing in 90 minute to three hour time frames for a while.

However, this is the first time I’ve tried to squeeze the essence into an hour so we’ll see how that goes.

Bright and early Wednesday morning (7:30?!), I’ll be doing a Bring Your Own Laptop workshop on Building Tours in Google Earth.

Around my sessions I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and colleagues from other parts of the state in an analog, face-to-face way that’s still not possible with Twitter.

Even if you’re not staying to hear my ravings, stop in and say hi.

Start at the Beginning

At EduCon this past weekend, we had lots of conversations about social networking and personal learning networks, and especially about how to bring our students, colleagues, bosses and others into the mix.

However, I’m not sure wikis, Twitter, live blogging, Ning, Skype, and the other tools we were using are the right ones to introduce newbies to the concept.

I’ve been thinking about all this as I finish tomorrow’s presentation for some of our librarians here in the overly-large school district.

The session is advertised to be about managing information overload using Google Reader and Delicious (feel free to rummage through at my resource page).

But these tools are more than data containers. Their sharing capabilities make them entry-level social networking tools based on concepts (subscriptions and bookmarks) that, hopefully, are easier for beginners to grasp.

Anyway, that’s the latest angle I’m trying. We’ll see how well it works.

I wonder what the next stage in the process of succumbing to network addiction should be?

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

News about the economy seems to get worse every day with the many reports that large numbers of businesses will likely close up shop before this is all over.

Today was Circuit City’s turn to announce it will go belly up.

All of this got me thinking about the free or absurdly inexpensive tools and resources on which I (and many others) have come to rely.

WordPress, Firefox, Delicious, Twitter, Flickr, NetNewsWire, ecto, Twitterrific, Google Maps/Earth, Google Reader, lots of other Google stuff.

Even the hosting service for this rantfest costs me less than a decent hamburger every month.

Will these and other companies providing and supporting a vast array of internet tools be able to survive the current economic mess, especially in light of the fact that many have no visible means of financial support?

Going beyond simple personal use, there’s also the situation where many of us are actively recommending these resources to our colleagues and others.

Should we be concerned about getting them hooked on something like Delicious only to find it splattered with billboards, or worse, gone altogether.

After all, even giants like Google have been shutting down some of their projects.

Other “old reliables” are trying to generate revenue by inserting ads into their free resources and charging for “enhanced” services (WordPress.com and EduBlogs quickly come to mind).

So, am I being paranoid (selfish?) or is anyone else concerned about web 2.0 going bust? What tools would you miss if they disappeared?

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