Is the Future of Social News Automated?

Filed as Features on March 6, 2007 8:00 am

Michael Arrington has an exclusive review on Spotplex, a new site which he asserts could become as popular a news portal as Digg if it evolves properly. From a Digg user’s point of view, Spotplex is a site that takes all the work out of social news. Users don’t need to submit, vote or comment on content. In fact, they don’t even need to register. Just visit a page that has Spotplex’s javascript code embedded and it will register a “vote” from your page view, driving the content’s rank up on the site. This begs the question: is the future of social news automated?

The first thing I thought when using Spotplex was that it seems more comparable to Alexa than Digg. It is basically like Alexa for articles/blogs/RSS feeds since it is based on page views of stories. Comparing Spotplex to Digg seems like a bit of a stretch to me. They both have comparable interfaces with a list of news items. They are both driven by people-power. But that is where the similarities end.

The way in which they are socially driven is completely different. Bloggers put Spotplex javascript code on their site which sends back readership information about stories. Stories move up in the rankings as their page views increase.

This means that it is an opt-in system for content producers. And as Arrington points out, the second a well read blog (like Techcrunch for instance) joins the party, they will dominate in such a system. Indeed, as I write this, TechCrunch is the top ranked blog on the site and the top 3 technology stories are all from TechCrunch. Many content producers whose servers have crumbled under the Digg effect would smile on the opportunity to opt in and out of a site like this. At the same time, it may not be indicative of the most popular news of the moment if the most popular story comes from a site that has not joined the Spotplex fold.

I have often thought that the submission process for social news sites could be streamlined to be just an RSS feed URL. After that the site could automatically index every item added to the feed. This way the users could just worry about voting and commenting. Digg has already begun doing this with their Podcast section. Spotplex takes this a step further though, and removes the need for voting and commenting.

This is where I believe a comparison to Digg becomes invalid. A page view is not equivalent to a vote. It is not an endorsement of the story or even an acknowledgment of it in cases of spam. So the resulting front page will be a list of stories that are popular, not stories that have some agreed upon quality. On the other hand, many people have accused Digg of becoming a popularity contest over the last year, so the results may not be too different. Not having commenting suggests that Spotplex does not intend to position themselves as a social site.

Removing voting and submitting also takes away some of the major motivating factors of participating in social news. Users on Digg have a sense of ownership over the stories they submit. They take pride in having a high story promotion ratio and forge relationships with other users in comment threads.

Spotplex provides different value that could make it an invaluable tool for social bookmarkers. Being a pulse for what is popular among its network of content producers, it will no doubt have some very useful RSS feeds for social bookmarkers to subscribe to. As well, all news items on their site have links to share the source on all the major social bookmarking sites. This kind of interoperability is something I have fantasized about having on Digg, Netscape and Reddit for some time.

We can’t discount the value created by users who find and submit content. And I’m not saying that just because I am paid by Netscape to find and submit content. For this reason, I can’t see Spotplex as an alternative to Digg, nor as the future of socially driven news. I believe the future of social news will have more ways for users to be social around news, not less. But it may just turn out to be an invaluable tool for social news junkies.

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  1. By Everton posted on March 6, 2007 at 8:53 pm
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    I’ve had the code on my site for a few days and it’s missing most of my page impressions. This one’s dead in the water for me as just showing which pages are read the most has no value to me. If it showed what was read the most on spotplex then that might be interesting.

  2. Is the Future of Social News Automated?November 22, 2007 at 4:05 pm