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June 29, 2005 || 3:41 pm
On MyWeb vs. Google Personalized vs. Del.icio.us

OK, so as everyone blog-related and probably no-one not blog-related knows, Yahoo has launched the public beta of it's answer to the huge social bookmarking thing, and Google now has Google Personalized. I just did a half-hour test-out of them both, and will keep testing them as I go. This is very much a lay-person's view of these services - I am not one of the many bloggers who has been secretly beta-testing for weeks. But I think, as an amateur enthusiast, it's useful to see how these work for the majority of web users who are even less tech-savvy than me. [And I've also not been paid by either company to say nice things about them.]

First, Yahoo: I until now had no Yahoo account. It was irritating that I had to sign up, tell them my Zip code and the name of my favorite sports team, etc, just to access enhanced search. Sign up to del.icio.us and all you need is a username and password. Plus, once I'd done all the signing-up, there was no immediate evidence of what I had signed up to get. I typed in a random search term to my new MyWeb page, and got...no results. This is obviously because I haven't bookmarked any pages yet. Basically, Yahoo was saying to me that I had to devote hours of my life to bookmarking stuff before I get anything worth using. And I have to spend hours inviting people to become my contacts. There's really, to my eyes, nothing particularly user-friendly about that yet. Yes, I can start searching and tagging as I go but it's going to be an age before I actually click on that 'Search MyWeb' button - if I ever actually do it.

Second thing: Although I know I have friends who use Yahoo for their email, I doubt very much whether they have started to use MyWeb. So I have no community and can't see an easy (ie within my half-hour attention span) way to change this. I can't be bothered to start asking random strangers 'oh, I like your bookmarks, will you be my friend because I hate looking so lonely?'. Whereas in del.icio.us you don't even bother with the whole friend thing. So much easier - you can subscribe to the feed of some random stranger who you have realised is into the same stuff as you without them ever knowing. I don't care whether I look popular or not - I just want to know what interesting people are looking at. [I see from the MyWeb blog that they are thinking about incorporating one-way contacts, so maybe this will change.]

I really hate the whole 'are you my friend' aspect of the social web - if I find someone I think might be interesting online, I don't need to boast about it by adding them to some little contacts clique. I also don't know how useful it is, really - see Eszter's comment to this post about how she recently tried to invite her friends to become Yahoo 360 contacts and basically, no-one was interested. Now, if the MyWeb search allowed me to search 'Everyone's Pages' then that would be useful - I would know in advance (at least till the spammers get to it) that the pages I would get referred to would have been humanly reviewed and thus more relevant. All I really want is a human filter on my search, and the ability to subscribe to tag and user feeds so I keep up to date.

On to Google Personalized: well, they didn't ask me for my zip code or the name of my pet, and the fewer people out ther who have my personal info, the better. It is less obtrusive than MyWeb (better design, no popups) and may well make Google, which I already consult about 150 times a day, work better for me. I guess this function (which I could loosely describe as a better web search) might be fulfilled by MyWeb if I just switched all my searching to Yahoo and kept clicking on 'save' and getting that annoying pop-up to save stuff to MyWeb. But I don't always want to search through pages that I already know I like - I want and need to find the new stuff out there.

So in this sense GP wins out as it just gently nudges items up to the top without missing out all the other stuff. (Yahoo could do this by having three search result fields come up when you hit 'search' - MyWeb, Everyone's Pages, and the generic Yahoo search. But again, this seems cumbersome and annoying.) Google's approach seems a bit like the way a lot of other apps now learn from what you do (I've just got into QuickSilver and it's learning is pretty great.) I would rather work with a combination of Google and del.icio.us - two clean user interfaces with minimal hold on my personal info, for two different purposes. My use of the two would be the opposite of what Matt Haughey forsees - I'll use Google to build up a filtered, but loose version of the net and the millions of pages I visit every week, and I'll use del.icio.us to store a small amount of carefully edited stuff that I think is useful longterm and that I want to share with colleagues, co-professionals and others. I would like GP to have some of the functions of MyWeb (maybe save and block functions with no popup or tags) and I might like it to use other people's filtering to impact on my search results (ie get rid of the spam.)

The big issue is, as pointed out here, how all these new services will work together -
The risk is the pull of a major enterprise's portfolio when misguided group think starts to think they can own the social web. Maybe I want to leverage the tagging activity I do in del.icio.us, EVDB, Twaggle and my blog/Technorati, or my graph in LinkedIn or Tribe, or annotations in Socialtext or Typepad -- Flickr isn't the only service made of people. Not just import/export but synching across services.

It also brings to prominence again the two competing views of how we want to run our online lives - a multitude of simple, highly targeted apps that talk to each other or an all-encompassing 'we can do everything' approach which is the MyYahoo feel. Instinctively I feel like the latter is bound to fail in the face of the complexity of the web and the fact that we all want slightly different ways to run our lives rather than be shoehorned into a 'one size fits all'. And as long as there is a minority community out there who are using the alternate model of lots of baby apps/services, I feel like the Yahoo behemoth is never going to really be able to get the best of the web to those who want it.

From a business model point as well, it seems difficult. Competition is never going to go away - Google and Yahoo are always going to have to be able to 'talk' to services that are not owned by them. Thinking you can catalogue the world is that huge 19th century fallacy - catalogues are always going to be incomplete, overlapping and relative. And that 'long tail' cliche is true - money can be made out of not being Yahoo just as much as being Yahoo.

Apologies for the long post. The problem is that I still haven't had time to blog about several things that are on my mind so it all gets squeezed into an issue like this...



Also reminds me of networking webs such as Friendster, linkedin and A Small World and even Friends Reunited. Anyone have any thoughts on them? B

By Anonymous Ben, at 9:45 pm  

As usual I have complete verbal diarrhoea so felt the need to burble on at length about this... so see today's post here

By Blogger HL, at 11:17 pm  

Thanks for the excellent review. It was one of the most valuable that I came across in researching for my review.

By Blogger Justin, at 11:56 pm  

Thanks for this review. del.icio.us is just a worderful bookmark tool!

By Anonymous Rildo Moraes, at 2:54 am  

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