Digg revolutionized social news when it launched in 2004. Since then, it has become the undisputed champ of news link ranking sites. They just recently crossed the million mark. And their influence goes far beyond those user registration numbers.
Tangible evidence of Digg’s importance: the raw number of clones and Digg gaming schemes out there. We’ve seen rigging, vote buying, profile sales, and accusations of thug rule. The dozens of clones include a not-bad SourceForge project called Pligg, which lets users “build their own Digg”.
But Digg’s ubiquity and influence doesn’t mean it’s perfect. A number of startups are tackling the same problem as Digg – sharing of good content via link submission and some form of voting. One of them, stumbleupon, actually has more registered users than Digg. For the most part, though, these sites won’t be able to do much damage to Digg’s steady growth. But many of them are worth looking at, and they all have individual features that could, if incorporated into Digg, make it a better overall service.
*Personalized refers to recommendations uniquely tailored for each user
BlinkList takes a distributed approach to the Digg model. It lets anyone get their own link blog where they can add their favorites. BlinkList then looks across the whole network and ranks the site based on how many other users added the link.
Instead of full URLs, Clipmarks lets users share just the best parts of webpages. Using their plugin, you can bundle together your favorite selections of content from a webpage. This includes text as well as pictures and video. Submissions are then “popped” by other members of the community, with the most popular at the top. Using the plugin, you can also submit your clips to your blog. Currently, the site’s two pane page layout gives me the feeling of looking at the net through a steamship porthole.
CoRank confronts the mob mentality on Digg. Digg promotes stories to the front page based on the votes of the whole community, resulting in a lot of noise for users with interests different from the crowd. CoRank lets you look at all submitted links or filter out the noise by subscribing links from just the users you choose. Only the highest rated stories from your subscribed sources make your front page.
Netscape has also taken on Digg’s mob mentality, mixing in their own team of anchors to submit stories and cut out spam. The anchor’s stories are featured on the front page along with the current top 25 stories. They also got into a little hot water with their recruitment practices. Netscape has managed a greater variety of content in it’s front page, pulling 2 stories from each of the top 10 most popular channels and 1 story from each of the next 5 most popular channels.
Instead of a submission free-for-all, Newsvine implemented it’s own form of quality control by only allowing users to vote on content from the Associated Press and other user’s personal articles. Users are given a live feed of all the latest AP stories, voting on articles and writing their own on their personal column page. Newsvine shares 90% of all revenue generated by advertisements on your column page with the user. Users can also personalize their feed
OpenServing is a product of Wikia, and the opensource version of BlinkList works for fun or profit. The concept is the same, a personal page of links, democratically ranked by your friends, but it also lets you post your own ads on the site.
Reddit made headlines when Conde Nast acquired them. The site is a favorite of mine and is still up and running, with some key differences from Digg. Reddit rankings are based on an absolute vote (+1 for hot, -1 for cold), meaning a story can dance up and down Reddit’s top page instead of being buried out of existence by a few power users. To see what’s on top now, there’s also a “hot” list. This type of voting system also means the front page can be stagnant, to the chagrin of some users, but it has also avoided Digg’s payola scandals. Another bigger differentiator for Reddit is their recommended article page, which suggests links based on your voting pattern.
Spotback is an automated alternative to Digg, that aims to use personalization to improve the signal to noise ratio of the stories you see. You train Spotback by clicking and voting on the stories it digs up. Voting positively on a story causes Spotback to reveal the next most relevant story. One of the best parts about Spotback is that it doesn’t even require a registration to get up and running.
Spotplex is another automated link site that automatically submits stories from blogs carrying its badge. Stories are then ranked on the Spotplex homepage based in part on how many views the article generates (the algorithm is still being tweaked). The site’s automation and closely controlled blogroll seems has avoided the types of rigging Digg was subjected to, but it lacks the community of commentors that make these social media sites addictive.
StumbleUpon provides a different user experience while discovering and digging up links. You use a tooblar (FF & IE) to tag, submit, and vote for links. While the site does rank links the main experience is by taking a random walk around the internet. It keys in on Diggs greatest strength, an easily accessible constant stream of interesting links. StumbleUpon is definitely catching on, they recently surpassed 2 million users.