Editors -> Algorithms

Some talk over the past few months about how Digg has overcome Slashdot in popularity (Kottke has a few charts from last January, but the numbers continue to rise). Aside from the obvious fact that Slashdot’s audience is technical while Digg’s is general interest, there’s another point I find fascinating:

Slashdot = A team of editors but no authors
Digg = No editors or authors

Digg’s model relies on UGC just like Slashdot, but replaces the editorial staff with algorithms supporting community. A very pure model, maximizing the internet’s collaborative potential.

Now, look at the number of comments on virtually any Digg or /. story — they absolutely eclipse the number of comments on any story at [name your favorite mainstream media (MSM) publication] (for those that even allow comments on normal stories). What is it about the community sites that engenders so much more discussion than traditionally journalistic sites that also happen to offer discussion features? Something about Digg and Slashdot makes readers feel like they’re part of something, in a way that virtually no MSM pub has been able to do.

If MSM really wants to tap into the juicy power of community, they need to somehow cultivate not just discussion, but collaboration and real participation. Part of it is technology, but it’s also about vibe. As long as they present themselves traditionally, with the air of stuffy authority, they’re not going to win the eyeballs of a generation that expects the internet to be a two-way discussion. There’s no reason you shouldn’t see the level of participation on Wall St. Journal or New York Times stories that you see on Digg stories.

It’s going to take a massive mindset shift at the old battleships. If they fail to make that kind of shift, the existing audience will move into nursing homes and be replaced by… no one.

MSM can’t just stand back and hand the store over to software services like Digg has, but they certainly have lessons to learn about how to tap into the bee hive.

Yes, I’ve been listening to Bob Cauthorn again.

Music: Spizzenergi :: Work

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4 Replies to “Editors -> Algorithms”

  1. It probably doesn’t help, however, that the audience of Digg or /. is very geeky, which isn’t necessarily true for MSM sites, which might effect the numbers (less geeky audience -> fewer comments)

  2. Sean, absolutely true. Part of the trick is to get that community mojo that happens in tech circles to rub off on general audiences. It’s happening slowly on its own as incoming audiences are younger and more savvy. But the MSM can also do a whole lot to promote it intentionally.

  3. I should add that discussion/community is only one aspect of the challenge. Content that people actually want to read is of course a huge part of this, and so are other two-way modes – mashups and wikis and social networks, etc. Not saying every MSM should jump in with the kitchen sink of web 2.0 buzzwords, only that they need to be jumping into something beyond a regurgitatation of the print product.

  4. For non-geeks, I think finding MSM telling the truth would be the biggest breath of fresh air! What has happened in the last 5 years is monumental, but who’s questioning those in power?

    Also, talk is just talk. The same geek crowd that complains about yet another infringement of rights is the least likely to make any change in the real world. Just look at Usenet flame wars/tempests in teapots to realize that the ease of communication is inversely proportional to actual action. The endless outraged posts on Digg or Slashdot don’t make a whit of difference until translated into real movement.

    The iPod/video game/movies/myspace generation has nothing on their mind except the latest meme. They’ll sit calmly by as the walls come crashing down around them, merrily absorbed in their choons!

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