Last week we saw first Yahoo! and then Dell launch sites that were largely acknowledged to be Digg inspired. Digg may not have invented the vote-on-news motif but it may have been most important in popularizing the paradigm so far. Now LiveSide, a great place to follow all things Live.com, reports on three European Microsoft sites currently in Beta that better embody the ethic of Digg than any of the other big players have yet.
Called MSN Reporter, the service is being tested in the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. Users can submit links from any domain on the web. Other users can then vote stories up or down and leave comments. The sites are seeing a fair amount of traffic, approaching a total of 1 million visitors per month after two months in beta.
Two things are most striking about MSN Reporter. First, these social news experiments are already being leveraged in the heart of MSN’s larger online properties – nl.msn.com for example displays the top four MSN Reporter stories right on the front page. AOL certainly doesn’t put the top Netscape stories on its front page – there’s a fairly arduous editorial process required just to get stories from the sprawling Weblogs Inc. network onto AOL proper. For MSN to put top social news stories on the front page of a primary site is a big deal.
The second big step taken by MSN Reporter is that unlike supposed Digg clones at Yahoo!, Dell and AOL’s Netscape – MSN Reporter users are able to submit links to pages completely outside of MSN control and no effort is made to keep readers tied to the MSN domain when they visit those sites. Reporter is an important sign that for at least one big player, walled content gardens aren’t as set in stone as we might think. Digg was a key market leader in demonstrating that a site can win in terms of traffic by letting its users point each other off site. Monetization is a big question that remains for these sites, but MSN appears willing in Europe at least to experiment meaningfully with the approach.
There are certainly differences between MSN Reporter and Digg, the most notable being the ability to vote stories down as well as up and the absence of substantial user profiles. Digg has arguably gained a lot of steam from the top users whom until recently won bragging rights from an onsite list of their names and contributions.
Despite those differences, Digg’s launch in 2004 marked the beginning of a shift towards accessibility and popularity in social news that SlashDot in 1997, Del.icio.us in 2003 and Reddit in 2005 did not. If MSN Reporter spreads beyond these 3 beta sites and continues to be placed on the front page of MSN sites – I think MSN may go down in history as the first major player to leverage deep integration of the social news paradigm.