Archive for the 'digg' Category

Insanely Great Startup Idea

If Digg distributed its comment threads to the blog posts themselves, that would be awesome. But if Digg also distributed the ability to do the digging to the posts themselves, that would be killer.

Digg is awesome. Disqus and other commenting services are awesome. Digg and Disqus would be awesome as one.

Those two feature sets are a match made in blogging heaven.

Want to race to see who makes this happen first, me or you?

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Why Socialmedian, Twine, and Others Don’t Get the News

More than a year ago, I asked, “What Is Networked News?” I was thinking about how people really, actually want to get their news, and my answer came in three parts.

Let’s focus briefly on the first two. (1) People care about who writes it or creates it. In other words, people want their news from trusted publishers. (2) People also care about who likes it. In other words, people want their news from trusted consumers—their “friends.”

News in the modern era has naturally revolved around publishers. That part’s old-hat, and so people need little help from innovators in getting their news from publishers. But innovators have made tremendous accomplishments in helping people get their news from their friends. This is largely the story of the success of Web 2.0 so far, and many startups have engineered ingenious systems for delivering news to people because their friends like it.

FriendFeed is one such awesome story. Twitter’s another. Google Reader’s “share” feature and its openness, which has allowed others to build applications on top of it, make for another perfect example. The ethic of the link among bloggers is, in a very real way, central to this concept: one person referring others to someone else’s thoughts.

But I also wrote about a third way. (3) People want their news about what interests them. This may seem like a trivial statement, but it is deeply important. There is still tons of work to be done by innovators in engineering systems for actually delivering news to people because they want exactly what they want and don’t want any of the rest.

Twine‘s “twines” come close. Socialmedian‘s “news networks” come close. They’re both examples of innovation moving in the right direction.

But they don’t go nearly far enough. Twine looks like it’s got significant horsepower under the hood, but it lacks the intuitive tools to deliver. Frankly, it’s badly burdened by its overblown vision of a tricked-out Semantic Web application that’s everything to all people all the time. Twine is, as a result, an overcomplicated mess.

Socialmedian’s problem are worse, however. It’s simply underpowered. Nothing I’ve read, including its press release reproduced here, indicates the kind of truly innovative back-end that can revolutionize the news. Socialmedian wraps a stale social donut around Digg, and I’m afraid that’s about it.

When it comes to the news, people demand (1), (2), and (3). They want their most trusted publishers and their most trusted friends, and they want to personalize their interests with radical granularity. That takes an intense back-end, which Socialmedian simply lacks. That also takes an elegant user-facing information architecture, which Twine lacks.

We’ve had (1) for years, and I’m thrilled at the advances I see made seemingly every day toward a more perfect (2). But a killer news web application has yet to deliver on (3). When it does, we’ll have something that’s social and powerful and dead-simple too.

Unbundling Traditionally Editorial Value-Adds

Felix Salmon does a brilliant job of deconstructing what a great newspaper does once it’s got “just-the-facts” news in hand:

  1. It turns news into stories: well-written, well-edited, not-too-long pieces which provide perspective and context and a bit of analysis too.
  2. It takes those stories and prioritizes them: important stories get big headlines on the front page; less-important stories are relegated to the back. A newspaper provides a crucial editing-down function, providing a way of navigating the sea of news by pointing out the most significant landmarks.
  3. It takes those prioritized stories and turns them into a finely-honed object, a newspaper. That’s what Thomson is talking about when he praises the Spanish newspapers—they’re very good at intuitively guiding the reader around the universe of news, making full use of photography, illustration, typography, white space, and all the other tools at a newspaper designer’s disposal.

Felix then goes on to write a post about customization—defined as giving value-adds (2) and (3) over to readers—and how it hasn’t worked when newspapers have tried it.

I agree with Felix that customization at the level of one publication isn’t terribly useful. That’s because there’s just not that much to customize. Relative to the universe of news—or even just the galaxy of financial news, say—someone who customizes the Journal just doesn’t hide all that much bad stuff or make it all that much easier to find the good stuff.

