Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Future of News? Not Quite Yet.

The best example of a Web 2.0 technology news and discussion site is, without question, Digg. The power of Digg -- and the reason it has quickly supplanted Slashdot for many -- is its user-focused approach. Users submit content and their votes promote stories to the "front page." There's no big-brother editors to worry about... the collective audience is the editing mechanism.

For some time, other sites have tried to translate the same concept to general news. The idea being, of course, that a powerful, democratic medium might just be able to replace The New York Times or Fox News (at least online).

NowPublic was one of the first to attempt the feat (unsuccessfully, in my mind, because of its somewhat ugly and cluttered interface - if a story has no image associated with it, hey, don't paint a blank box on the page!). Now SolutionWatch has given us a preview of NewsVine, which uses "Web 2.0" technologies in a manner similar to Digg.

A simple example of Web 2.0 (also known as AJaX and, yes, I despise both terms) is the link that a user clicks on to "digg" a story. The page doesn't refresh when this occurs... just the vote-count image changes using a brief, neat animation.

Anyhow, here's the central problem that these news sites will encounter...

Many news stories have a political "spin" to them. Most would agree that the NY Times generally spins its coverage to the left. Likewise, consensus would indicate Fox News generally spins coverage to the right.

My sister and her family (I don't want to call them left-wing moonbats, but...) wouldn't watch Fox News on a bet. I, on the other hand, know every tie Bill O'Reilly (famed host of Fox's O'Reilly Factor) owns.

Unless this site elegantly handles the war between left- and right-leaning users, they’ll completely lose one side or the other. Thus, half of its potential audience will feel disenfranchised and disappear right off the bat.

A potential solution might be to require users to "register" as right, left, or centrist. The pages would therefore, by default, show the right-side of the news or the left-side, depending upon the user. Votes would be counted accordingly. Of course, any user could switch views to see what the "other side" looks like.

But unless NewsVine and its competitors handle this problem, my take is that it won't come close to living up to its potential.

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