It was a breakthrough year for social bookmarking. Several big new players burst on the scene. Participation in social bookmarking sites exploded. Social news sites got their foot in the door of the most mainstream news sites on the web. Social bookmarkers saw green in a variety of ways. Controversies abounded more frequently within communities as the year went by.
New Kids on the Block
The year started with a fresh-faced new player bursting on the scene. Newsvine blurred the lines between wire news aggregators, blogs and social bookmarking sites. It allowed a new level of self-expression that had yet to be seen in the social bookmarking world. Throughout the year it enjoyed a healthy adoption by new users.
In June, AOL’s Jason Calacanis breathed new life into the declining Netscape portal by converting it into a social news website reminiscent of Digg. In doing so, Netscape introduced the idea of meta-journalism to social news. Staff Anchors do follow-up journalism on the most interesting stories of the moment, and their community is better informed because of it. It was immediately viewed as a competitor for Digg and drew the ire of Digg’s feverishly loyal community, not to mention many of their own users who preferred the previous portal. Calacanis has since claimed that Netscape’s usage has started to up-turn.
In a surprise move in October, Facebook rolled out social bookmarking features to their users. As in the case of Netscape, it paid off to introduce social bookmarking to an already healthy-sized user base.
Standing Room Only
Socially driven news sites are more popular than ever. Tens of millions of people get their news from socially driven news sites every month. Millions of people are registered on these sites. Thousands of submissions are made by people daily. And as a result, these sites are more relevant to more people than they were a year ago.
Meeting the Mainstream
The mainstream media has stood up and taken notice of social bookmarking. Many online versions of newspapers and television news broadcasters have integrated bookmarking tools into all of their articles.
Most recently, the New York Times (the most read newspaper on the web) integrated tools to post their articles to Digg, Facebook and Newsvine without leaving the site. And how could they not after watching both Digg and Facebook’s usage rocket past their own this year?
Social news sites helped grease the wheels of this meeting as well. In June, Digg launched the third iteration of their website, which for the first time featured non-technology-related categories for news, as well as categories for video content.
In turn, many people have been introduced to social news by the mainstream media. And the snowball continues to grow…
2006 saw the advent of social bookmarkers being compensated for the value they add to the web. It’s no secret that active users of these websites generate a lot of wealth, both for the owners of their communities and the producers of the content they link to. It was only a matter of time before people vied for their services.
A month after Netscape launched, they made waves when Jason Calacanis announced that he intended to buy the rights to the most active social bookmarkers and harness their “cool-finding” skills to benefit Netscape. They enticed many of the top contributors to Digg, Reddit and Newsvine to set up shop at Netscape for $1,000 per month.
Around the same time, Newsvine launched their ad revenue-sharing model. Under this model, contributors take in 90% of the ad revenue earned from their Newsvine sub-domain as well as 10% of the revenue generated by anyone they have referred to the site. It has proved fruitful for some. Their top user earned over $400 in August after writing a few well-read pieces.
Content producers were also eager to win the hearts and minds of social bookmarkers. Many reached out to high ranking users, offering bounties or exchanges of services for the chance to get to the front page. This was widely frowned upon by social bookmarking sites. Users found taking these kinds of incentives were banned from their communities. Sites like User/Submitter popped up, offering to connect content producers with people who would vote on their content.
The question of how much a top-100 Digg user account is worth was asked and answered by one user. The 75th ranked user decided to put his Digg account up for auction on eBay.
Chinks in the Armor
Of course all was not rainbows and puppy-dog tails. In particular, Digg was the source of a couple of social news-related controversies. Naturally so, given that it is the largest target.
When Calacanis made his initial offer to high-ranking social bookmarkers in July, it thrust them into the spotlight and a schism became visible between them and the other 99% of users. On Digg, this came to boil in September when it was alleged that top users were gaming the system by voting blindly on the submissions of other top users.
One month later, in October, a new site by the name of SpikeTheVote.com came on the scene promising to game Digg and other social news sites in a fool-proof and undetectable way. Thankfully, their existence was short-lived and ended up being sold on eBay to a devoted Digg user who then proceeded to donate it to Digg.
The Year Ahead
I’m not usually one to make predictions, but I think it is safe to say that even though popularity grew immensely this year, there is still plenty of room for growth in social bookmarking. While it certainly has its foot in the door of the mainstream, it is not yet a mainstream source of news.
I believe the full potential for people to collaboratively decide what news is relevant, interesting and useful has not yet been reached. And I think we will see more opportunities for people to be compensated for this valuable addition to the internet.
And here’s hoping that there will be plenty of controversies to entertain us along the way.
I have enjoyed meeting and working with so many new people with the common love of current events this year. I look forward to another year of exciting developments.
Derek van Vliet is a Toronto, Ontario native who has been programming for most of his life. In the last year he has been active in social news. He is currently a top 10-ranked user on Digg where he goes by the name BloodJunkie. He is also a professional social bookmarker (aka Navigator) on Netscape, where he goes by the name Neophile. Check his blog at http://neothoughts.com.