Happy Bookmarking

By: Sisi Yu
On: October 17, 2009
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About Sisi Yu
Yu Sisi, born in 1983, graduated in 2006 from Fudan University, and worked in Wieden + Kennedy Shanghai as copywriter since 2005. She talks less then she writes, writes less than she lives, and lives less than she thinks. After trying accessory design, marketing, and copywriting, she now gets into fiction writing. She loves movies, art, traveling, fashion, alcohol, money…and people. Everything inspires her. After all, universe is transformation and life is opinion.


As we every computer user does, we surf on Internet. Internet now becomes a book, a giant book without either first page or last page. We love it so much as every time we open it we know that this magic book would present us something new. So we forget the old ones we have gone through with a glance easily in the fast surfing. Probably that is where the concept of bookmark came in onto our Internet browser, and soon social bookmarking.


The advent of first social bookmark site arrived in 1996 named itList, even 2 years before Google’s establishment. Both these tools are necessary when we are applying Internet for information and knowledge. The reordering of web page due to our specific needs make the limitless Internet “book” readable and memorable. Meanwhile, the difference between social bookmarking networks is significantly diverse under the same ideology of web 2.0. While Google as a search engine provides index of potential website destinations for anonymous visitors, social bookmark sites are structured on the foundation of SNS (social networking sites).

After itList there has been many new competitors rising up in the market, Backflip, Blink, Clip2, ClickMarks, HotLinks, etc. but also inevitably confronting the fatal failtures. In 2005, the founder of Blink said, “I don’t think it was that we were ‘too early’ or that we got killed when the bubble burst. I believe it all came down to product design, and to some very slight differences in approach.” [1]

So what are the “slight differences”? There are certain basic psychologies behind the functioning of SNS. Tons of theories we can associate with social bookmarking platforms, technologies determinism, interface design, information structures, and etc. However one simple fundamental factor people usually neglect: happiness.


Happiness is effective. Emotional states can be transferred directly from one to another among people in social life, while few people realize the same phenomenon applies to social networks. Out of this James H. Fowler from Department of Political science in University of California has published his research “The Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network” depicting his close observation on the humanities in SNS. Does it also apply for social bookmarking network?

“Social networks consist of two elements: individuals (nodes) and the relationships (social ties) between them.” [2] For social bookmarking sites, each user as one node presents online inputs web pages for his or her own goods, at the same time, he or she contributes valid component into the platform, a selected mini “book” referring to the entire Internet “book”. The moment one user submits a single bookmarks, it is immediately shared in the network and notified within his or her relationships. These two elements lead to two factors of social bookmarking sites to decide their popularities among users. We will talk about each separately.


To socialize indicates the needs of interaction and exchange. Therefore the essence of social networking is connecting people via various formats of communications. We get online with our cold blood computers, but we instantly look for objects of emotions to reflect ourselves. SNS works for the human desire of sharing.

One significant difference between Reality and Internet on the matters of resource is that duplication of Internet information is highly efficient and simple. You don’t need extra medium like book or tape to transfer the content you intend to share but accomplish almost everything through your computer and Internet. And under most circumstance, the Internet information can go free. There is zero cost to pass a URL link to a friend. There by the URL your friend can watch the video exactly as you see, join your game in one network, and etc. The spontaneous reaction generates intimacy and telepathy in certain level, because people transfer the signals of their happiness or unhappiness to each through the shared source.

Go back to the case of Blink’s failure. They had been successfully appealing to social bookmark users. At its epic time, Blink has 1.5 million members while Delicious [4] only attracted 300,000 members. [3] Ari Paparo, one founder of Blink.com points out the fatal cause is the folder-based system. As we already get used to the tag system on bookmarking, probably we couldn’t imagine there were alternative methods of managing bookmarks. The problem of calculating the unit of folder is simply conflicting with the ideology of sharing. When people share on social bookmarking sites, they want to share bookmarks, not folders! Folder is a formula of organizing bookmarks by categories, not the direct contents. Another barrier they built up for themselves is the default setting of private folder. The members can adjust their bookmark folder to “public” but few of them made this redundant step. So the consequence was apparent, “this severely limited the proportion of our bookmarks that were made public. In retrospect I think we didn’t fully buy in to our vision of a shared bookmarks database, and as a result we designed the product with an over-emphasis on the private bookmarking aspect, instead of the public.” [5] Due to the inconvenience caused by the structure, sharing was suppressed which drove to the decreasing of happiness alters.

Influencers play rather big role in social bookmarking sites especially websites like StumbleUpon [6] where people make friends via sharing website (also including video, photo and blog) and common interests. The rating and stumbling system keep the web 2.0 selections proceed automatically. Compare with the neutrality of del.ico.us, StumbleUpon definitely tends to create an experience of happiness on its social networking community. They call users Stumblers who influence the other viewers when they are surfing Internet through StumbleUpon. If one’s bookmark collections reveal the happy or say positive vibe, they would have potential to have more subscribers and online friends. Also, recently most of the popular social bookmarking sites start collaborations with the top SNS. For instance, you can share bookmark with friends by Facebook[7] when you are tagging on StumbleUpon and Digg [8]. And Twitter[9] is bound with Delicious, StumbleUpon and Digg. So your bookmarks are becoming more and more like a social tool and media while you are sharing them. The bookmarks somehow tell your status of mood and life.  As Fowler’s research represents, “Whether an individual is happy also depends on whether others in the individual’s social network are happy.” Social network is founded on sharing. And people who tend to share are mostly with happy mind states. Happiness “is not merely a function of individual experience or individual choice, but rather is also a property of groups of people.” [10]


Talking about individuality, we should bring in the term “ego”. Happiness is a feeling for each ego’s consciousness and can be passed by through egos. Individual as ego is the unit instead of a state of isolation. The existence of ego is the foundation of sharing.

