how would you decide what social links to put on content?

I’m currently working on a project to investigate how the BBC might use one-click social bookmarking and recommendation service links across our content. The work, which coincides with work being done by our user experience (eg. interaction design) team, is likely to result in a recommendation that we include such links on much, if not all, of our online content. Because nearly all of my sources of information, statistics and insights are to be found online, and because I’m hoping your feedback will help inform my work on this, I’m blogging the first draft here…

What is Social Bookmarking?

Traditionally, bookmarking (or "adding to favorites" if you use IE) a web page meant saving a link within your browser on your local machine. Social bookmarking services allow users to save their links online where – and this is the social bit – others can see and make use of them. Most social bookmarking services also having sorting tools, such as tags or folders, and allow for annotation. Social bookmarking tools include, Furl, Ma.gnolia and many others competing for users.

This video from CommonCraft explains is far better than I ever could:

What is Social Recommendation?

Whilst a social bookmark, particularly when made by someone you know and whose judgement you trust, can act as a sort of recommendation of that content, social recommendation services take that one step further by introducing a ratings system to allow users (usually with the help of an algorythm and/or editors) to rank content. Here’s a good explanation of how Digg, one of the leading recommendation services, works.

What’s in it for Users?

Social bookmarking is a great way to organise links to web based content, to share those links, and to find new content (and people interested in similar content), as this post from an academic using demonstrates:

"Delicious is the Rome, Jerusalem, and Paris of my existence as an
academic these days. It’s where I make my friends, how I get the news,
and where I go to trade. All this from a little server that does
nothing but share bookmarks in public…"

It’s not just academics using – it can be a useful tool for anyone conducting web based research as an individual or as a team, from Dutch NGO’s to Journalists. Indeed, as I revealed to DigiDave, I’m starting to see quite a few people using it here at the BBC:

"We’re using for all sorts of things at the BBC, from
it easier for production teams to keep track of and share links with
each other to using the auto-publish feature to actually create
content….every 24 hours, my saved posts are auto-published into my
blog. Several of the BBC’s blogs are using this feature as well."

Examples of this can be seen on the sidebars of the BBC Internet blog, the Editors blog and the iPM blog. ex-BBC staffer Martin Belam has also written a post that looks at how can be used not just to bookmark and find, but to actually create content out of this process.

In summary, with little more effort than would be required to save a bookmark locally in a browser, social bookmarking services give user powerful tools that allow them to organise, share, and find content and, sometimes, to build new relationships with other users.

Social Recommendation sites offer this as well, but, I think, with enhanced opportunities to build community and – here’s the key – for users to become an influencer. The Wall Street Journal explains:

"A new generation of hidden influencers is taking root online, fueled by
a growing love affair among Web sites with letting users vote on their
favorite submissions…It’s also giving rise to an obsessive subculture of ordinary but
surprisingly influential people who, usually without pay and purely for
the thrill of it, are trolling cyberspace for news and ideas to share
with their network. They include people like 18-year-old Smaran Dayal,
a high-school student who submits some 40 stories a week on Digg and
has become a go-to source there for news about Apple. Diane Put, a
nutritionist in Idyllwild, Calif., known to Netscape users by her
handle, "idyll," has become a major source for health-related news on
that site, which is viewed by more than 1.9 million people daily. A
Reddit user known for scoping out striking images on the Web, Amardeep
Sahota recently helped drive about 100,000 unique visitors to one
amateur photographer’s site."

In summary then, social recommendation services do the same thing as social bookmarking services, but usually with enhanced community and, something usually missing in bookmarking services, aspects of reputation and competition amongst users.

What’s in it for Web Publishers?

Sites that have appeared on the front page of Digg can get a massive burst in traffic with some sites reporting, as above, as many as 100,000 users hitting their site all at once. The downside is that this has been known to crash webservers and cause sites to instantly breach any bandwidth limitations imposed by their hosts. One site, the Biving’s Report, said there was little medium to long term benefit :

"Basically, being on Digg was (1) a nice ego boost for us and (2) a fun
way to run an ad hoc stress test on our servers. Beyond that, it really
didn’t accomplish much."

ScribbleDesigns is more optomistic, suggesting that appearing on social bookmarking and recommendation services does have longer term benefits and, because of this, should be actively courted by those publishing content online

"Smart webmasters know that by getting their sites listed on the
‘popular’ lists means a major influx of traffic, which can result in:

  • Increases in RSS subscribers. A number of sites have documented a rise in subscribers after a post becomes popular on a social media site.
  • Increased links back to your site. Many bloggers
    find things to write about on social media sites. If you’re popular,
    expect lots of nice links back from other blogs.
  • Google Juice. The increased backlinks will
    ultimately result in better PageRank with Google and therefore higher
    placement in search engine listings.
  • Reputation. As all these factors come into play,
    your site has the potential to become a trusted resource and this can
    all reinforce your reputation as an expert in your niche.
  • Better advertising revenue. Maybe not immediately
    – social media users are an ad-blind crowd. But increased traffic and
    better SERP placement is likely to see better advertising opportunities
    over time."

