Different kinds of social/meme/news sites

I have been thinking about what makes reBlogger different to the other sites. I've nosed around for an analysis of the various sites and strengths and weaknesses of each offering.

Much research is focused on Ajax and the look and feel of the sites. This post is about broader strengths and weaknesses of the sites.

I think there are three ways people commonly read the internet:

  • Passive news – you visit the sites you like (Yahoo, CNN) and read them. They inform you of what you need to know.
  • Searching news – You go to Google and find the information you know that that you want.
  • Notification of news – have a site that scans the enormous number of blogs out there and collects together the more interesting information for you.

Of the notification of news websites, I think there are four basic types:

 

  • Meme sites – tracking the hot (high profile, popular) conversations on the web
  • Social sites – user submitted content (sometimes highlighting esoteric past items)
  • Online news reader – read your web feeds online
  • News tracking sites – after submitting your keywords, view only the blog posts that interest you

 

Meme sites

Sites:

Overview:

They automatically scan the news and find the "cool" topics that are in vogue in blogs around the world.

Strengths:

They find and track "conversations" about the news and watch them for a limited time period as they develop and evolve. To track an evolving political story this is a great kind of site.

Weaknesses:

  • They track only a relatively small number of hot and active topics. They tend to ignore small threads, ideas or posts that are not popular enough to become memes.
  • They tend to only track blogs (or information available as a web feed).
  • By nature, they have a short attention span of a few days.
  • 99% of the posts that a visitor would also have found useful and interesting are completely missed because they were single posts (or short threads) and never attained "hot"ness – and therefore never surfaced and became a part of the herd consciousness.
  • All meme sites offer a search, but none ask me what keywords I want to see in every meme, so I am assaulted by many memes that are of no interest to me
  • The memes that are displayed do not correlate to my personal interests – unless I specifically choose to visit a tech meme site (see: techmeme) or a sports meme site – otherwise I am served what the meme algorithm has determined interesting – without being aware of my interests.
  • The cost of a server farm to track all 40 million blogs is very expensive – even with OSS software.

Competitive advantage:

The algorithm defining "interesting" or "hot" is the competitive advantage between these sites – the better the algorithm, the more compelling the site is.

Example of this post:

This post – although it is a useful for many people – is highly unlikely to become popular enough to become a "meme" and therefore won't enter into the herd's collective awareness as they forage for information.

 

Social sites

Sites:

Overview:

These sites rely on user submissions to identify stories and to vote on them. It also tracks coolness, but unlike meme sites, the visitors decide what is important, not a software algorithm.

Strengths:

  • Individual posts that might be missed by an algorithm looking for coolness are more likely to be highlighted by individual visitors.
  • The more users which interact with the site, the more useful the site is.
  • Easy to set up, lower hardware cost.

Weaknesses:

  • Too few visitors will result in too few submissions to the site. dotnetKicks has this problem, 1 submission today and 1 submission 6 days ago – nothing in between.
  • No focus on "hot conversations" – for example the top post on DIGG right now is called "What the font?" (Ever wanted to find a font just like the one used by certain websites or publications? Well now you can, using the WhatTheFont font recognition system.) with 62 diggs. This site is very likely being gamed for attracting visitors and making sales.
  • Social sites tend to encourage tagging by the submitter and searching for keywords, but again an enormous amount of information can be lost if the post is incorrectly tagged.

Competitive advantage:

Cheap startup costs, users submit the content (no need for an expensive server farm to automatically collect all 40 million blogs).

Example of this post:

This post, if read and valued by someone, may be highlighted as useful on such a site. But the readership of this blog is so small that it is unlikely that enough people will bookmark this post on any social site in order to raise it's profile, so it will also fail to be highlighted to the herd as suitable grazing material.

 

Online news reader

Sites:

Overview:

An online feed reader. You upload an OPML file or a list of blog feeds and the service collects those feeds regularly and you read them online.

Strengths:

Very inexpensive to run because the user submits their web feeds.

Weaknesses:

  • They don't collect all the news and track it, they rely on user to list their own blogs that they want tracked. Therefore they online have a subset of the news.
  • Even with this subset of blogs they may have too many off-topic posts, because they do not appear to offer keywords or filtering to track only the posts you want to track – and hide the posts that are off topic.

 

Competitive advantage:

This is probably the broadest active market containing the most people (not passive readers of sites) and these users have the simplest needs. The software is understood by the most number of people.

Example of this post:

This post is unlikely to show up on a news reader site because my RSS feed is unlikely to be in their list.

 

reBlogger sites (News tracking or news mastering)

Sites:

Overview:

reBlogger is a combination of social and online news readers. By using keywords this site only displays the information you want to read, regardless of the source of the information. User-voting also ensures that better content is more easily discovered.

 

 

Strengths:

  • A stronger emphasis on context (evolution over time exploring historical information)
  • The visitor can filter the news by specifying sets of keywords to track (such as climate change, PS3 or XBox) and the software watches for those keywords and notifies the visitor when the keywords are found, regardless of which blog it was found on
  • The sources can be more than blogs (such as newsgroups) and the methods of notification can be quite proactive (email etc.)

Weaknesses:

  • With 50,000 posts per hour, even with keyword usage, there is a potential problem of having far too many posts showing up to be read. To deal with this problem, we encourage voting where users assist each other by voting content up and protect each other from bad content by voting content down.
  • The site is useful as an online news reader for individuals users (and keywords make the reading even better), but for voting to be effective many users must use the site (the more the site is used, the better it is)
  • No focus on conversations and "hot" topics (unless voted for by users)
  • Because of the focus on historical data to provide context, the effectiveness is limited to the age and completeness of the archive of data

Competitive advantage:

A strong emphasis on historical context. A focus on encouraging the user to buy their own copy of the software, hopefully off-loading the demand to other people's servers.

Example of this post:

This post will automatically be collected by a reBlogger. If the user has indicated an interest in the keywords which are used in it (such as "social" or "meme") then it will show up for the users who have said they want to track these keywords.

Revenue streams?

In all cases the revenue stream is advertising, except for reBlogger, Chuquet and Megite:

License Megite Software: Email us for more info if you are interested in licensing Megite software to create Megite like web2.0 service.

The end

If you have read to the bottom, you're probably a very committed person… committed to building the perfect social/meme/news site. This post from a VC firm makes an interesting point that I hope will broaden your thinking beyond the very small number of people that you may now be targeting. Dave has a thought on it.

Get the 30 day demo of reBlogger (Windows only, requires .NET and SQL)

built_with_reblogger2006.gif

 

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6 Responses to “Different kinds of social/meme/news sites”

  1. Al Says:

    Great article (I read to the bottom!).

    When will your news mastering software be available? Will it have voting to move posts up and down?

    Thanks!

  2. Mark Wilson Says:

    Hi Al

    Thanks for the compliment.

    reBlogger is available now, but it doesn’t have voting. Yet. That (and all the rest of the social stuff) comes in the next version – perhaps a month away.

    You can get the existing 30 day demo here:
    http://www.seodata.com/reBlogger%20Website-based%20Aggregator/rp-36-t8_Get_the_30_day_demo.aspx

    We will have a fantastic new reblogger.com website up shortly.

    Thanks,
    Mark.

  3. Al Says:

    Will the next version require me to have SQL Server installed on a webserver? I’m just an individual user who wants to be a news master. Will your software help me?

    Thanks!

  4. Mark Wilson Says:

    Ah an individual – we will be setting up a hosted solution shortly. Hang in there! 🙂

  5. Al Says:

    Great! I can’t wait. Thanks Mark.


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