Social news may be revolutionizing content aggregation, but there are some things it has yet to master. Here are some types of content and methods of aggregation that have proved clumsy or non-existent on social news sites. Some of these niches are being tackled by new comers and some are just waiting for one of the big players to pluck them.
Often, huge news breaks but with very few details. Take Donald Rumsfeld’s announcement that he would resign the day after the Democrats took Congress. That announcement shot to the front page of many social news sites even before some mainstream media sites had it on their front page. This is thanks to the feverish hunger for scoops of today’s social bookmarkers. But as you can see, the story that made a bee-line for the front page of both Digg and Netscape was just 2 sentences long.
Details followed in a press conference about an hour later, but what is a social bookmarker to do? A follow-up submission about the same news event runs the risk of looking like a duplicate story. Users can keep a submission up to date with comments, but I would not consider rifling through a comment thread to get the full story. Currently the closest thing we have to an elegant way for a social news site to cover an event as it unfolds is Netscape’s meta-journalism, as you can see from the submission link above. But even that requires that we put the brakes on the people-power, sit back and let an editor do the dirty work.
As I write this, 6 of the top 10 hottest “stories” in all topics on Digg are a picture or a gallery of pictures. Rarely do I look at that top 10 and not find photographic content. This screams that there is a demand for socially driven photographic content. Digg’s users screamed even louder than that though when they voiced their longing for a picture section to be added. That submission was one of the top 30 most voted stories in the last year. If you add its votes to this one’s, then Diggers requesting a photography section is Digg’s 2nd biggest story of the last year, in between Apple announcing the iPhone and Digg launching v3.
Currently none of the big sites have dedicated photography/picture categories. It would be a slam dunk for a social news site to take advantage of the Flickr API and other photo sites with APIs.
No, not porn. Well, yes, porn, but that’s a whole other article. News and views about sex are rarely covered on social news sites. Netscape launched their social site with a Sex channel dedicated to this topic. Unfortunately, when porn sites caught wind of what they thought was a venue for their content, they flocked to Netscape. Some people started calling them on it, and Netscape was eventually compelled to remove the channel because dealing with the spam and porn became too time consuming. Is there a way to have a socially driven sex bookmarking community that doesn’t descend into a spiral of spam and porn?
Front pages driven by the entire communities have turned out to be incredibly useful. They seem to get more relevant and up-to-the-minute the more people participate. But there is a growing demand for “trusted” content. For instance, I would love to be able to switch to a front page that is made up of only stories from trusted web sites and/or submitters and/or voters. Let me decide whose votes have value. There are up-and-comers who are taking this tactic and making it their focus, but I would love to see someone the size of Digg add a layer of “trust”.
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.