On April 1, 2005, del.icio.us started getting a few strange bookmarks that looked like this:
Color bookmarks! If you posted something like color:FF0000,FFFFFF,0000FF in the URL field (instead of a normal URL), you’d get a little set of color swatches.
Joshua had quietly implemented this and saved a few colors, and friends noticed and started saving colors too. We watched the “recent” page as people discovered it and played with it. The popular page for the tag “color” started to get wonderful. Another example:
Color bookmarks were an April Fool’s joke, from a time when April Fool’s jokes on the web were possibly-believable fun things. I see it also as a gentle experiment in expanding what del.icio.us could “bookmark” and seeing how people responded. This was before the Yahoo! acquisition (October 2005) and a year before Twitter started. It wasn’t clear whether del.icio.us should only be for links, or whether the scope and ambition should expand. What else would people want to save and share? For example, should people be able to post short notes without an associated link? What kind of community management would that need, and what could go wrong? Twitter answered those questions later.
On April 2, 2005, Julia West wrote a blog post pointing out that color bookmarking was oddly off-brand, and also that “the color syntax in place of the URL is useless outside of the del.icio.us interface, botching RSS feeds and the importing of bookmarks into a user’s browser”. del.icio.us had a mailing list for users and team members, and John Resig expanded on her post with a detailed complaint and suggestion about the new color bookmarks:
I was reading a delicious RSS feed of one of my friends and saw a link to one of these new color: items, I clicked it (not thinking) and was immediately treated to an error message. Up until this point I had thought that this addition was amusing, and mildly interesting at best. Now I was just annoyed and very upset. Essentially, this URI will only work on delicious and will only ever have meaning to those who view this information on the delicious web site. This is a serious problem.
John’s post goes on to recommend a different URI for color bookmarks, with rigorous reasoning about the purposes and uses of URIs.
I love these posts because they’re a wonderful example of early del.icio.us: people who loved the web, loved tools for the web that used structured data (such as in RSS feeds and APIs) to enable new things, built new things, and debated them with each other. It was a time of geotagging, microformats, the semantic web, and machine-readable ontologies for friendship.
What happened after April’s Fools Day? del.icio.us had a principle of not deleting user data, and some people were fond of color bookmarks, so the tiny undocumented feature stuck around.
Later at Yahoo!, del.icio.us spent a couple years preparing to become Delicious 2.0: a complete rewrite of the aging code, a major redesign, a massive data migration. The color bookmarks were still there, and we had to keep them. There was no way we could jettison the color bookmarks after years. So the backend and frontend engineers rebuilt what had been a tiny bit of Perl in the new enterprise-class PHP framework. The designer had to accommodate color bookmarks. But oh, the data migration — the color bookmarks caused many complications for data migration, and the team complained and fixed bugs in their Erlang. It was amazing that such a small thing had such an effect.
I believe color bookmarks finally died when AVOS rewrote the site in 2011.