The presence of ego is rooted in expression. By expressing oneself, an individual can interrupt his/her personality, emotion, needs, capability, etc. The process of communication is the process of sharing.

By the analysis of Fowler JH, “the association between the happiness of individuals connected to each other, and the clustering within the network, could be attributed to at least three processes.” He lists them induction, homophily, and confounding. [11]

For social bookmarking networks, bookmarks are naturally the medium for individuals to connect. However this pure inclination would become a barrier for the engagement of some websites like Delicious. Without embedding physical acquaintance and relationship in reality, the first step of induction can hardly be widely accomplished. So StumbleUpon has taken that lesson to embrace the function of “find friends” through user’s E-mail. One crucial subject on induction is the balance between sharing and privacy. Referring to the mistakes Blink had made by taking privacy as default set up for every user, Facebook is much smarter on their observation of humanity. As most of us have experience on Facebook, the majority information of ours is automatically published on the network unless we change the setting ourselves to make certain items private. The necessary and natural need of privacy will drive us to take an extra step to modify our setting, while the desire of sharing is less crucial. The fundamental principle for SNS is the encouragement of connection. Without curiosity of ego, there is no core drive of building connection on social network. Ego is embedded in privacy. To present one’s ego, one must let out certain amount of privacy to induce curiosity.

Moving to the second step “homophily”, social bookmarking networks have a lot of things to learn from other more evolving SNS such as Facebook. “Because social bookmarking services indicate who created each bookmark and provide access to that person’s other bookmarked resources, users can easily make social connections with other individuals interested in just about any topic.” [12] That sounds absolutely logical. However it is not the case in reality. If as we consider bookmark as the medium, we are most the time only making connections of the medium, not making connections of people through the medium. It is simply because the principle of most social bookmarking websites are putting so much emphasis on bookmark instead of people. Just by storing bookmarks on a public network doesn’t mean it functions as social. For example when I find a great video website on Delicious, my first reaction will be pressing the button on my browser “TAG” to save the website in my collection. It can be possible that I dig into the user’s page to find out if he/she has more video resources for my reference, but I will not be interested in getting to know the user.  The reason is simply that the structure of Delicious is bookmark oriented without highlights of users. I can’t find any further information of the user except his/her user name, bookmarks and possibly his/her email or personal link. There is no photo, profile, personal message, etc. Nothing can trigger me to be friend with this user. I don’t know him/her! And I can’t! Ego is eliminated on Delicious. And by that “social” becomes a vague term. Yes bookmark can tell a lot. It shows the user’s status, interests, specialties, aesthetics, and so on. However, these are abstract format of information to project a vivid personality and image of an individual. The medium of bookmark appears dry and flat to directly activate the incentive of socialization. Back to Fowlers’s research, he finds that happy people normally incline to locate in the center of their local social networks and in large clusters of the other happy people. The problem of most social bookmarking networks is, there is no center, and there is little emotion seen on the platform. In one word, bookmark is the only way to express ourselves on most bookmarking SNS.

Data has no emotion. People contribute feelings to data. The interaction among people’s feeling generate sympathy or reflection, which leads to happiness and satisfaction. By sharing bookmarks, we actually share emotions. On StumbleUpon, users can “stumble” a website, “I like this”(thumb up), or thumb down, and make comments on any links.  Needless to say this rating system applies emotions for bookmarks, so people can socialize through these signals. Some RSS networks build simpler interface but similar formula. Take Google Reader as an example, for each web page subscribed, there are options for user to tick underneath: Add star, Like, Share, Share with note, Email, Keep unread, Edit tags. Also it shows how many users on Google Reader like the page. By mousing over the user names, you can click into the users’ profiles and follow their subscriptions. The Google Reader profile allows user to upload their profile photo, their personal information including your exact location on Google map, their portfolio, photo album, and all kinds of SNS they use such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, Myspace, etc. The data can bring up more common interests beyond bookmarks and lead to connection based on bookmarks. In this circumstance, happiness can be rather easily spread out because the platform helps users reach the communication of confounding.


Bookmark is for free. Connection is for free. And happiness is also for free. The essence of social bookmarking networks is to enrich user’s happiness via efficient and humanized integration of the free resources. The bookmarks should not be narrowly regarded as tools for organizing data, but expression from one to another for deeper communication, and ultimate happiness.

[1] http://www.aripaparo.com/archive/001456.html

[2] http://pubget.com/search?q=happiness+dynamic+networks+au:christakis

[3] http://delicious.com/

[4] http://www.searchenginejournal.com/deliciouscom-relaunches-enhanced-speed-search-design-with-no-dots/7403/

[5] http://www.aripaparo.com/archive/001456.html

[6] http://www.stumbleupon.com/

[7] http://www.facebook.com

[8] http://digg.com/

[9] http://twitter.com/

[10] http://pubget.com/search?q=happiness+dynamic+networks+au:christakis

[11] http://pubget.com/search?q=happiness+dynamic+networks+au:christakis

[12] http://www.citeulike.org/group/3958/article/623850

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