This week is sort of Media-Week here at super-structure, where I tell everyone about my personal news filters.
Yeah, and in teh beginning, there was Slashdot, and it was good. News of technology flowed from the mouths of geeks and they were happy in their green light. Then came forth the trolls and the fanboys and the hax0rs and they did multiply. They spoke of St. Jobs and castigated the demon Gates. They questioned the running of Linux on anything with electricity and of the ability to make toast. They quoted scripture including "first post!" and "All your base are belong to us." And so, the usefulness of the /. did diminish with time. Thus came the the WebTwoPointOh-ites from the land of TechTV to lead the flock to the new promised land: Digg. The site flourished with vast daily links until the trolls and fanboys did seek destroy it as well. Alas, a darkness did fall upon the screen…
For the over three months now, I’ve been using the Web2.0 darling tech news site, Digg.com. I have to give it’s creators credit for creating one of the fastest news sites in the world, both in terms of growth speed as well as how quickly news disseminates through it. The most often comparison made with Digg is to that of Slashdot, the much more venerable and moderated tech news site. I’ll spare you comparing the two too much further, but a little background is in order.
Same News, Different Address
Nominally, they cover the same material and any link that finds it’s way to the top of one is sure to make it to the other within hours, if not minutes. Jason Kottke, the blogger everyone loves to say they don’t read but really do, wrote a great comparison on one of his articles getting the after-effect of both Digg and Slashdot postings: insane amounts of traffic. He goes into quite a bit of detail on what the Slashdot/Digg effect is like for both sites, but here’s a summary: The Digg Effect is a sharp and skinny spike in traffic while the Slashdot Effect is a longer wave, with greater total traffic. He even followed up when that story got posted on Digg. His posts follow more about the volume of the two sites, but he does discuss briefly their usefulness as news tools.
Where Slashdot is like some exclusive geek club with rules and structure, Digg is controlled by the masses and anything goes. If that sounds like Anarchy, well, it’s pretty close. I decided a long time ago that Slashdot held little of my interest. I found the conversations to be long and boring at best and rude and spiteful at worst. Further, usually only a couple of articles a day seemed to be worth me clicking on. When I started using Digg regularly, I found that the user-submitted articles had such misleading titles and descriptions, I almost always had to click on them to get any idea of whether the article was worth my time or not. As a news filter, it seemed to do me little good. As Jason Kottke describes it:
[Digg]’s too much of an informational firehose. Bloggers and Slashdot story submitters might like drinking from that hose, but there’s just too much flow (and not enough editing) to make it an everyday, long-term source of information.
Firehose is exactly right. I might as well just do a perpetual Google search on "Tech", as I’d get nearly as useful a filter.
Slashdot is more similar to a tech variety show with some audience participation. It’s a multi-authored, daily link list that allows vast amounts of conversation within moderated, and more importantly, threaded discussions. Just in case it’s not entirely obvious, let me explain: threaded discussions, unlike this site or Digg.com, allow for sub-topics to stick together and have some hierarchical association. In a standard comment list, such as at Digg, all conversations are just lumped in a room together with no way to tie them back together. Also, what Digg doesn’t have is moderation. User’s have the ability score a comment and set a score threshold to comments they wish to view, but so few users take advantage of this as to render it useless. Even the crudest flames (and oh boy, you have no idea until you’ve actually read them) typically go completely unmarked, and users who truly try and provide insight, additional information, or better links go equally unnoticed.
Now, the really innovative feature of Digg.com is the fact that user’s can give any story a "Thumb’s Up" if the story is news-worthy (well, that’s how it’s supposed to work). You can then also report a story (spam, old news, just plain lame, etc.) to give it the "Thumb’s Down." I think having categories for the "Thumb’s Up" option wouldn’t have been a bad feature, either. That is, are you "digging" the story because you agree, think it’s important information, or think a handy link, etc. However, that’s really the least of my complaints against Digg.
A lot of people accuse the mainstream media of having a bias to this, that, or the other. I think their main bias is towards money, and how to make more of it. Slashdot has it’s own biases: very pro science and anti-Microsoft for starters. However, Digg has the sensational bug and a extremely short attention span to go with it. These two make for a dangerous and mob-like mentality. Take the Price-Rite-Photo story, which made Digg part of the story. Similar subjects that have gotten out of hand have been handled better, but it shows just how quick to react Digg users can be. Just ask Steve Maillet, who got accused of stealing Digg’s code for a couple of his own sites. I felt Mr. Maillet had done nothing wrong, but try telling that to the raging masses. This only degrades the usefulness of Digg even further: the wisdom of the crowd is watered down to the lowest common denominator.
Tomorrow, I’ll show you a great new site that I think solves a lot of the issues that I have with these two news sites.