The last month heralded a change in how I get my news. The warning signs were there yet I didn't see it coming. The decline in revenue across the news industry, the expansion of independent 'Mom & Pop' bloggers, and even promotional stories detailing evens to come. Thanks to the senseless actions of hackers operating from the inside two sites have ceased to exist as we knew them, Digg.com and News8.net.
Both Digg and News8 meant a lot to my daily digital routine. Throughout the day I would visit each site to discover world happenings ranging from local to international events. While not all the news on these sites interested me specifically there was more than enough to quash celebrity gossip and yet another stolen picture with the words "FAIL" paste upon it, almost ironically. News8.net was the website run by Washington DC's 'News Channel 8,' a subsidiary of the local ABC affiliate. News 8 focused on local and national news affecting the Washington DC metropolitan area while the website did the same. Straight to the point news stories, centralized weather, different (yet often overlapping) categories depending on where you lived (VA, MD, or DC). Digg.com, as many know, is a news aggregate where stories are submitted by users and "dugg" by other users who relate or like the submitted content. Thanks to the internet community there was always an influx of stupid pictures and videos but they were easily filtered thanks to handy settings. I only want to see actual stories, thank you very much. I'll go to 4chan if I want to see silly images.
This is not to say that these sites were perfect. News8's design, while simple to use, was incredibly archaic. Attempting to browse to the site with my old phone one would get a warning as to how the site used iFrames "extensively." There was a comment system in place… but it never seemed to work right. Digg, while once a haven of technology related stories, often fell victim to popular trends. The latest internet meme or source of internet outrage could easily overwhelm. Secretive groups working in the backend fought to promote stories that they were interested in while burying opposing viewpoints.
Yet for all these faults my world is worse off without them. Now you might be wondering as to what happened to these sites, and what's that I meant by "hackers operating from the inside?" Well the owners decided to change their sites up in an attempt to draw in a new crowd of visitors. Unfortunately, in doing so, they alienated those who were already dedicated.
Digg received an overhaul that was long in the works, and long opposed by the community. (Nothing like rolling out a beta, ignoring user criticism, and rolling it out publically with no noticeable changes) Gone were the options to bury stories, to view new and upcoming submissions, or even filter out content that you didn't want to see. While I would go to Digg simply to view and comment on events, now I would have to make friends based on similar beliefs. Historically the main page was a conglomeration of all recently popular stories chosen by the community. Now the main page is merely the stories dugg by networked friends on the site. These friends have zero relation to any real life, or online, friends. None of the stories interest me. I want to see what the community as a whole is interested in, which was once a great way to gauge the feeling of the internet. It should also be noted that in changing the general principals of how the site operates they instituted a new design (which is terrible), removed the ability to bury stories (which is terrible), automated the submission of stories from RSS feeds (also terrible), among a dozen or so other changes (all terrible) that have left the dedicated community in revolt.
News8 disappeared all together, along with the ABC affiliate page, and was replaced with TBD.com. I suppose they're still working on what to call their site. TBD still features the same news, I think. Now the vast majority of stories are just aggregated from DC blogs. So content that was once short, to the point, unbiased news stories, is not. One morning a lead story was a picture of a cat. When ex-Senator Stevens of Alaska died in a plane crash there was no mention of the accident on the site. The new site, while presumably better coded, is laid out terribly. Now you have to scroll around looking for local radar images, located far lower on the page than the StormWatch 7 Blog. You even have to scroll left and right just to see the full forecast. Ugh.
These two changes illustrate a disturbing trend in news, and why it may be the end as we know it. More sites are turning to the distributed populace for their content. Shorter, and alarmingly more biased, stories seem to have replaced the well researched and descriptive. In a way it makes sense for the smaller of 'news' organizations. Why develop your own content when it's easier to pull in the info from various other sources? Internet advertising isn't going to turn a profit. Not to mention that for every source of original content there are 50 Gawker.coms who frequently copy and paste a section of a story, and along with a small link to the source, post the whole lot to their site as if was their own work. Even large news organizations have been skimming the trend. CNN has their iReporters and all three of the major news channels frequently reference Twitter or Facebook postings. Sure, you could argue that they're just adjusting to social trends brought about by social networking. If people really cared what was being said on Facebook or Twitter, they'd check for themselves.
Digg, as it appears to me, hopes to capitalize on this trend. In the past the majority of trending content has been original with the always persistent minor amount of blog spam. Now with the automatic incorporation of RSS feeds large story recyclers can catapult stories to the top of the list far quicker with better results. There have even been mutterings that all this was a result of backroom deals with Digg looking to supplement their advertising income.
Geekosystem.com, reporting on the latest uproar, has noted that since the new version of Digg went live 66% of top stories were from the same seven publishers. A year ago there was a hubbub when it was revealed that 46% of top stories were dominated by some 50 different websites. Granted, this new version of Digg is hardly a month old, so there is a small reason for excuse. Even so, the new version was under testing for quite some time and generated lots of user feedback. Any feature or process change can't simply be tacked up to, "Oh, we wanted to add it, but didn't have the time."
Note that Digg is ranked as the 112th website on the internet by Alexa. Front page stories can generate tens of thousands of hits for the source sit. MrBabyMan, one of Digg's most contested and revealed power users, has spoken out against the new changes.
|Please don't let individual content curation die out for the sake of RSS auto-fed publisher accounts. I've been telling the Digg team this since I was invited to Digg HQ to test the V4 alpha earlier this year. Publisher accounts are currently dominating Digg's front page. I completely understand the financial need to engage publishers, but without the individual-user posts that, in my opinion, made Digg a unique destination for original content, the new Digg has no more relevance than a Popurls or an Alltop (sorry, Guy), merely repeating (relinking) what everyone else is linking.
Digg is also encouraging a dangerous trend on mainstream publishers' part. If mainstream publishers know their accounts carry more weight on Digg than the average individual user, it encourages them to linkjack (or outright steal) popular content previously submitted by individual users, knowing that Digg is more likely to drive traffic to their (ad-supported) sites via their publisher account than from individual user accounts. [While linkjacking is not a violation of Digg's TOU, it is (or at least used to be) discouraged by Digg's community guidelines.] This is effectively creating an online publishing culture where major publishers are "wal-Mart-izing" smaller, individual bloggers out of existence.
My concern is, that if Digg solely exists now to serve mainstream publishers, then it may as well be a publisher-to-publisher service, as the appeal for the individual user to visit the site will have been replaced by a constant stream of ad-supported marketing. I'm not concerned for Digg's former users, as there are plenty of other destinations for them to find unique, original content, but it saddens me to see Digg, once the best of the best destination, stray from its core competency.
Thanks for listening..[Source]
This latest shift by Digg highlights changes that will ripple around the community. Fewer bloggers will find their activates personally and facially viable when their content helps fill someone else's pockets. In the end this scenario creates quite the paradox. Large media publishers will continue to rely more on smaller publishers for unique and interesting content. Meanwhile those same publishers will be driven away from creating that content. Once that comes to pass, what next? Will large aggregators die out and smaller publishers take over, starting the cycle anew? Or perhaps, will the news simply die?