Do you Digg it?
The inside scoop on using social news sites
Last Updated September 18, 2007
If you're an online geek (and you all know who you are), the idea of social news is no news to you at all. You have been digging, upvoting, boosting and burying since the long-ago days of the mid-2000s. If, on the other hand, you can identify all your kids and have managed to avoid an LCD-induced tan, then there just might be an entire universe of information you never knew you were missing.
In the interest of corrupting the uninitiated entirely, here is a nickel tour of social news sites. Just don't blame me when your spouse starts bellyaching about quality time.
"Social news" is a term coined to define sites that aggregate news and other online items of interest from other sites, submitted and ranked mostly (or in some cases entirely) by the readers themselves.
Here are the basics on how it works. When avid social news users come across interesting nuggets of news or information online — say, an interesting news article, the results of a study or a picture that made them cough up a filling — they send the URL for the item to their favourite social news site. Other people do the same, resulting in myriad stories populating the service's news page. Readers of the social news site then rank the stories using a variety of voting systems — stories with more votes get a higher ranking in the page's list of headlines, resulting in a news page quite literally built on people's recommendations.
For most of these services, there is no newsroom editor deciding what is and is not news. The editor is the crowd and you are part of it.
The truth is, the old-style news director couldn't keep up anyway. Social news sites don't create their own content, they just distribute and rank it with incredible speed. After all, it's just not in the best interest of mainstream news organizations to borrow content from their competitors. In the world of social news, no one owns the link, so if it's hot, everyone uses it.
Digg.com is the current king of social news. Just dial up the address and you see a constantly updating list of what's new online, along with a short summary. "Digg" the stories you like (vote them up the headline list) and "bury" the ones you don't (vote them down) — it's that simple. With a million registered users, the crowd's wisdom on what is and is not newsworthy is very quickly apparent. You can even set up a profile that allows you to have stories filtered according to your preferences. Digg.com's layout is very simple and makes it easy to scan dozens of headlines.
Digg's main competitors, Reddit.com, Netscape.com and Newsvine.com, all work in much the same way. But each one has a different focus when it comes to how user comments are handled, different formulas for bringing content to the top or bottom of the list, different user communities and different layouts. Try them all and go with what feels right for you.
Personally, I've all but fallen in love with stumbleupon.com for its slick and easy way of tailoring videos, sites and other distractions offered to me according to my personal preferences.
I also like clipmarks.com for allowing me to quickly scroll through screen shots of the content the site links to.
Sifting the chaff
So how do you find stuff that is actually interesting to you personally on a site where the links are submitted by enormous numbers of web surfers? I may find public policy issues to be absolutely riveting (and I do), but you might be considerably more normal in your selection of casual reading material. I recommend three ways to get more of what you like:
- Use tags. Many social news sites allow readers to sort story lists by keywords that describe the story. If you are not sure what to look for, most provide a list of currently popular tags so you can see what people are talking about.
- Give in to RSS. Really Simple Syndication is a system that allows you to read a list of headlines from various sites all in one place. Just download one of the dozens of free RSS readers and pick the sites from which you want to draw news. No fuss, no muss and no sneaky ad graphics containing female depictions sure to have you spending quality time with a sensitivity trainer. If you'd rather see combinations of various sites in a particular format, sites like Doggdot.us and pipes.yahoo.com/pipes will get you there.
- Find your niche. Much like magazines, there is a social news site for just about anything. So here we go with more name dropping: You have care2.com for social activism, autospies.com for cars, thisjustbrewed.com for beverages (yes, there is a social news site for social beverages), ballhype.com for sports, tweako.com for tech tutorials, beta.newstrust.net for articles ranked according to journalistic worth, or csrwire.com for corporate social responsibility. The list goes on and on. If by some chance you can't find something in your favourite flavour (and I can't imagine what kind of kooky stuff you'd be into if you can't), you can even go to corank.com social and create your own social news site in minutes for free.
So is social news a utopian land for information junkies? No. There is a dark side to The Force. There are millions — and yes, I mean MILLIONS — of potential customers for anyone who can get a link to the top of these lists. Obviously, that provides motive to try to game the system.
Some sign up for many different accounts or hire existing users to vote up their own stories on headline listings. Others find or create interesting content and place it on sites riddled with click advertisements. There are even public relations firms that openly advertise their ability to manipulate the rankings. Sites like Digg use various approaches, such as a system that detects whether you actually opened up the story link before you voted for it, or whether all the votes for a story came from one internet address, to detect this type of gaming, but it still happens.
Thankfully, the social news sites have plenty of reasons to keep the bad guys at bay, so there is still plenty of excellent news content to discover.
Just remember that if you do decide to take the plunge into social news, come up for air now and then so the family dog will recognize you.
- Main page
- Mobiles for kids
- Social network news
- Age of the blog
- Computer worms
- Copyright Q & A
- Copyright & the web
- Downloading music
- Google and YouTube
- Internet seniors
- The past and future of the internet
- Computer security
- Reality check: Will Wi-Fi really fry student brains?
- Wireless security
- CBC Marketplace: Wireless world
- Glossary: Internet speak
- Future music
- Home hackers
- A network called internet (from CBC Archives)
- Archaeology of the internet (from CBC Radio’s Ideas)
- Future music
From Words: Woe & Wonder:
- Growth of high-speed internet boosts e-commerce: StatsCan
- April 16, 2004
- Canada logs second place in internet use
- April 27, 2004
- Internet Society
- Hobbes’ Internet Timeline
- DARPA history
- History of internet
- Log of first communication
- Industry Canada's consumer tips for e-commerce
- Canadian Marketing Association consumer tips
- Canadian Code of Practice for Consumer Protection in Electronic Commerce
- Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act
- Uniform Electronic Commerce Act
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