Online News With a New Angle

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By Leslie Walker
Thursday, June 22, 2006

To see who will create the Internet newscast of the future, look into a mirror.

You and millions of other readers are being cast as Internet news anchors by a fresh crop of Web sites that may well represent the future of news.

Chief among them is Digg, a technology news site where story position is determined entirely by readers who submit links to articles and vote on them. Digg's computers use special formulas to analyze which stories readers are voting for and commenting on the most and then elevate those to its home page. What's displayed on Digg are summaries and links to articles on other news sites and blogs, not the actual stories.

Having attended plenty of meetings at which editors debate what goes on a newspaper's front page, I am fascinated by this attempt to create a front page of Internet news by analyzing reader behavior.

Digg ( http://www.digg.com ), which launched in September 2004, draws 8.5 million monthly visitors, who make 2,000 daily story submissions. Yesterday, top entries included a review of the Opera 9 browser and a story about MySpace adding restrictions.

Today, Digg plans to announce a makeover that will expand its repertoire beyond computing and into general news categories and add customization features to go live next week.

"We are leveraging the collective wisdom of the Internet masses to sift through these stories and apply their interests to it," said Jay Adelson, chief executive of the 15-employee company, based in San Francisco. "Digg's philosophy is to create more user-controlled experiences that will give every type of reader the news they want."

In a nod to its popularity, Digg got a well-heeled competitor last week -- AOL's Netscape.com, a general Web portal being transformed into a Digg clone with a few twists. Netscape's and Digg's news summaries are free and will be supported by advertising. The new Netscape site is in preview mode ( http://www.beta.netscape.com ) and will officially launch July 1.

Its key differentiator is the human touch -- real, live reporters and editors. In addition to letting visitors vote on stories to determine their play, Netscape is hiring eight full-time and 15 part-time journalists to add an editorial sensibility on top of its popularity-based layouts.

"While people are quick to praise the wisdom of the crowd, being an old-school journalist, I look at the wisdom of the crowd and know it can quickly turn into a mob mentality," said Jason Calacanis, who founded Weblogs Inc. but now runs Netscape's makeover for AOL.

Netscape's staff picks one story to spotlight in a box at the top of the home page, while the articles below are arranged solely by popularity.

That makes the site a hybrid between Digg's user-shaped layout and the editorially dictated pages of traditional news sites, such as washingtonpost.com. The Post's and the New York Times' sites have hybrid-like features. The Post lists the stories that have been e-mailed or viewed the most, while the Times prominently displays a "most popular" story box on its home page.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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