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?

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
OhMyNews, out of South Korea.

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

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.

Top Trends

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.

Tests, Conclusion

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.