As a concept, Veritocracy is actually quite simple. At its heart, social news site pulls together some of the better qualities of Techmeme — targeted stories and related posts to an original story — and Digg. Once you get to the front page, you’re immediately presented with a nice layout of highly-targeted stories on topics ranging from politics and technology to business and entertainment.
The site collects what it deems to be the best perspectives on various subjects from around the Web, groups them together by topic, and lets its users decide which is best through the use of a voting system. As a user votes on different stories, Veritocracy becomes more personalized to that specific user’s tastes. And as long as that engine works well, Veritocracy claims publishers will be able to find the ideal target audience and readers will find stories that fit their interests.”The ultimate objective,” says CEO Lee Hoffman, “is to create a truly meritocratic content distribution system where each article a writer publishes finds its way to the individual readers that will actually want to see it.”
Before that can happen, Veritocracy has a long way to go. Right now, the site is in private beta and is slowly working its way towards a wider release later this year. If you want to check out Veritocracy for yourself, Veritocracy sent us 500 invites for TechCrunch readers. To redeem your invite, type “techcrunchlove” into the invite box, sign up, and start using it.
After trying it for a while, it quickly becomes apparent that if users find reasons to use this site and the company can deliver on its lofty promises, Veritocracy could become a destination for news junkies.
In each category, you’re presented with a story — “Palin takes the stage on night two at the convention” for example — that can be clicked on. Once you click that link, you’ll drill-down into perspectives on the Vice Presidential nominee’s speech last night at the Republican National Convention. Some say it was great, others are more suspect of its success. From there, you can click on the links to be brought to the respective article or you can vote them up or down based on your own opinion on the subject.
As votes start accumulating, Veritocracy promotes the better stories to the top. At the same time, each of your votes is recorded and remembered to help create a more enjoyable experience the next time you come back to the site. In other words, if you continually vote stories by conservative pundits down in the politics section and you tend to enjoy stories that are more “cranky” in the technology section, Veritocracy will tailor your experience based on those votes.
As CEO Hoffman points out, “Veritocracy isn’t a popularity contest, so voting up all of your friends’ content will only cause you to see more of their stuff, and the stuff they like.”
That in mind, the success of Veritocracy depends on the honesty of its users. The name “Veritocracy” is derived from the concept of meritocracy: those stories that deserve to be best will be. If users vote for those perspectives that deserve to be promoted, the site should run as designed: the best stories on each topic will rise to the top, and the greatest number of users will have a personalized experience. How will Veritocracy fight people trying to game the rankings? Hoffman explains:
We do this by learning how effective each user on the site is as an editor for you by comparing your vote histories. Unlike other personalization/recommendation systems (think Amazon, and Digg’s new recommendations) our system significantly ramps up the accuracy of these predictions by using a market based design layered over the standard personalization algorithms.
If you submit crap, miscategorize your articles, or even vote for other people’s crap, readers won’t be voting for the same things you are (and may even vote down things you vote up) and thus the the system will uncorrelate you from everyone (or won’t correlate you to them in the first place). This will make sure your content and votes have less chance of effecting what other users see in the future. Of course, a lot of the time “crap” and “quality” are entirely relative, and that’s where the system really shines because it learns to distinguish this for each user, based on the same design principal.
Veritocracy also lets the original authors of stories submit them on different topics. (Veriticracy funnels all stories into consistent topics instead of tags). After a specific topic is identified, users can upload their own stories, which will then be placed as a perspective on the given topic. Once there, other users can vote it up or down based on its quality and relevance to the topic.
But because so much of Veritocracy’s success relies on its community, it’s tough to say how well it will perform—for now, few even have access to it. But the site has promise. It just needs more participation.