Social news site Digg is a love-it or hate-it phenomenon. Here at ReadWriteWeb, we love Digg, but I’ve got to admit that new competitor Mixx is worth a real close look. Mixx announced today that it’s taken a strategic investment (meaning a small one with a bunch of influence anyway) from the giant newspaper the LA Times. It’s just the latest in a series of deals that the little company has signed with outfits including USA Today, and The Weather Channel. This deal is a strange one though, because in addition to Mixx functionality being live on the Times site, LA Times stories will now be favored in the Mixx search results. That’s the first thing I don’t think I like about Mixx, but there’s a lot that I like about it very much.

Mixx was clearly built by people paying attention to user demands at Digg. Its popularity algorithm is said to be a simple one, according to Matt Marshall’s coverage of the LA Times deal today, but there’s a lot that’s interesting about the site.

Here’s my list of favorite features that you’ll find at this very compelling site…

  • There’s OpenID login, something Digg said it was going to do over a year ago.
  • There’s a bookmarklet to submit a link from off-site. I cannot imagine why Digg hasn’t offered one of these yet.
  • There’s extensive personalization of the home page, including drag and drop ordering like an AJAX startpage. It’s nice.
  • There’s been a photos section from the very beginning and there’s video too.
  • Your location or the location of the event you are linking to is important throughout throughout the site.
  • There’s extensive use of tagging, which is nice for site navigation and story skimming.
  • There’s private groups, something people are often disappointed to find not available in Digg or Maybe your group alone would like to use a social news service internally and this is reason enough to use the site.
  • Content filtering through a 3rd party service attempts to keep out spam, that’s a great idea. Can you imagine if Digg did this kind of thing at the point of link submission? The upcoming stories page would be vastly improved, more people would use it and the whole experience would change.
  • You can see what people voted against any item and what people have voted for or against. This has been a big complaint about Digg – that there’s an anonymous ‘Bury Brigade’ who vote down anything they don’t like based on politics or brand. On Digg there’s no way to know who voted against something, it just dies and there’s no accountability. Not the case on Mixx, every story displays both up and down voters in the sidebar.
  • The site encourages users to upload oversized avatar images. That’s great, avatars are a tactile medium and all about facial recognition – so bigger is better and it really is important.
  • You can change your mind in Mixx. Vote things up, down, then up and then down again. It’s great.

We’ll see if this combination of post-Digg smarts and Reddit marketing strategy works well for Mixx. AOL’s Propeller is reported to be growing surprisingly fast – I think there’s some real potential outside the Digg niche for Digg-type sites to thrive. I hope they’ll reconsider selling the integrity of their search to investors, though.

In the end, the Digg algorithm is a smart one and the number of people there (20m unique visitors a month) won’t be beat by a site with cool features…at least probably not. Who knows? I like the new Digg images section a lot, but I really like the Mixx user experience.