February 25, 2008

Social News Sites Add Features Amid Some Criticism

On Friday, Deep Jive Interests' Tony Hung asked if we had reached "the pinnacle of social news", as he noticed that new social link aggregators, including ReadBurner and RSSMeme, were showing the same stories, and suggested that the sites themselves would be commoditized.

He added, "the stuff that is popular, and that is shared, gets shared so quickly between the various and sundry sites, it doesn’t really matter which site you go to."

To some degree, he's right. If RSSMeme's top story ("Switching to GMail" from Robert Scoble) has 19 shares and ReadBurner's version of the same story has 15 shares (which it does as I post this), it's trivial. If it just so happens that this particular story might also hit TechMeme and might also be Dugg, then the social news aggregators aren't adding a dramatic level of intrinsic value, aside from showing who shared it.

But what's different about these social news aggregators and the old standby is that this is a purely democratic process - not in terms of politics, but in that every vote is equal. While so many people try to decipher just how Gabe Rivera's TechMeme algorithm operates, RSSMeme and ReadBurner just make sense - mathematically speaking. RSSMeme and ReadBurner take the power out of the hands of an unseen robot algorithm, and put it in the hands of the people. So does LinkRiver, who also does a good job tabulating popular shared items.

Speaking of LinkRiver, developer Adam Stiles posted a new "LinkRiver LeaderBoard" on Sunday, showing the top 25 most-shared sites. In most cases, the top sites were what you would expect, including the aforementioned TechMeme, Mashable, Twitter, TechCrunch, and FeedBurner. But lurking just outside the top 10, at #12, was the occasionally humble louisgray.com - no doubt artificially inflated thanks to my first talking about LinkRiver back on February 13th. It's no surprise people who read my blog or Twitter are unequally weighted in his first rankings, and I expect my position to fall over time until I'm not there at all.

Giving LinkRiver some early positive feedback was Charlie Anzman of SEO and TechDaily, who writes in "Shared feed mania - What's in it for YOU?", that LinkRiver, above all other shared feed sites, is delivering him visitors. Developer Adam Stiles referred to LinkRiver as "Twitter for Shared Items", in that you can follow whomever you want. And as Anzman reports, some people are clicking through to follow his work.

If you do log in to LinkRiver, you'll see the site has a simple interface, letting you toggle between your own "stream" (here's mine) and your "river", which includes all those folks you've opted to follow, through the use of tabs. (See: LinkRiver Popular to get an idea) Interestingly, FriendFeed opted to go the same route this afternoon, adding tabs for "friends", "me" and "everyone", offering the same toggling capabilities. (See: FriendFeed blog: We've got tabs!) The addition isn't an issue of copying by any means, but it's interesting to see the look of some very similar services converging.

Web users at large want to break away from a small number of big sites deciding what's important and telling them how to view the news. Social news sites have risen up, organically, seeing a need to let the users speak for themselves. There will always be a desire for a democratized way to view the news, and it's fun to watch these sites grow. I don't think we're anywhere near a pinnacle.