Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Monday, March 04, 2013

I Miss

"The people, and the collective sense of the commons, were in the end more reliable than the market."

After years of keeping my links there, I managed to tune out in the six months during which Yahoo bought the company and the accounts were wiped.  I didn't migrate my links.  I've made peace with the fact that they might be gone forever, but on occasion, when I've told this story, geek friends have urged me to contact the company, reminding me that there's always a backup *somewhere.*  But rounds of emails and tweets have gone nowhere so far.

I'm about to publish a bunch of essays I wrote back in the day under your influence about the importance of social networking sites, some of which hold up Delicious as a model for how academics and members of the public should work together --- BUT my examples were largely about stuff that was in my own account,, no longer functioning.  For the moment I'm just deleting those parts of the essay, but I'd rather be able to use my account and talk about Delicious as a happy story rather than a sad one.

Obsolescence is a reality on the internet, and we all have to choose the software we use and how we share our data carefully.  Zotero makes a more trustworthy case, as their cloud-based storage is mirrored on any computer on which one downloads their software, stored in text-files, pdf's, and my-sql databases that should remain interoperable for some time to come.

Once upon a time, I wrote:

 Delicious is the Rome, Jerusalem, and Paris of my existence as an academic these days. It's where I make my friends, how I get the news, and where I go to trade. All this from a little server that does nothing but share bookmarks in public.
...For two years I've been using Delicious as an information organizer. It's produced an impressive encyclopedia of the most interesting information, images, articles, citations, books, and subjects on the internet to which I might want to refer. Consider my dissertation tag, under which are a wide variety of online images and Google books that I'll be using for my research. Not only can I come back to them, but I can also find related subjects—dissertation material related to walking—and navigate seamlessly from one to another. As an improvement on the index card system—or on my own terrifying piles of articles, even now ornamenting my bookshelf, or even on the folders within folders within folders of word documents—this represents a definite improvement.
-- and so on.  filled with enthusiasm for a culture of sharing that I saw emerging, for the strangers I met and the bibliographies I pillaged there.  Delicious was, for many years, my much-preferred place for wisdom over Google.  If you were looking up hot springs, for example, Google returned the most obvious result, but only Delicious would get you to Tim Wu's list of the best hot springs in the world. 

But it takes time to build up one's participation in such a community.  Delicious worked so well for me in part because of a network of connections I'd built up carefully over time, from reading other users' annotations and connecting myself to the most insightful among them.  Could I find them again?  Perhaps. But broken trust -- like the wiping out of accounts -- goes against the trust necessary to make that commitment to finding a community and sharing things with them.  Having lost my own history, now I mistrust the service.  

In theory, an active community of users is the most important economic foundation of the sales of Facebook stock or any other company.  But what's to prohibit the evaporation, overnight, of all we've placed on Flickr, Instagram, or Facebook?  Our data is not ours, as privacy activists keep reminding us.  And market wisdom was not enough, in the case of Delicious, for Yahoo to protect the community of users.  

Instead, a valiant attempt was made at the grassroots.  Delicious users heard about the coming purge and instructed each other on rescuing their bookmarks.  One of them launched an alternative, free site called Pinboard.  The people, and the collective sense of the commons, were in the end more reliable than the market.

Where was I when users were helping other users transfer their accounts and save their links and notes, where was I?  Finishing a dissertation or a book manuscript?  Moving house, again, to a new city?  Probably.  I missed the boat, half-aware that something was going on.  I knew better, even at the time.  I'd blogged about obsolescence and data before.  But I didn't heed the warnings... the flood came... so sad.  I understand the warnings about markets, data, sharing, all of it.  But I find myself regularly returning in thought to that intelligent community that once was.  

The corporations can have my data.  I want my community back.  I just miss waking up to the news the way we did together in 2007, annotating the most interesting articles with people I'd chosen purely for the beauty of the kinds of sites they liked, sharing them intelligently in a place where we could find them again.  Those are both qualities that Facebook has never offered.  

There is nothing like Delicious out there in terms of an community for finding grass-roots curators and beholding their careful, discerning brilliance over time.  Not twitter, where we all snark meaninglessly; not tumblr, which buries precious information beneath a flood; not Zotero, where it's nearly impossible to browse strangers or follow them from afar.  

In the end, I don't care that the people were more reliable than Yahoo, or that corporate America destroyed my intellectual commons.  I miss you, Delicious.  Give me my library back.  


Blogger Ryan Shaw said...

Yahoo didn't wipe the accounts; these guys did:

1:36 PM  
Blogger Jo Guldi said...

Righteo. Thanks, Ryan!

1:46 PM  
Blogger Jo Guldi said...

Follow-up on the above post: the internet is a friendly place, full of suggestions. Looks like a lot of my old community has reassembled on Saints be praised, somehow I'd migrated my Delicious bookmarks to Google Lists back in the day, and while Google Lists was ALSO retired, some friendly independent coder had made a simple sweet way to export them from Google to Pinboard. My entire library is back, restored, and up for the public here: Please join me.

9:26 AM  

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