A closer look at Ma.gnolia

A while ago I got an invitation to beta test the new social bookmarking service on the block: Ma.gnolia. I was interested in it from day one I heard about it, however back then I had no idea what it was about. My reason for being biased is that I love magnolia trees, Fredrika and I used to go look at a huge one in a park close to where we first lived together and I also recently got her two magnolia trees for her birthday.

First, let me outright say that I’ve never really found a need for a bookmarking service, my main need and interest lies in following feeds; instant information and then it’s gone. If there’s anything I have a great need for finding again, I search on the web using Google and mix of suitable keywords. Therefore, it’s interesting to see that Ma.gnolia’s slogan is:

Found is the New Search

I personally don’t think that it will ever happen; I and a lot of other people do constant searching on the web and in applications. I’m sure a good service can complement searching, but it will never replace it.

A picture of the Ma.gnolia header and the navigation

Features

The idea is to save all your bookmarks and have them available on the web from any place. It’s also about tagging your bookmarks and finding other people’s. So far, just like del.icio.us but looking a lot better. There are, however some features and here’s a list of them:

  • Save bookmarks, publicly or privately
  • Tag bookmarks
  • Send bookmark to one or several of your contacts
  • Send bookmark to one or several of your groups
  • Find other people’s bookmarks
  • Join special interest groups
  • See your contact’s latest additions
  • See your groups’ latest additions

The factors I find very appealing is the ability to join certain groups covering special topics, and to add a few key people to your contacts’ list that you know will add interesting bookmarks. The nice thing with contacts is that it doesn’t have to be a two-way relationship. You can have anyone as a contact without getting permission and anyone can add you as a contact.

They way I see it, there’s no downside with people adding you as a contact without your consensus, all they can see is your latest bookmarks. However, I guess in the long run it might be interesting with closed groups that require an invitation, or perhaps a “Make this bookmark only available to certain contacts”.

There are also different views in the Tags section where you can browse your tags, your contact’s top tags, your groups’ top tags and everyone’s top tags, and they can all be viewed in a tag cloud or in an A – Z listing.

A picture of the Tags section

The start page

During the beta period, the start page consisted of your, your contact’s and your groups’ latest bookmarks. A good initial view that unfortunately was replaced with a Ma.gnolia Hot Bookmarks and a Ma.gnolia Featured Linkers section after it was launched February 15th. The hot bookmarks are fine, but I would definitely prefer seeing my contact’s latest bookmarks as opposed to the featured linkers that I haven’t chosen nor is interested in. Now you have to go to the Bookmarks section to get the beta start page view. Also, once you’ve left the start page, the only way of getting back is clicking the logo. Perhaps a Home link should be added?

A picture of the Ma.gnolia start page

Other sections on the start page, in narrower right column, are Recent Bookmarks, Hot Groups and Hot Tags (and also Hot Bookmarks for other pages than the start page). All valid, but I really miss a listing of my tags. I gather most people will use this service as an archive for their bookmarks, nothing more, nothing less, so I think it’s a waste of an extra click to go the Tags section first.

A picture of the right column sections, containing sections like Recent Bookmarks, Hot Groups and Hot Tags

Something that’s weird here, though, is that the start page just exclaims:

Welcome back

and then I go to the Bookmarks section that says:

Hello, Robert

Shouldn’t the start page be the most personal one?

Listings

Most bookmark listings contain three actions for every bookmark, with the addition of a fourth to easily switch your bookmarks between being private or public. The problem arises when I look at listing for a specific tag; then there’s no way to add it to your bookmarks and its name is linked to the URL itself. I missed it a couple of times, but the only way to add it is to choose the option View Details. I definitely feel an add functionality is missing there.

Another thing which I dislike is that the listing in the right column leads directly to the URL that the bookmark point to. I guess makes it easy to just go to that web page right away and see if it’s interesting, but there’s no way to add it from that list. Functionality I think should be added as soon as possible.

Another thing that would be nice to see right away in the listings is how popular a bookmark is, i.e. how many people have the same bookmark.

Design & code

The design is very nice with smooth and balanced colors. Default font size is good and it’s very easy to get a fast overview on what’s every page. Unfortunately, there’s a an ad space in the header, something that has to be there for revenue, most likely, but also something that ruins the cleanliness of the web site (it was so beautiful during the beta period :-)).

