Written by Alex Iskold and edited by
Richard MacManus.

This post looks at the main players in the Social News space, to try and identify
their characteristics and understand the dynamics of the market. The sites we analyze are
digg, Netscape, Newsvine, and Reddit. While there are many other social news sites
around, a great number are clones and so we believe the above four represent the cream of
the crop (admittedly Netscape is a clone of digg, but because of its size and history as
a mainstream portal – it obviously warrants closer inspection).

What makes the social news space particularly interesting is that there are a variety
of different approaches. Even without doing the analysis, we know that Digg is going to be the most popular site. But if you’ve
ever taken a quick look at Newsvine, you’ll know
that the future dynamics may not be so clear cut. What works for a technical audience
might not, in the long run, be what is going to become a mainstream format. So will this
market split? Will Newsvine become more popular than digg? Does Netscape stand a
realistic chance of catching up? In this side by side comparison, we hope to find some
answers.

Estimating the number of users

As we have done in previous faceoffs, we approximate the number of users in each
social news site using Alexa’s daily page views. While Alexa is not perfect by any means,
it is a good comparative measure in this case. As the baseline, we have used Digg.com’s
official user base figure of 325,000
users
. We also use an additional metric – number of votes for two different
stories (one tech and one politics). The technology story that we used is the recent YouTube video where the
founders of YouTube discuss the Google acquisition. For the political story, we choose
the BBC article about US
granting North Korea nuclear funds.

The faceoff chart


Research notes

Some things we found interesting while doing the analysis.

  • The front pages of Digg and Netscape had very little if anything in common. We infer
    from this that they have very different demographics.
  • Newsvine has an outstanding user interface. A lot of thought went into it and it is
    brilliant. This site illustrates that a lot of features and a lot of information can be
    presented in a simple and digestible way.
  • Reddit has a feature called subreddits, which supposedly resemble categories – but
    it’s done via a separate subdomain. Perhaps this is cool, but it could be confusing.
  • Reddit has a recommended stories feature, which is a simple filter based on the
    stories that the user likes. This is a very good idea and other sites should add this
    sort of personalized view, because voting on stories reveals user likes and dislikes.

Traffic Dynamics

We can gain additional insights by looking at the traffic dynamics over the last year.
Reddit, for all its innovation, is struggling to be a serious contender in the social
news space. Perhaps they need to revamp their user interface, because compared to the
others it is fairly minimalist. Based on Alexa traffic trends, it appears that Newsvine
is not gaining much momentum. It is not clear why, since their user interface is great.
Perhaps it’s just an uphill battle to sway away traffic from the likes of CNN, Google
News and topic-focused blogs.

The chart below focuses on the Netscape vs Digg race. As we can see Netscape is not
catching up – it is in fact losing some of its early gains. We think they should revisit
their user interface and usability.

Conclusion

There are really no surprises here – Digg is the king of social news. It is simple,
elegant and very very popular. The question is what will happen going forward? Comparing digg with Netscape, note the
difference between the number of votes on a technology post vs. a political post. For the technical post there is a huge gap between the two sites, but it is not as big for the political one. So digg remains the premier social news site for technology news – but in
other categories that are geared more towards mainstream, there is not as much
activity. 

The question is will the digg model work for mainstream? It might be too plain, which
is why Netscape jumped into the game – and this may be why Newsvine has a chance to be successful. But as it stands, and for foreseeable future, Digg rules!