Web News Wranglers
Wisdom of Crowds
Reader voting drives the immense popularity of social news sites, which eschew algorithms in favor of the collective intelligence of its readers. The year-old Digg has used the technique to become a more popular tech news site than the venerable Slashdot.
Digg's central technology is disarmingly simple: Users submit links, and then other users comment and vote up or down on them. In theory, the most interesting content will rise to the front page. In reality, stories that make the front page can range from trivialities such as an item on a light gun for Nintendo's Wii gaming system to serious political news.
Digg plans to extend the model so that it eventually covers other kinds of news. Its success has spawned some interesting clone sites. Fantacular is a fairly straightforward clone that, like Digg, focuses solely on technology news. Gather.com, a social blogging site, has an eclectic list of top-rated posts, with entries that include everything from poems to an introduction to a person's cat.
CrispyNews and Reddit Reddit may represent the future of community news filters. CrispyNews enables users to create their own mini-community filters that cover narrow topics, such as American Idol or UCLA. Reddit, a Digg-like startup focusing on what's new and popular on the Web, complements its main pages with a recommendation service that learns your preferences and highlights stories that users with similar reading habits have voted for. Eventually, Reddit hopes to analyze the content of the stories themselves, as well as relevant metadata and keywords.
Reader Voting: Digg vs. Reddit
Thanks to Digg, the Web's most frequented news-ranking site, we now know: Geeks like gaming gossip, incendiary technology policy stories, and NASA photos. Diggers vote early and often, and can get breaking news to the front page surprisingly quickly. Unfortunately the comment threads are less informative than Slashdot's, and Digg's indefatigable promotion of the latest Apple rumor shows that sometimes democracy produces uninteresting results.
Reddit is beginning to catch up to Digg in popularity. Voters at this social news collaboration site generally prefer essays, advice for startups, and nongaming tech news. The comment threads are more interesting than Digg's, but Reddit's main advantage is its recommendation engine: Though rudimentary at present, its ever-improving filter will eventually turn Reddit into a combination of a social news system and a personalized recommender.