Like many of my NPTECH peers, I was dismayed to learn yesterday that Delicious, the social bookmarking service, was being put to pasture by Yahoo!, the big company that purchased the startup five years ago. Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb has written the best memorial, But the demise of Delicious mrks a passing of significant note to our community of nonprofit staff that seek innovative uses of technology. So let me talk quickly about how Delicious brought me into this community, and, along the way, a bit about what it meant to all of us.
In 2002, I was wrapped up in my job as VP of Information Technology at San Franciscco Goodwill. At that time, the buzz term was "Web 2.0", and it was all over the tech press with about a thousand definitions. We all knew that "Web 2.0" meant the evolution of the web from a straight publisher to consumer distribution medium to something more interactive, but nobody knew exactly what. Around that time, I started reading columns by Jon Udell about RSS, technology that would, as a simpler, subset of XML, helps us share web-based information the way that newspapers share syndicated content, such as comic strips and columns. I was really intrigued. The early adopters of RSS were bloggers, and what I think was very cool about this is that RSS was free technology that, like the web, advanced the opportunities of penniless mortals to become global publishers. People who couldn't tell an XML feed from an XL T-Shirt were championing an open standard, because it served as the megaphone in front of their soapboxes.
In addition to the link and a brief description, you could add keywords to each bookmark, and then later find related bookmarks by that keyword. You could just find the bookmarks that you tagged with a word, or you could find the tags that anyone using Delicious tagged with that word. So, if you were studying the russian revolution, you could search Delicious for russia+revolution and find every bookmark that anyone had saved, This was different than searching for the same terms in Google or yahoo, because the results weren't just the most read; they were the sites that were meaningful enough to people to actually be saved. Delicious became, as Kirkpatrick points out, a mass-curated collection of valuable information, more like wikipedia than, say, Yahoo Directory. Delicious was the lending library of the web.
In addition to searching the site for tags by keyword and/or user, any results your searching found could be subscribed to via RSS. This was crazy powerful! Not only could you follow topics of interest, but, using PHP add-ons like MagpieRSS or aggregation functions like those built into Drupal, Joomla, and pretty much any major Content Management System, you could quickly incorporate valuable, easily updated content into your website. I immediately replaced my static "Links" page on my website to one that grabbed items witha particular keyword from Delicious, so that updating that Links page was as easy as bookmarking a site that I wanted listed there.
I wasn't the only nonprofit strategist taking note of these developments. One day, while browsing items that Delicious termed Popular (e.g., bookmarks that multiple people had saved to the site), I noted a blog entry titled "The Ten Reasons Nonprofits Should Use RSS". The article was written by one Marnie Webb of CompuMentor (now better known as TechSoup, where she is one of the CEOs). A week or so later, while following the office email mailing lis for Delicious, I encountered Marnie again, and, this time, emailed her and suggested that we meet for lunch, based on our clearly common interest in nonprofits and RSS. Marnie told me about the NPTech Tagging Project, and effort she started by simply telling her friends to tag websites related to nonprofit technology with the tag "nptech" on Delicious, so that we could all subscribe to that tag in our RSS readers.
Marnie and I believe that what we started was the first mass information referral system of this type. In 2005 we took it up a level by creating the nptech.info website, which aggregates items tagged with nptech from Delicious, Twitter, Flicker and numerous other sources across the web. Nptech.info is now more widely read via it's Twitter feed, @nptechinfo.
I think it's safe to say that the nptech tagging project grew from a cool and useful idea and practice into a community, and a way that many of us identify who we are to the world. I'm a lot of things, but nptechie sums most of them up into one simple word. I know that many of you identify yourselves that way as well.
An offshoot of meeting Marnie on the Delicious mailing list was that she introduced me to NTEN, and brought me into the broad community of nptech, and my current status as a blogger, writer, presenter, Idealware board member and happy member of this broad community ties directly back to the Delicious website. I stopped using the site as a bookmarking service some time ago, as efforts that it inspired (like Google Reader sharing) became more convenient. But I still subscribe to Delicious feeds and use it in websites. It's demise will likely be the the end of nptech,info. Efforts are underway to save it, so we'll see. But even if this article is the first you've heard of Delicious, it's important to know that it played a role in the evolution of nonprofit technology as the arbiter of all things nptech. It's ingenuity and utility will be sorely missed.