Fifteen years or so ago my internet bookmarks mattered to me. Enough that when I was leaving one job I spent quite a lot of time fiddling around with Netscape to save my bookmarks in a portable form, so I could take them with me to whatever my next job was going to be. Id have loved Delicious then, but it only started in 2003.
But now its 2010 and my use of bookmarks has plummeted. I still have an impressive set of bookmarks on my home machine, and I might use them once or twice a day, if that. In a year in my current job, Ive accumulated a dozen or so, and most of them I rarely use. Instead, I mainly use Google, or the auto-complete and history functions on Internet Explorer. My bookmarks are useful for the few sites I need to use regularly but infrequently (because things I use all the time will show up in auto-complete) AND which have unmemorable titles (so its not just as quick to Google them) AND which I can nevertheless remember the existence of. When you then exclude sites already on my blogroll, youre not left with a lot: principally German sites, where I cant remember or spell things correctly (though even ‘Register Imperii’ on Google will get you to the right place in a couple of clicks).
The other thing some people use Delicious for, of course, is bookmarking articles that theyre interested in reading later. But, aside from the fact that most of my later reading is not going to happen unless I get a sabbatical decade, if theres something I find that I think Im really going to want to read or refer to, I either save a copy or even print it out. Web pages disappear or move saved copies and hardcopy dont.
So as far as my own use of bookmarks are concerned, Delicious is a solution to a relatively minor problem. Im not sure whether its worth the effort of setting up an account and transferring my bookmarks, although I can see the usefulness of doing so for libraries which provide substantial lists of recommended links for their users.
What is potentially more useful is using other peoples bookmarks to find sites of interest. Even if people dont necessarily tag bookmarks in very helpful ways, ranking bookmarks by their popularity strikes me as a potentially interesting way of finding new sites.
So I did a few tests, comparing Delicious to Google. Delicious, it turns out, isnt very useful for uncommon terms. When I searched for Hincmar (a ninth-century bishop and author) three of the four bookmarked results were things I had written. Which, while flattering, is not an accurate reflection of the information about him out there (Google has 112,000 hits). I wondered whether Delicious might do better with something slightly less obscure, so I tried a search on evolutionary psychology. Thats the kind of academic topic that I might want to read up on, but wouldnt really know where to start. Here are the results:
Initially this looked quite good, but I soon noticed some problems. Its not clear what order Delicious ranks the bookmarks in: it doesnt seem to rank them by most bookmarked, which is annoying, and I cant see a way of changing that. And quite a few of the links I clicked on were dead.
Yet another alternative is to search for the bookmarks of a particular person. For example, I happen to know Cosma Shalizi is interested in various mathematical techniques, such as modelling social networks, which are potentially of use to historians. So I might well find something of interest via his bookmarks. Unfortunately, Delicious requires you to enter the exact username, so I cant easily find the bookmarks unless I can work out that hes cshalizi on there (or I look on his website and the link from there).
All this means that although I think you might get some results out of Delicious that you cant easily get either out of Google or another approach, its debatable whether the extra effort of hunting for them would be worth it. Maybe there are more effective ways of using Delicious that I dont know about (or maybe I need to change my working practices), but for all the potential I can see in Delicious, it seems rather a practical letdown to me currently.