Google RSS Reader finally allows social bookmarking

One of my guilty confessions is that I’ve been doing less linking and sharing of other sites on places like Stumbleupon recently than in the past.

A major reason for that is that I’m generally going through my reading on the train in Google RSS reader, and not actually visiting sites. Combine the slow speed of the onboard wifi with the hassle of coming out of my RSS feed to recommend things on a regular basis, and you might be sympathetic as to why it’s a bit of a hassle.

But no longer – in addition to the places which allow me to import my RSS shared items (Friendfeed, Publish 2 etc), Google’s Matt Cutts revealed today that Google Reader now has a ‘send to’ option for Twitter, Stumbleupon, Digg etc from within the feedreader, and that you can also set it up for sites which aren’t currently listed.

Like him, it’s a feature I’ve wanted since I started using Google for RSS reading, and combined with the improved social tools for sharing and following with other Google RSS readers (And with an 84% share in one example, there’s quite a few!), and RSS is back in the game alongside sharing links on Twitter etc.

(Incidentally, to enable it, just go to settings, and it’s under the ‘Send To’ tab.)

Tweeght – Digg-like voting for ‘thoughtful tweets’ from Twitter

Tweeght is a new site described by it’s creator as offering Digg-like voting for ‘thoughtful tweets’ – although the voting is actual more like Reddit with a simple up or down arrow.

Tweeght - new ranking site for Twitter

Tweeght - new ranking site for Twitter

It was built by Aditya Kothadiya in under a week, and is pretty simple to use. You can either post a tweet by submitting it on the site, which requires your Twitter username and password, tag Tweets with #tweeght, #thought, or #quote, or send the Tweet to @tweeght.

From the site, you can vote individual messages up or down, Retweet them, or reply – and there’s a Leaderboard of the most popular users.

Aditya says “The goal was to launch something quickly but it should be valuable, usable, beautiful and dead simple.” And you can follow Aditya at @adityakothadiya.

It’s definitely a nicely designed site, but is the timing right?

Previous attempts at social ranking sites for Twitter I previously covered, included Microblogging.com and Dwigger. Both have closed, with Dwigger shut for good, and Microblogging hinting that a new service will appear in the future.

Now I’m not the biggest fan of Digg, but I do see the value on social ranking/aggregation sites. I’m a reasonably frequent user of Stumbleupon, and I do use Delicious (although I’m taking a break until I can sort out my messy tagging!).

But I can see two major problems for this approach to filtering Twitter –

1. The scale of Twitter is hard to accurately judge, but the most generous estimates would put Twitter as a whole under the size of Digg’s monthly active users.

2. Social aggregation sites are useful for filtering the entire internet – over 133 million blogs monitored by Technorati, for example, plus mainstream media sites, video, images etc, etc. Has Twitter reached the point where it needs filtering in this way?

3. The ranking approach always involves viewing messages via an external site, taking you out of Twitter or your client. When you’re using Digg, Delicious or SU, you’re inside that community, whereas with Tweeght you need to have a seperate browser tab or window taking you out of the community stream to see what’s being rated.

4. Twitter is built on personal relevance and connections. I can’t help feeling that external ranking systems are a little web 1.0 for adding value. Would I rather see thoughtful tweets from people I’ve never contacted or followed, or would I rather see what my friends and contacts are saying, and have them highlighting anything they see which is thoughtful or brilliant.

That all said, Tweeght might have come along at the right time, with the recent huge rise in users driven by mainstream media coverage of Twitter – and some of those new users could be the Digg-type audience Tweeght needs. After all, Malcolm Gladwell makes a great case for success being hugely dictated by factors such as timing his recent book Outliers.

Twitter growth, Twestival, Phillip Schofield and Steven Fry

A bit of a microblogging round-up.

There’s been a bit of discussion about the Hitwise findings released by Heather Dougherty, that claim Twitter traffic surpassed Digg for the first time. OK, when I say discussion, it’s the normal coincidence of Techcrunch and ReadWriteWeb both jumping to analyse the same topic when it appears. (Having almost identical headlines didn’t help!).

