Quick thoughts on Pinboard

I've been a Delicious.com user since late 2003, back when it launched. I was happy when it was sold to Yahoo as it meant (what I thought would be) a secure future. Recently, Yahoo revealed that they would like to shutter/sell the site and a rush for alternatives pushed a lot of people towards Pinboard.

I actually signed up for Pinboard about six months ago, intending to use it as a backup archive of my stuff on Delicious, with the hopes of someday using it natively. I recall being impressed that Pinboard could also pull my links out of Twitter, since I often feel guilty throwing interesting links into the wind of Twitter (Twitter is terrible at archiving and finding old tweets so I ask myself why I don't just use delicious instead of Twitter every time I drop a link there). It also pulls stuff I mark at Instapaper and stuff I share at Google Reader. Along with automatic Delicious backups, Pinboard works amazingly as a personal archiving service that lets me find old interesting sites using a variety of tags and search.

Always a but

But the site bills itself as "anti social networking" and "bookmarks for introverts". I understand some of the backlash over weird twitter/screenshots/popularity integration at Delicious, but like Twitter, on Delicious you choose your followers and once you find a couple dozen amazing web surfers marking up interesting out-of-the-way places before anyone else does, you might find like me that the /network/ feature of Delicious is a killer once-a-day visit that often leads to half a dozen interesting finds. It's odd to me that one of the principal features at Pinboard called out on their "Delicious vs. Pinboard" page is NOT being able to identify who is following you even though Pinboard will tell you how many people follow you. I found quite a number of interesting Delicious users from people that were "fans" of mine (I always liked that use of the word at Delicious, better than "follower" or "subscriber"). After the great exodus from Delicious to Pinboard last week, someone built a tool to try and locate people that migrated from one service to another, but it would have been nice if that was native to Pinboard itself.

Like I said, I can understand the reluctance to make Pinboard into yet another social media platform and I made a lot of arbitrary decisions in designing MetaFilter so that it's not gamed by morons but as a user of Delicious for the past 7 years, I've grown accustomed to the subtle network effects for the purposes of discovery and some of the features purposefully lacking in Pinboard rob it of some of that utility.

Two headed beast

So the thing I keep coming back to in thinking about Pinboard is that it's trying to be both a bookmark organizer and archive/storage place for your personal use but also a networked viewer of what your friends are saving (while lacking some functionality). It's a conflicting message to see the homepage of the site say it's anti-social and for introverts but the first few options in the site's navigation are pages of bookmarks from others: network, popular, recent.

Using the site, I find my /network/ view to be less than 100% useful, thanks to the cool archiving options mentioned earlier. If I follow someone on twitter and also at Pinboard, I'll often see links and tweets reproduced that I've read hours earlier. I've had to unfollow several people that elected to do the Twitter integration because of this, even though I myself set my account to do this (and for useful personal archive reasons). I look at my own Pinboard feed and imagine someone else reading it and there are tons of useless things in there, Twitter @replies to personal friends where I was sharing a link to something that makes no sense outside of me and that one other person on earth. Comparing my own Delicious feed to my own Pinboard feed I see this theme repeated: my Pinboard feed is personally useful, but socially uninteresting.

And there in lies the rub: Pinboard extends the functionality of Delicious to any links you drop in Twitter, sites you choose to read later at Instapaper, and interesting things you share at Google Reader, but like Instapaper, that works best as a personal archiving appliance that you use personally to dig up a story about raising kids you read six months ago at the New York Times. But when you combine extensive personal archiving with a public view mixed into a network of shared links from dozens of friends, you get a mish-mash of bookmarks, jokes from twitter, and wacky sites someone liked in Google Reader. As a personal archive tool, it's pretty impressive, as a shared space to find interesting bookmarks, it's problematic.

In the end, I'll likely continue using Delicious to track bookmarks with Pinboard as a backup/archive tool that I'll gladly continue to pay for. For now I'll continue to hit my Delicious network page to find new things and occasionally check in with the Pinboard network and popular pages to try and find stuff though I find them less useful than Delicious.

