In the young but growing world of user-generated news, sites like digg and slashdot dominate in the tech sphere. In the political arena, it is mostly editorial-driven sites that do well - such as DrudgeReport, HuffingtonPost and RawStory. Those sites get a lot of attention, but there are also a lot of so-called "Citizen Journalism" sites out there trying very hard to break through to the mainstream. We're going to run a series here on Read/WriteWeb exploring some of those sites. In this first post we'll provide a brief intro to Citizen Journalism (but with a product focus, not theory), and profile a leading practitioner: Newsvine.
Citizen Journalism: What is it and who's doing it?
OhMyNews, out of South Korea.Citizen Journalism (henceforth CJ) is a classic example of the read/write web in action. In a product sense, it is a news publication built using the voices and recommendations of ordinary citizens, or 'users' in Web-speak. The readers are the writers and editors, unlike traditional journalism which is written/edited by the 'few' (professional journalists) for the 'many' (consumers). The biggest success story in CJ so far has been
As yet there's been no successful Western equivalent to OhMyNews, although there have been a lot of attempts at it. Some have crashed and burned, such as the recently closed Backfence. But many other entrepreneurs are actively pursuing the idea - e.g. Australian-based PerthNorg, Buffalo Rising and Assignment Zero - to name but a few. And there have been controversial attempts too, such as Associated Content - recently in the news themselves due to claims they're gaming Google. But no single CJ site has hit it big in mainstream news, yet, in the english speaking world.
Current mainstream news organizations are also experimenting with user-generated news. CNN has I-Report and Yahoo and Reuters have You Witness (see also http://www.reuters.com/youwitness). We'll profile these in a later post.
Newsvine is a good example of a startup CJ site aiming to be a mainstream news destination. Along with most of the other current CJ sites, Newsvine uses many of the tenets of 'web 2.0' in its design - such as user-generated content, reputation, voting, comments, friends lists, tags, and more. It allows users to 'seed' stories, by adding a link and short description. Or users can write a full article. Newsvine is probably more advanced in its design than other CJ sites, often trying new things and design techniques - e.g. the Newsvis, a color-coded visual representation of a user's impact on the site.
The site opened as a private beta in December 2005 and was officially launched on March 1, 2006. For a full feature run-down, see Read/WriteWeb's Social News Faceoff last October - which has a chart of features for Newsvine and three other sites (digg, reddit, netscape). As Alex Iskold noted in that post, Newsvine has an outstanding user interface - it illustrates that a lot of features and a lot of information can be presented in a simple and digestible way.
Let's focus now on current stats and trends....
Stats and Top Topics
According to founder Mike Davidson, who I contacted today, Newsvine currently gets about 1.2 million unique visitors per month and it has grown at an average rate of 46% per quarter. Newsvine community members view an average of 21 pages per day and spend an average of 143 minutes per month on the site. The site gets about 80,000 comments a month and 250,000 votes a month.
These stats seem to be borne out in the following Compete graph showing Newsvine's "velocity", which basically means the growth in user engagement:
The top topics in Newsvine are Politics and Technology, echoing the popular topics in the blogosphere. Other topics on Newsvine include World News, U.S. News, Local News, and Entertainment.
I asked Mike what are the big trends he's noticed in citizen journalism - i.e. what has Newsvine learned so far, after 15 or so months of operation? Mike noted 3 main trends:
1. Explicit actions like "votes" are not a sufficient enough indicator of what's important and/or good on a news site. Mike said they also look at things like vote-to-comment ratio, average number of seconds spent reading a article, user reputation, and more.
2. Communities, by definition, do not scale - and Mike says "nor should they". They're looking for "truly intimate and meaningful interactions" and Mike thinks this can't happen in large networks.
3. Reputation building is the big separator in quality news communities. Mike says that "it is much more useful to sacrifice quantity [of comments] for quality and encourage community members to really take ownership of their words." To this end, Newsvine has a reputation system called "Vineacity", which serves as a visual indicator of what sort of contributor any given community member is.
Who is contributing?
I was also curious about the type of person who contributes content to Newsvine. Mike told me that the profile of a contributor "varies wildly" - some of the best writers include a college student from Ohio State, a political writer of Korean descent from Denmark, and "a 70 year old gentleman who ended up getting his name on the ballot for U.S. Congress last year and documenting the whole thing on Newsvine."
So what, if anything, do Newsvine's contributers have in common? Mike says that they all share "a desire not to soapbox but to play a legitimate role in the news ecosystem." In other words, they take an active interest in the news.
Newsvine appears to be ramping up nicely and from my own browsing round the site, there was a reasonable amount of seeding, writing, voting and commenting going on. In the Politics section, one of the top stories as of writing is President Bush Makes A Little Girl Cry, which had 56 votes and 125 comments when I checked (does the title reflect a liberal bias on the site?).
The topic I'm most familiar with, Tech, didn't have as many comments or votes - the most comments on a story was 17, and 23 votes was the top. However the content in the Tech section seemed up-to-date and relevant, mostly filled with AP wire stories. Personally I'd still choose Techmeme or Topix over Newsvine Tech, but overall not a bad selection of stories. If you're looking for a tech community to join and actively participate in, other than Read/WriteWeb of course, then Newsvine Tech could be your cup of tea.
Next up in this series, we explore localized Citizen Journalism sites.