Let me be clear: I agree that customization can be a lot of upfront work, and I agree that amount of work will ward off many readers, but it’s not at all clear that there isn’t a relatively small (but absolutely substantial) group of users who have tastes that editors and designers miss or don’t appreciate.

But is customization at the level of an aggregator is equally suspicious? I find that once a reader is reading dozens of sources anyhow, value-adds (2) and (3) are more of a hindrance than a help. Whatever value a reader gets out of them is often overwhelmed by the simple inconvenience of having to jump around many different websites.

On the other hand, a customizable aggregator represents a return to the convenient one-stop shop. The reader’s customization may seem like source of value-add (2), but there’s nothing to say the Journal couldn’t serve a feed of articles with “big headlines.” This is what’s going on with the list of most-emailed articles—”emasculating” the editors. That’s essentially what google news and digg and their distant cousins do. And even if we don’t particularly like how they do it (I don’t), we should both respect that this project of figuring out alternative ways to accomplish value-add (2) is very young.

In the end, there’s nothing about your main value-adds (1)-(3) that requires them to come together. Why not unbundle them? Why not give some users the ability not to care about what an editor cares about. After all, an editor is just offering a guess—an intelligent one, to be sure—about what readers want. But who even knows which readers—the mean, the median, the mode, the ones on Wall Street, the ones on Main Street?

Another boring personalized news service

I love seeing more and more copycat “intelligent” personalized news sites. The good news is that means that there are funders out there who still know in their gut that there’s money to be made on innovation in the news business. They just need the one idea that will stick. And go pop.

Meantime, more than a six months ago, Mike Arrington wrote about a site called Thoof. Back then, I was also writing and thinking about Streamy and FeedEachOther and other unmemorable twists on feed readers and personalized news sites. No matter their differences, they all seem the same. I just came across yet another—Tiinker—and I just can’t bear it any more.

In his write-up of Thoof, Arrington frames the debate as taking place between two competing positions. He believes that “the masses want popular news,” while the Thoof’s CEO believes that “the masses want tailored news.”

I think they’re both wrong and come at the issue the wrong way.

People want their news based on others’ interests—specialized news from friends (those who have similar interests) and widely popular news from the masses (everyone else). And they want their news based on their own interests, even if their friends don’t share those interests.

Now suppose there’s a continuum of users—from RegularJoe on one end to PowerUser on the other.

RegularJoe wants his news from other people. Although he has relatively few “friends” online, and is thinly connected to the ones he has, he wants them to put in most of the effort to help him get specialized news. (He likes read the “Most Emailed” news articles but doesn’t email them, or he likes visiting Digg but doesn’t log in and vote.) RegularJoe is mostly interested in widely popular news.

PowerUser is different and wants his news mostly based on his own interests. But it would be a mistake to think that he pursues his interests alone (no man is an island, says Donne). He has relatively many friends and enjoys pushing and pulling mutually interesting news to and from them. Of course, PowerUser also has news interests that his friends don’t share or don’t share as strongly, and so he pursue his news independently from his friends as well. Because he enjoys consuming a lot of information, moreover, PowerUser is also interested in widely popular news (he wants to keep his finger to the pulse).

These purely black-box algorithmic personalized news sites don’t really fit either guy.

RegularJoe: They’re too hardcore for RegularJoe. He doesn’t want his own news because his interests just aren’t sufficiently deeply cultivated. RegularJoe isn’t motivated enough to build up a profile by clicking “thumbs up” all the time (as tiinker would have him). When he is motivated enough, he isn’t sufficiently consistent over time for these fancy algorithms to get him what he wants before he strays back to cnn.com because it’s easier to let someone else decide (a person-editor, in this case).

