Social Bookmarking Websites: Stepping from peaks to troughs

During the past week, rumors that was planning to kill off Delicious, one of the most famous social bookmarking website Yahoo acquired in 2005 has been reported by lots of media. A slide from a Yahoo meeting was leaked and it showed that Yahoo was calling "sunset" on Delicious. Now, people would like to know how does the ever "sunrise" social bookmarking websites drop to the troughs.

Coincidently, just 2 months ago, another popular social bookmarking website called Xmarks declared in its blog that they would be shutting down at the end of 2010. Compared with 5 year ago. It seemed that social bookmark service is in the lowest point now.

Birth of social bookmarking websites

According to, The concept of shared online bookmarks dates back to April 1996 with the launch of itList, the features of which included public and private bookmarks. Within the next three years, online bookmark services became competitive, with venture-backed companies such as Backflip, Blink, Clip2, ClickMarks, HotLinks, and others entering the market.

They provided folders for organizing bookmarks, and some services automatically sorted bookmarks into folders (with varying degrees of accuracy). Blink included browser buttons for saving bookmarks; Backflip enabled users to email their bookmarks to others and displayed "Backflip this page" buttons on partner websites. Lacking viable revenue models, this early generation of social bookmarking companies failed as the dot-com bubble burst.

In this stage, the popularity of internet is far behind nowadays and the concept of social bookmark is somewhat ahead of the times. During web 1.0 period, the influence of any social media is very limited for ordinary users are not getting used to participate in online social activities at that time. Thus, social bookmarkrking websites can't achieve great success at their first stage. 

Booming stage and peaks

The year of 2003-2005 is a period that of great importance to the IT field. The term Web 2.0 has become popular during this time and generally reported by all kinds of media. Finally the users have accepted the concept and begin to love visiting Web 2.0 sites. As a inevitable part of the social media, CEOs of social bookmarking websites has seized the chance, leading their company into the booming stage.


The precursor to Delicious was Muxway, a link blog that had grown out of a text file. In September 2003, the founder Schachter released the first version of Delicious. It uses a non-hierarchical classification system in which users can tag each of their bookmarks with freely chosen index terms. As one of the most popular social bookmarking services, Delicious has its own features including: website's intuitive interface, , a novel domain name, a simple API design, and RSS feeds for web syndication. All of these factors has been welcomed by the users and Delicious begin to earn honor and money.

In April 2005, Delicious received approximately $2 million in funding from investors including Union Square Ventures and It was acquired by Yahoo on December2005 with a possible price between US$15 million and US$30 million. To a certain extent, the acquisition marks the peak of Delicious.


Reddit is another type of social bookmarking sites that mainly focus on news. In this website, users can browse and have the option to submit links to content on the Internet Other users may then vote the posted links "up" or "down" with the most successful links gaining prominence by reaching the front page.

Since it was found in 2005, Reddit has been popular rapidly and attract a group of honest users. The outstanding performance of Reddit has aroused the interests of many media companies. In the next year, Wired Magazine acquired Reddit on October 31.

Digg is a social bookmarking site that similar with Reddit. It was started out as an experiment in November 2004. The original design was free of advertisements as Digg became more popular, Google AdSense was added to the website. In July 2005, the site was updated to Version 2.0. The new version featured a friends list, the ability to "digg" a story without being redirected to a success page.

On June 26, 2006 version 3 of Digg was released with specific categories for Technology, Science, World & Business, Videos, Entertainment and Gaming as well as a View All section where all categories are merged. Digg has grown large enough that submissions sometimes create a sudden increase of traffic to the "dugg" website. According to a survey in 2008, The domain "" attracted at least 236 million visitors annually.

However, Different from Delicious and Reddit who sold themselves at their peaks, Digg has missed the best chance for sale that Google has offered approximately $200 million in 2008. As a result, Digg entered into a third round of funding, receiving $28.7 million from investors.

Troughs of social bookmarking websites

In the recent 2-3 years, the trend of social bookmarking sites is declining compared with their peaks stage. Back to beginning of the passage, Delicious is said to be shut down or sold to another company and Xmarks might already got closed when you read this article.

In the Alexa US traffic Rank, You can't even find one social bookmarking site in TOP 50 list. The highest rank of them is No. 72, and then NO. 83, StumbleUpon No.88. In a sharp contrast, Other social media service has seized the top position in the list: No.2 Facebook, No.4 Youtube, No.8 Twitter, No 14 Linkedin.

One of the main reasons that lead to the troughs of social bookmarking sites is without a possible profit model. Although leading sites like Delicious can attract millions of users, they can't earn money in a short term. There is no specific methods for most of operating team to find a solution to continuously make profit.

Another reason is that the competition from other social media services. In the past a few years, Facebook and Twitter have been so popular all over the world that hundred millions of users already gotten used to visiting them everyday. With such a huge group of users, Facebook and Twitter have developed a series of customized services for their sites and social bookmarking sites have fallen into the victims of it.

Facebook allows users to share the article links and abstract in lots of websites they visit. It's very convenient that just clicking the sharing button is ok. For Twitter users, they can share links through simple 140 characters tweet or retweet the messages that they follow. Both of these design in Facebook and Twitter have somewhat take place of the function of social bookmarking sites. Thus, people are gradually getting away from sites like Delicious and directly caused the slump of social bookmarking sites.

Future is a great challenge

The "social" aspect of social bookmarking sites is gradually lost with more and more users getting away. In this past, they have been useful for driving traffic and building backlinks to websites. Nowadays, social bookmarking sites still can bring a considerable amount of traffic to your site as long as your content is remarkable. However, they are losing the SEO power they once had.

In the future, most of social bookmarking sites are also faced with the issues of lacking of profit model. With the fierce competition from other social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter, the future of social bookmarking sites will be full of challenges. They have a long way to go for returning to their peak stage in several year ago.

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