The Economist last week featured Digg, a site in which users add links to interesting items from around the Internet, whereupon other users "vote" on how much they like them. The most popular stories appear on the front page, people can comment on the stories, and so on. The Digg site is wildly popular, and is held up by some as a model for the future of news publications.
I was a bit surprised that the Economist chose now to feature this site, as it is not a new site, but I guess it has something to do with the fact that Digg is "valued at over $200m despite having just $3m in revenues and no profits. Its success has spawned similar sites such as Reddit and Newsvine, and prompted the world’s largest media company, Time Warner, to turn its ailing Netscape.com news portal into a social-news service instead."
I agree with the writer of the Economist piece, who says that it is ridiculous to liken Digg, as some have ("the new New York Times"), to a proper newspaper — not only does a newspaper have professional editors and journalists, but the NYT gets 13 times as much traffic as Digg, and Digg’s content is highly skewed towards a small "core usership". But most of these users are young, the kind of people who don’t subscribe to conventional newspapers, so I imagine that its mix of silly and (a little bit of) seriousness will continue to attract interest from the corporations looking for tomorrow’s customers.
Another surprising aspect of the Economist piece to me was that it does not mention Digg’s biggest problem — spam and opportunists. Or as Bloggers Blog puts it, "Sploggers and marketers targeting Digg", providing examples of how fake articles on "splogs" are being promoted on Digg to drive traffic to the splog, and of various attempts to "cheat" the site. This is the kind of thing that can render any site valueless, if users decide it is untrustworthy and stop turning up.
The social web (web 2.0) is great, but these aggregate sites surely can’t replace professional editors, journalists and publications. Digg, of course, does not contain original material and wouldn’t exist at all without the "conventional" media, which, a few steps removed, is its content. And the conventional publications, already experimenting with parallel social networking projects with varying degrees of commitment and success, should carry on, only more so, to compliment their traditional output. Well, that’s what I think.