Yardbarker is a social news site focused on sports. You could call it a Digg clone, but there’s more here than that. Even if it is a Digg clone, it’s a particularly good one – and there’s no reason why the basic premise of socially moderated news shouldn’t be built on and targeted towards niche audiences. In fact, I think it’s a good idea and this site does it well.
Yardbarker was co-founded by Mark Johns (founding engineer of Ophoto.com), Peter Vlastelica, Jack Kloster and Jeffrey Kloster. The company is based in Berkeley, California.
The site has sections for a wide variety of US sports, from the NHL to the PGA, and is prepopulated with player and team names so you can create watchlists for individuals, groups or franchises. This watchlist feature is great, it’s essentially a search feed but is very nicely implemented for usability.
Users can submit and vote on news, write their own “columns” (blogs essentially) and create watchlists of players, groups or teams to track. You can also track the articles submitted by other users and send them messages inside the system. The site is nicely laid out, has sports trivia running along the top of most pages and is a real pleasure to use.
When you submit a story one of the fields you’re given is for player and team names. The auto complete function here creates a nice system of categorization so it’s easy to read one article about a particular player and then with a single click see all the other articles about them.
The site uses Ajax nicely throughout, including to switch from a post’s short summary to the long version and on the player and team menu sidebar. It’s got a good feel to it.
Now for the downsides. There are many sports included on the site, but when I type in common women’s names the auto complete strikes out. Second, there are no steps taken to prevent duplicate submission of stories. This may make sense if multiple people want to post original editorial content regarding that story, but it may also make the site unable to scale without getting cluttered. There’s no bookmarklet for submitting a story directly from off-site and no direct RSS feeds if I want to get the most popular hockey stories or comments left to my posts in my feed reader.
There’s a lot of potential here, but it will also be a challenge to build a user base. How many other sports communities online are thriving? Fox Sports Blogs seem to be doing alright but I’m sure they wish there were seeing far more activity, Markos Moulitsas’ Sports Blog Nation seems to be getting some traction with users but is much simpler in format. ArmchairGM is a sports wiki that gets a fair number of changes, another bit of evidence that content and discourse online about sports is in demand. There are a lot of sites aggregating sports content and many allow user comments, but a Digg clone with user blogs and watchlists like Yardbarker takes things to the next level.
I do think that social moderation of news has a lot of potential outside the tech world – clearly even Digg thinks so as they’ve added more sections than tech. I’m not sure it will work for every niche but sports may be a good one. Sports writing and reading is accessible enough for many people to engage in but is complicated enough for particularly smart people to really excel. The competition in this space could be steep, but I like what Yardbarker is doing.