The effect, at least in terms of immediate visitor numbers, of appearing on a social bookmarking site are likely to be far more subtle than that of appearing on Digg or one of the other leading Social Recommendation services. But the above bullet point list probably still holds true and, because bookmarks can be published automatically into blogs and facebook profiles, and shared with other users easily, it is likely that the link will draw in new audience members who are genuinely interested in the topic of the site but who may never have heard about it. In that sense, social bookmarking could lead to better quality, but much smaller immediate, traffic than social recommendation sites.

What Sites Are Using One Click Links and to Which Services?

The Washington Post has long been carrying them in a box alongside their articles, along with links (provided by Technorati) taking readers to blogs that have linked to the page. Anecdotal evidence suggests that more and more news and media sites are adopting a similar approach – applying Social Media Optomisation Strategies (basically, making it easier for people to bookmark/recommend their content) in doing so.

Ellyn Angelotti at the Poynter Institute looked at 40 (US) newspaper websites and compiled statistics on which social bookmarking and recommendation services they’re now including. Digg (20) and (19) made the most appearances with newsvine (9), Facebook (7), Yahoo My Web (7) and Reddit (7) rounding out the top half of thirteen services with links observed.

Some areas of the BBC’s online presence also already incorporate one click social bookmarking and recommendation links in their pages. This started organically with a few of the BBC Blogs adding such links to their templates on their own, a move that was later adopted across all but the News blogs. The services used as standard by the BBC Blogs are:

  • Digg
  • Newsvine
  • NowPublic
  • Reddit

A few of the BBC blogs have additionally, or alternatively, included links to Technorati, Google and IceRocket.

BBC News and Sport later followed suit with one click links on every one of their pages (see image below). The services included by them are:

  • Digg
  • reddit
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon


Magazine publisher, Hachette Filipacchi, has taken a different approach – building their own bookmarking tool for Sugar, a magazine aimed at teenage girls. They plan to later create widgets for social networking sites such as Bebo, myspace and Facebook so that users can display their bookmarks in these spaces.

Usage Data – Hard to Come By

Because usage data, in particular demographic information, is corporately sensitive it’s quite difficult to come by. Digg is reported (unofficially) to have 2.7 million users as of January 2008 and, in early February 2008, revealed that it had reached 1.5 million registrations. According to TechCrunch, as of April 2007, Newsvine had "…"six employees. The site currently brings in 600,000 monthly unique visitors generating 3.5 million monthly page views."

It would seem that Social Networking services such as Facebook and sites that are primarily customisable homepages, for example myYahoo,  have much larger audiences than pure-play bookmarking and recommendation services. It’s possible that they also are used by wider cross-sections of society as a whole.

[The UK specific usage information I’ve obtained is, unfortunately,
from a subscription based source that prohibits reposting here.]

Deciding Which One Click Links to Include

There are various ways to compare the various services described (and not anything approaching exhaustively listed) in this post. I’ve listed these in no particular order:

  • usage data: problematic as it’s hard to get reliable numbers and sheer popularity isn’t necessarily the appropriate measurement we should be using for comparison
  • ease of use
  • specific demographic vs wide cross-section of society
  • likelihood of increased inbound traffic from service
  • quality of (eg. relevant? new to our content? likely to return?) of inbound traffic
  • service serves topical niche that’s of interest to BBC

And, perhaps…

  • based in or primarily serving UK
  • interesting functionality that our users would benefit from being introduced to
  • enhanced safety and/or privacy settings for users
  • ownership might be considered

I don’t, by the way, think we should only provide one click links to social bookmarking and social recommendation services – socialnetworking and customisable homepage services also need to be considered and included. My guess is that the final mix will be three social bookmarking/recommendation links and three social networking/"my homepage" links.

For Discussion

Have I got the decision making criteria right? What else should we be thinking about as we compare the different services? Does including one click add links make sense from the perspective of users – will they understand or care what they are; will experienced users actually need them, etc? Any other thoughts?

Looking forward to your feedback on this one…


  1. links for 2008-02-21

    how would you decide what social links to put on content? How do you move social bookmarking helpers into the body of your website smoothly? (tags: bookmarking socialbookmarking publishing websites) Telegraph Opens Tech R&D Lab I keep telling people…

  2. Try reading Toby Segaram’s book on Collective Intelligence – you’ll find it bookmarked on my page. That uses data from in its examples on how to build a recommendation engine, so you could get some useful ideas from there.

  3. I use Simpy quite a lot.
    The best way to have a guide to popularity is to pick 10 or 20 sites suggested to you and run them through It’s only a guide but it is a measure of the relative popularity of each of the sites.

  4. My most favourite one is StumbleUpon.
    You actually *discover* using it, so yeah, it kept its words.

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