Why do those social bookmarking links exist?

There is a fixture of the modern web that I really don’t understand. And in terms of annoyance it is probably second only to Snap Preview.

Millions of links to social bookmarking websites littering the bottom of every news article and blog post written. You know the ones. “Digg this!” “Send to del.icio.us!” “Pimp-me-do to Reddit!”

A particularly bad example comes from one certain WordPress plugin which appends this awful mess onto every post:

Far too many icons to make sense of

I mean, just what the hell are you supposed to do with that?

It is not just blogs that do this sort of thing. Many major newspaper websites also now incorporate such links pretty much as a matter of course. Thankfully, they tend to show a bit more restraint than that WordPress plugin.

BBC News social bookmarks BBC News has become the latest website to add such buttons to its news stories. Thankfully, they too have kept it relatively restrained, with simple links to five of the most popular social bookmarking services.

Ryan Morrison thinks that the inclusion of the buttons is a good move from the BBC (by the way, sorry, Ryan, for nicking your screengrab! I’m not leeching off your bandwidth though, honest). But I just don’t understand why they go to that bother.

I have steadfastly refused to include such buttons on this blog. For one, the advantages of being submitted to Digg are dubious (something like having hundreds of drunk arseholes coming into your living room to violently vomit on your carpet before going away without paying the cleaning bill, never to be seen again).

But this is what I really don’t understand about these social bookmarking links. As Inquisitor points out, surely if you wanted to submit a story to del.icio.us, Digg or whatever, you would already know how to do it. If you make a habit out of Digging a site, you will surely have the relevant plugins / browser buttons installed in your browser. Why rely on the disparate approaches taken by the near-infinite number of websites on the internet when you have that trusty button in your browser?

I am a heavy user of del.icio.us. Yet I have never used one of the buttons placed on a website itself. I always use the buttons that I have installed on my browser. I am familiar with these plugins. I know exactly where to find them and what to expect when I click them.

Browser buttons for del.icio.us, Digg and StumbleUpon

Most major social bookmarking websites have Firefox extensions or little bookmarks that you can drag into your toolbar. The above image is a screenshot of the navigation toolbar bar in Firefox. Next to the address field are two different buttons for del.icio.us (one for my main account, the other for Scottish Roundup). Then, if I should feel like Digging a story there is a Digg button. Next to that is one for StumbleUpon. Facebook has an entire toolbar if you really want to use it.

You might say, “Okay, maybe that is how you submit stories to social bookmarking websites. But you are an awful geek. What about the rest of us?” Maybe so, but how many normal, non-geek, web users are users of social bookmarking websites? If you took the geeks off the internet, social bookmarking websites would probably not exist at all.

I would be interested to know how often the buttons used on websites like BBC News and blogs are really used. I can’t imagine they are used that much. Why would you, when you can use browser buttons that are so much more efficient?

Still, I guess the links placed on websites must work, otherwise nobody would bother with them. I have pondered installing Alex King’s “Share This” plugin. At least it quite sensibly hides the ugly smorgasbord of links before you actively ask to be shown them. But still, why would you do that when you — presumably — already have your own trusted methods of posting an item to your social bookmarking website of choice?

15 comments

  1. I kinda like the image of a horde of drunken bums invading one’s living room to spew on the carpet and then depart, never to be seen again. It confirms me in my attitude to these social networking sites. They might be all very well if you already have a social network but, to anti-social loners like myself, they are incomprehensible, weird and useless. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m going to start an anti-social networking site.

    Or would that be destined to go the same route as the Apathy Society…?

  2. I do think that someone actually came up with such a website. You had to sign up, but once you had done that you could not do anything. 😀

  3. I noticed those icons on BBC the other day and thought they looked a bit out of place – no doubt I’ll get used to them over time though.

    Looks like they are here to stay as they are everywhere at the moment, though I’ve resisted them so far, except for a Technorati link from my site…

  4. I don’t have the full range of buttons on my site but do use the ‘Share This’ plugin that pulls them all together with a nice bit of AJAX.

    As for the buttons being the BBC (and other sites) – I agree that a toolbar is a useful option – but not an option always available.

    I’m a big Digg, Delicious and Technorati user (I’m signed up to the others but don’t use them) but don’t always have the ability to install a toolbar.

    At work there is a blog on installing extensions – in fact most people aren’t allowed to have anything but IE6 installed and this is the case in a majority of large businesses.

    Having buttons on a page allows someone in that environment to save the story to their bookmarking, or social news site of choice without the need for a toolbar or even worse – actually copying the URL, going to Digg and pasting it manually.

  5. Aye, Ryan’s point is the main one; in my current job, I have my own laptop and can do what I like; in my previous, I had to get someone with admin priviledges to install extensions &c (until I got him to give me admin rights on my own machine).

    A huge chunk of traffic to any site is from office workers, ergo have a share this link. My current theme on VtX has a few as part of the layout, I dislike it, and will be replacing with Alex’s plugin when I get around to doing the new design (soon, honest, soon).

    Ideally, it wouldn’t be needed. But ideally, office workers wouldn’t be blithering idiots with a tendency to install virus crammed screensavers and network destroying crap. As they are, we have to put up with the crap. But yeah, all those little logos really annoy me, and I won’t be having them on any site I deal with–especially Digg, with you completely on that one.

    Facebook sharing works well though, I use the bookmarklet for that, and I used to use the Blogger blog this bookmarklet, which I think is a better method than a plugin anyway.

  6. Presumably the buttons mostly ‘work’ as a reminder to people that they can bookmark the story, should they want to. So even if everyone has the relevant browser plugins installed, adding the buttons there encourages people to use them more than they might have done otherwise.

    That said, it doesn’t seem right the BBC having the buttons somehow.

    Plus, they need to sort out genuine permalinks first (rather than different URIs for the UK and World, Low and Hi graphics versions of the stories).

  7. There is another thing that makes me slightly uncomfortable about the BBC’s use of these social bookmarking links. What processes did they go through to select those five websites instead of, say, Furl or Magnolia? If they launched this feature six months ago, would Facebook even be among them?

    It feels a bit like the BBC is giving these five sites an unfair advantage. I know it is kind of necessary to choose a few to avoid icon soup, but given the BBC’s position it feels like it’s on the very border of what’s acceptable.

  8. Yes, I hardly ever used those buttons. When I tried them I found they were less efficient than the browser toolbar, and I’ve ignored them ever since.

  9. I have been considering adding these bookmarks to my personal blog, but have decided against do so after reading this post and others on the net. Enough is enough! Besides, I find it distracting as hell having to look at all these cutesy icons. I’m with you, if I’m browsing somewhere and want to mark something, it’s on my browser toolbar. One click and I’m there.

    Thanks for the post!

  10. […] have also taken the plunge and decided to add a ShareThis button, despite what I wrote about it a few months ago. I’m still experimenting with the position of this, so any ideas would be […]