I also like the dimming of the entire web page when I want to delete something. Kind of hard to miss… :-)

A picture of the delete dialog

Another thing that looked good during the beta period was the state of the code, but now there seems to be some minor flaws in every page and also a few inline events. All-in-all, though, the code seems to be well-structured and semantic, so there’s definitely hope.

Gripes

The web site is, most of the time, fairly slow. This is disheartening since it’s a very nice service otherwise, and I really advise them to look into this as soon as possible. Soon the honeymoon period is over with the service being new, so it should be addressed right away. Also, for performance and small usability enhancements, dare I *GASP* suggest using some AJAX (Pssst! Look at ASK…)?

The issues with the listings are annoying but minor. I don’t think it would be a big deal to change that.

 

Conclusively, I’m not sure that I have the need for a bookmarking service. But if I ever will, Ma.gnolia would be my choice. The good news is that Ma.gnolia is publicly available now for everyone, so I urge you to go check it out!

 

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Posted in Reviews/tests,Technology |

12 Comments

  • Stephen Hill says:

    Have you looked at the new Microsoft service which offers a similar solution:

    Windows Live Favorites beta

    Cheers

  • Magnolia certainly is pretty, and in some ways (not all) an improvement over del.icio.us. But I have to say the performance problems are really a killer. I don't understand these people that are feature and interface happy, yet they fail to address basic usability issues or build a backend that scales properly. Technorati comes to mind, for a long while I didn't even bother to visit the site because it was constantly timing out. I mean, having to wait a bit is one thing, but nothing in response at all? This just happened to me (several times in fact) while I was testing Magnolia. A much better example is Rollyo, which is drop-dead easy to use and responds like a charm.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Stephen,

    I just tried it after I saw your comment, but what I didn't like is that I could only add bookmarks through drag 'n' drop when using Internet Explorer. Something I find annoying, that it isn't cross-browser, cross-platform, and since IE isn't my web browser of choice I won't use it therefore.

    Also, it's only a personal bookmarking service as opposed to Ma.gnolia that focuses a lot on the social bit and exchanging bookmarks.

    Douglas,

    I agree, performance is definitely an essential factor, and I do think it's vital that they target this problem right away.

  • Todd Sieling says:

    This is a great overview of ma.gnolia. Thanks for writing it! We've taken to heart your comments on the speed of the site and will do what we can to improve its performance. Your other suggestions are good too, and while some might just be a matter of different taste we will add them for consideration when we review the design after the site has been running for a while.

    Thanks again for such a comprehensive review – it helps us know what directions we need to go in.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Todd,

    Thank you for reading, I'm glad that you liked it! Good luck with everything, I see a lot of potential! :-)

  • [...] משהו, אה?) del.icio.us versus Ma.gnolia – השוואה מעמיקה יותר  A closer look at Ma.gnolia – סקירה ראשונית עבור [...]

  • Sarit says:

    Hi Todd,

    I'm Sarit from the Hebrew blog "The Paradox". Just in case you were curios, I linked back to this post of yours because I was writing about Magnolia. It's in Hebrew so I was suspecting you wouldn't understand a lot of it, just though I'd drop a note :)

  • Todd Sieling says:

    Hi Sarit

    Yeah until there's a tranlation service for Hebrew to English I'm out of luck, but I'm glad you said hi just the same.

  • The thing is, services like offered by Ma.gnolia only get interesting when your bogging. And if your not, there's not a big chance you will use any of the services provided by Ma.gnolia.

    So it will bring some competition to the standard sears engines but it will be on a whole new level.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Medezeggenschap,

    You mean the social aspect of it? Or a bookmarking service in general? I find that most have use for a web-based bookmarking service but not all are interested in the community aspects.

  • Hey Robert,

    Ma.gnolia is indeed much more then just bookmarking service, but in my direct surroundings people that are not involved in blogging or have a special interest for the internet don’t use any of the service like the ones that Ma.gnolia provides. So I still think these services are used by a specific target group unlike the average Google user.

    But I do think service like provided by Ma.gnolia do have a big feature to come.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Medezeggenschap,

    Yes, I agree, it seems like there's a fairly small community of people sincerely interested in all services like Ma.gnolia can offer.

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