HuffPo is one of the most widely read political blogs, ranked number 6 out of the 55 million blogs that Technorati currently tracks. This gives their social news application the benefit of a pre-existing potential user base. They will be featuring the most popular stories (as decided by the community) on the front page of the site, which should serve as a good incentive to participate.
HuffIt will naturally draw comparisons to Digg, starting with their branding. ‘Huff’ is a noun referring to a vote. It is also a verb for the action of voting. Users are known as ‘Huffers’. Sound familiar?
When you visit HuffIt, you are faced with a decidedly blog-like interface. That’s when you’ll notice one big difference between HuffIt and other social news sites: full articles. They scrape the content of hundreds of pre-selected sources. This is great for a brand new social news site as it ensures there will be no shortage of stories.
The categories of news reflect the type of content that readers of HuffPo would expect. They will definitely appeal to their progressive political audience, while leaving it open to anyone. I was particularly pleased to see that they have separated politics content and political blog content because I have seen how other sites have grappled with distinguishing between these two things. Also of note is the full Huffington Post feed has its own category, with all content automatically submitted. Changing between the categories is done with a slick AJAX move that saves you from having to do a page refresh.
Submitting stories is an easy process. They provide a bookmarklet and only ask for a description and category selection when submitting. Titles are automatically generated. This combined with no human-verifying CAPTCHAs put their submission process about on par with Reddit’s ease of use, if not easier.
The social experience is the most underdeveloped aspect of the site. People familiar with social news will lament the lack of comments on submissions. Furthermore, the lack of a friend system means that users will have to pass around and visit each other’s Huffer profiles manually. Mine is here, by the way.
One other problem I noticed is that it let me submit a URL that was already in the system (a.k.a. a “dupe”). This should be dealt with promptly otherwise the support for a story (particularly more popular stories) may be split between multiple submissions.
At the end of the day, a social news site derives its value from the people that contribute to it. Every site’s contributors gives it distinct characteristics. This is why it is exciting to see a large audience thrown in the deep end of social news. As a long time reader of HuffPo, I am very interested to see what their community does with it.
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.