PowerUser: They’re too secret for PowerUser. He wants to put in more effort cultivating his interests and doesn’t want to trust an (anti-social) algorithm from some start-up that might disappear tomorrow. PowerUser also wants to get specialized news from niche groups of friends. For him, the fact that friends X, Y, and Z read some blog post makes it inherently more interesting because they can have a conversation about it (broadly speaking). The personalized news sites just aren’t sufficiently social for the PowerUser who wants to interact with friends around the news.

This isn’t meant to be a slam-dunk argument. I’m not sure about what happens with the group of users who are in the hypothetical middle of the continuum. Maybe there’s some number of users (1) who care enough about the news to have non-trivial interests that don’t shift or fade over time but (2) who also don’t care very much for a transparent or social experience of the news. Ultimately, however, I really doubt that this group of users is big enough to support this kind of personalized news site.

Techmeme Does Digg

I suspect Scoble will be vindicated on video. I think we’ll all take another step out into the world and publish not just our written words but also out likenesses, speaking words. I like Scoble videos, although I tend to agree with this comment’s sentiments.

In his latest video, Scoble reverse engineers Techmeme. I’m not going to rehearse his video. Others already have, but you should just follow my link and watch it, if you’re interested.

I can add value by correcting Scoble on one point. Techmeme does digg. In fact, on Techmeme right now, the story right above Scoble’s reverse engineering includes Digg as a “subnote.”

PS. Deeplinking into video has got to catch on. I want to link to the part of the video when Scoble talks about how Techmeme ignore Digg and Reddit and StumbleUpon, but I can’t.

Digg Adds Depth

Digg just added social networking to its position as the leading player in submit-and-vote news! Yes, Digg added the second component of networked news to the first.

I’m not sure enough many people will have enough friends to end up caring so much more about what they think about the news than what the universe of diggers thinks about the news. I, for one, as a twenty-something workaday guy, just don’t know enough people who use Digg to slurp up their news efficiently.

But maybe there are fifteen-year-olds who use Digg to get all their news. And maybe there are enough who have lots of other friends who use Digg similarly. If so, the submit-and-vote version of the first component of networked news could be on its way.

Many people, including me, don’t use Digg because its content—often dominated, they say, by upper-middle class geeky white dudes—just doesn’t cut it. I’ll stick with hours upon hours in front of google reader, backed up by aideRSS, of course. But with networks of friends, like-minded intellectuals, no doubt, Digg could really scratch my itch for content on the impending collapse of the dollar or Barack Obama’s position on chatting with foreign leaders or this conference I want to go to badly. (They say there’s so little room! They say Dave Winer may show!)

Anyhow, when are we going to be able to digg stories from outside digg.com? When am I going to install on my facebook profile a digg application, in which I can choose to see everyone’s diggs, just my friends’ diggs, just diggs of certain topics, just my diggs going back through history, etc.? When, indeed, am I going to be able to vote from facebook? Stick an ad in your widget and be done with it, Mr. Rose, who’s a near-hero of mine, for his lack of technical skills, mostly. (He paid a guy—someone else, someone who could code—ten bucks an hour to develop the site.)

PS. Mr. Cohn, toss me an invitation to the conference you and Mr. Jarvis are doing God’s, or at least the Republic’s, work to organize! And ask the top diggers whether they think, or under what conditions, they think their role could shrink because people like me would shift our attention away from the Digg homepage to our own friend-centered niches by way of Digg’s bringing on the second component of networked news!

Applying the Three Components of Networked News

For a goodly time now, expect to see this blog try to flesh out this concept of networked news by reviewing isites that concern themselves with the news, either completely or substantially—from the New York Times to digg to Google Reader to Mario Romero’s awesome Google Reader Shared Items app for Facebook to Topix to Memeorandum to Pageflakes to Thoof to Streamy to whatever else with which I may cross paths.

I’ve got my three metrics, and it’s time to make sense of them. Maybe along the way we’ll figure out what some bright person could do to satisfy Arrington’s appropriately underwhelmed feeling about online news. Maybe we’ll figure out that “networked journalism” has something to do with networked news. Maybe not.

But what’s first?


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