Social News and Social Bookmarking
Social news and social bookmarking are two similar forms of web interaction that rely on user submissions and reviews as the basis for site content. On social news sites, users submit web links to articles, pictures, or videos on other sites, which can subsequently be voted up or shared with other users. Thus, content is dynamic and relies on user interaction. This is a dramatic departure from traditional static content created by a webmaster or defined contributors. Likewise, “social bookmarking” involves adding your favorite websites to a list you compile on the internet. Users with social bookmarking accounts can create lists of their favorite sites that can be viewed from any computer with internet access and shared with others. Both social news and social bookmarking have revolutionized the web by making the popularity of sites contingent on real user feedback. Thus, while there are some caveats, this new breed of interactive news ostensibly creates an “online democracy” and meritocracy. Content doesn’t become popular merely because one person likes it, but rather only when a consensus expresses its worth.
The notion of user participation has even entered the realm of traditional sites. The New York Times, for example, remains a standard newspaper with paid journalists. Yet, even the Times has embraced the interactive culture on the internet. The Times now features informal blog posts and a commenting system. The site also lists the most blogged and most e-mailed articles. Finally, the Times offers convenient buttons that allow users to vote for articles on their favorite social news sites. Of course, the New York Times is not a classic depiction of interactivity online. In fact, the Times is really a symbol of traditional news’ continued online presence. All the same, the New York Times serves as one example of a traditional newspaper that has embraced the new generation of web interaction. If an established newspaper is allowing for more user participation than ever before, just consider the possibilities for sites that are truly powered by the users.
Enter Digg, Reddit, Furl, Newsvine, StumbleUpon, Propeller, and Delicious. Some of these names are probably new to you. In fact, all of them might be. Yet these sites constitute the next generation of web interaction, which you have probably experienced in some capacity. While sites such as the New York Times have incorporated bits and pieces of “social interactivity,” others have embraced user-generated content as the basis for their business models. And they have been wildly successful. One social news site, Digg, receives 26 million unique visitors per month and 10,000 user submissions per day, according to Digg.com’s founder, Kevin Rose. Since Digg’s launch in late 2004, users have “Dugg” stories (voted for them as interesting or worthwhile) 200 million times! It is therefore clear that sites such as Digg are the present and future of the internet. As this web technology becomes increasingly relevant to our everyday lives and continues to supplant the old static websites most first used on the internet, it is critical that we learn more about the social news phenomenon that has revolutionized the way we communicate.
Yet “social news” sites were preceded by social bookmarking. Users first recognized the inefficiency of saving their favorite sites the traditional way. Bookmarks could only be used on one computer, and a computer crash could wipe out entire collections of links. Bookmarks also could not be accessed elsewhere or shared with friends. Sites such as “itList.com” first appeared in 1996 to combat this problem. Over the course of the next three years, Backflip, Blink, Clip2, and Hotlinks joined the ranks. Yet, it wasn’t until 2003 that online bookmarking became “social bookmarking” and developed many of its distinctive features. In 2003, del.icio.us developed “tagging” and made bookmarking social. Del.icio.us allowed users to save bookmarks, tag them with keywords for easy retrieval, and share their bookmarks with friends.
Del.icio.us and similar sites tended to focus on sites that were important on a long-term basis. Thus, “social news” sites were formed. Sites such as Digg, Newsvine, and Reddit were created, allowing users to submit sites that were immediately relevant. Social news was different from social bookmarking, because sites might be immediately relevant (such as news stories) or worthwhile only for a single visit (such as a site with a funny joke, picture, or video clip). This content became known as “dynamic content” (dynamic content takes all forms, and isn’t only media-oriented. We discuss the concept of dynamic, fresh content in our implementation section.
Over time, Del.icio.us has adopted similar characteristics to Digg and other social news sites. Users now bookmark both sites that are relevant in the long-term and “dynamic content.” In this sense, there is significant overlap between social news and social bookmarking. What is clear, however, is that these sites have revolutionized the way people approach the web. As Alex Iskold concludes, “The simple concept of a tag has turned our interactions with the web upside down. The idea of being able to store your bookmarks online, share them with everyone and see what others have bookmarked - triggered the sequence of events that resulted in today's rich and social web ecosystem.”