Monday, December 12, 2005

Yahoo Delves Deeper into User-Generated Media with del.icio.us Acquisition

Reuters reports along with other majors the acquisition of social bookmarking service del.icio.us by Yahoo, yet another move by the online portal giant into user-generated media. Del.icio.us traffic has been soaring over the past month according to Alexa stats, presumably in association with the takeover, and has shown steady traffic growth throughout the year. While boasting 300,000 registrants the deal is less about raw traffic than about building on the "go to" buzz that has grown around the social bookmarking service, which provides a common repository of links to pages that interest its users. Combined with its recent launch of Yahoo Answers and its earlier acquisition of social photo sharing site Flikr, Yahoo is shoving a big stake in the ground to become a leading destination site for user-generated media.

The ultimate value of user-generated media in and of itself may be debatable in some ways - del.icio.us is usually awash in trivial bookmarks that are as much about self-promotion as genuine content sharing - but in many ways its the LACK of "quality" that gives a service such as del.icio.us its true quality. Del.icio.us acts as a real-time barometer of people's online habits, providing raw ratings of what's of interest to people on the Web that would be otherwise very difficult to obtain. The ease of bookmarking pages with del.icio.us makes it a simple "voting" mechanism" that distinguishes pages of content that were visited from content that people are willing to recommend to others. That's herd mentality, to be sure, but as the herd defines for itself what's interesting it creates instantaneous trend tracking and packaging that most traditional mass-media publications could only dream about.

While search engines are going to remain a solid point of reference for problem-solving content retrieval, social bookmarking is just beginning to come into its own as a service that can help browsers to get a sense of what's the most important current content in a given subject area. The "micro-trends" identified in social bookmarks will help to create finely tuned marketing opportunities in much the same way that stock tickers identify windows of opportunity for securities trades as a day unfolds. Bear in mind also that it's not always the latest and greatest content that will be identified via a social bookmarking service: sometimes items in "the long tail" of content not in the media spotlight are rediscovered by people and re-exposed via a social bookmarking service, creating a complex heat map of interests that will require more sophisticated marketing techniques to exploit. Yahoo seems to be winning the battle of getting to the pulse of users via user-generated media, but it will be a long war with many new developments to come in 2006.
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