7 Comments

  • Thanks for taking the time to try out the site, and to write up your thoughts on it.
    Part of what made it possible for me to build Pinboard quickly was the ability to punt on social and discovery features by saying “go somewhere else for that”. There were a lot of other sites that let you share links with friends, or discover new stuff, but there wasn’t anywhere on the web that would reliably archive this stuff for you. My two-word description of what Pinboard does was always “personal archive”.
    From the beginning our users split into two camps. Some were genuine introverts who wanted the privacy features, and others just wanted a faster Delicious with archiving and better hooks in to Instapaper/Twitter. A majority of that second group used Pinboard as an adjunct to Delicious, since by design you could just hook up your RSS feed to the site and forget it.
    Last week Yahoo laid off the Delicious team and suddenly “just use Delicious for that” was no longer a viable answer. None of my plans for the site included the contingency that our giant main competior might just up and disappear.
    Right now all I feel is extreme relief that we were able to stay up and absorb the ten million bookmarks that got thrown at us in a week. But in answering email I can clearly hear what people want: network discovery, public profiles, more control over search and tagging, ways to hook in to the rest of their online lives.
    I am glad to try to do this, and to try and fill the void that Delicious will be leaving, because I think it was an enormously useful website. But it’s going to take us a little time to get there in a way that preserves our identity, and avoids selling out the early users who got us this far in the first place.
    So if the site seems a little schizophrenic and conceptually confusing for the next few weeks, please bear with us. On the other hand, if it’s not quickly and reliably saving links, send me a bug report!

  • Thanks for the thorough response Maciej. I’m glad to hear the network features may eventually get in to Pinboard, it’s the one thing I think delicious did well that was often overlooked by most users. Overall, the rest of the service is top notch and great for personal use, it was just in the current implementation I was thinking it might be too personal of a toolset. Glad to hear you are actively working on it and congrats on surviving the great migration of delicious users.

  • Completely concur with Matt’s analysis.
    I used the ‘social’ features of delicious in a very lightweight way, but even still, I do miss those features in Pinboard.
    Good luck! And congrats on absorbing the big influx. I mentioned on Twitter I’d had “R&D Pinboard; consider converting” on my ToDo list for months; the yahoo! mess was a good forcing function for me at least.

  • Matt, you said it so well and I agree. I also value the Delicious networking features and would sorely miss those features if Delicous ends up biting the dust. The archiving is great, but it does indeed muddy the waters of the sharing aspect. And I am irked that I don’t know who is following me on Pinboard – that is often how I found new and interesting people to follow.
    Maciej, there’s a lot I like about Pinboard and the rapid response during the emergency migration was impressive & appreciated. For the time being, I am continuing to use delicious and activating the Pinboard option of picking up my delicious links. And I added Twitter (which I had been stubbornly avoiding) into the mix. At least for the time being, that seems to cover my bases.

  • I made the switch to Pinboard too, and I’ve had the same feelings. The auto-scraped sources are a bit antisocial. I think adding a privacy preference per source might take care of the public/private concerns. You could automatically mark anything coming in via Twitter as Private, and then make the decision to share that item with your Pinboard network later if it’s relevant beyond the single person you’re talking with.
    Thanks for tuning into your wave of new users, Maciej.

  • one of the features of delicious I really liked, was viewing a list of users who ALSO bookmarked a certain link. I used that feature to find most of the peeps in my network.

  • I’ve read this post a few times now as I’ve been slowly transitioning from Delicious to Pinboard. I have to say I basically agree – I’m still seeing a lot of stuff coming through Pinboard that feels like effluvia from other services. The writing is clearly on the wall for Delicious and I trust that Maciej will figure out how to best respond, but for the moment I’m having a hard time with auto-imported stuff that feels unconsidered, no tags, poor descriptions, etc.

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