And in the UK, it’s grown by 974% in 12 months! It’s now the 291st most-viewed website in the UK – with fastest growth among 35-44 year olds.
Apparently European CEO’s might not get Twitter, but it’s users do – as shown by the amazing growth of Twestival,  which has grown from a group of London-based Twitter users getting together, along with some gatherings in places like Toronto and Vancouver. The next one, on February 12, will now have 100+ cities around the world hosting events in aid of charity:water. And the first release of London tickets sold out in a couple of hours.

Stephen Fry is a British celebrity and icon, and to celebrate 50,000 following @stephenfry he’s set quite a challenge, which has definitely hit UK productivity today! (Via thatcanadiangirl). Entry is by submitting the best tweet using 50 letter Ls.

And speaking about celebs, one of the most mainstream TV hosts in the UK, Phillip Schofield, is not just on Twitter (@schofe), but verified himself by referring to Twitter live on the mid-morning chat show This Morning. (via PaidContent: UK). While I wouldn’t credit the host of This Morning and Dancing on Ice as the sole tipping point for Twitter becoming mainstream, it’s another big push of added momentum.

Are we talking too much about Twitter?

Peter Cashmore has asked over at Mashable whether bloggers have become too infatuated with Twitter, and if there’s a backlash coming.

Some interesting comments on the article – and also the question of whether Pete should be listening to comments on Mashable and Digg – as someone points out in the comments, the way to look cool online is to act bored with anything that isn’t brand new!

So do you think there is too much talk about Twitter – should there be more on other microblogging/microsharing platforms, or should we take a break from it all and do something else?

I’m not looking for the wisdom of crowds…

I’m looking for the wisdom of MY crowd.

A thought that occurred to me commenting on a Robert Scoble post.

  • I use Google Reader because I’ve selected the inputs.
  • I get news from the people I’ve selected on Twitter and Friendfeed
  • I get personal news from the people I’ve selected on Facebook.
  • I don’t use Digg etc as much as I might because it’s the wisdom of a random crowd I haven’t selected.

More on Digg – will business kill the community?

It’s been interesting following recent events concerning Digg, especially considering my previous posts outlining the personal and idealogical problems I have with Digg, and the alternative ways available to get crowd sourced news.

I just read a great summary post by David Chen on Mashable, ‘Digg’s recent bans and the limits of crowdsourcing‘ which is a comprehensive look at what David calls ‘building a flawed system’, and the lessons learned – as well as looking at why Digg has banned top users, and how the business strategy is changing.

It reminded me of something I’d noticed recently. Here’s a graph from Compete, comparing Digg (blue line), with an alternative social content site, Mixx.com (red line).

Now, while it’s obvious that Digg is massively ahead at the moment, it appears to have levelled off significantly – and at the same time, notice how Mixx has grown around the same time as the Digg banhammer started making an appearance?

Now look at Mixx in detail:

Anyone else see something kickstarting some growth around Apri/May 2008?

Hmmmm.
What to do when you are banned from digg. - Mixx

Two things spring to mind. One is that Digg has vocally supported the community, and allowed top users a longstanding reign over the rest of the site – which means changing things, particularly without a clear warning, is always going to lead to problems – the question will be how big the problems will become?

And secondly, so many web services which seem to embrace, support and provide a Web 2.0, social media type approach, actually fall down on the Customer Service which is preached by those using them. I’ve always found Digg support to be incredibly varied, but always anonoymous. And the fall back is always on ‘the best for Digg users’ without ever explicitly saying what that means.

Other social news aggregations and voting sites like Reddit have also seen some growth, although in Reddit’s case, it may be down to other factors, such as opening up their service to Open Source installations.

But the fact that the high profile, long term devotees of Digg could be powering the rise in a close rival (in terms of the type of service provided) could prove to be a very interesting case study – if the very people Digg banned turn out to be able to power the rise of a challenge.

Social micro blog news aggregator thingamadoodles

Not the catchiest title for a genre of sites, but it works! I’ve posted before on my other blog about why I’m not a huge fan of Digg, (and alternatives to it) but it’s silly to deny the fact it’s a hugely popular site and format, and that some of the issues I have are Digg specific.

And there are two sites offering microblogging aggregation. I found Microblogging.com via founder @ShaunMorton on Twitter.  It’s essentially a niche social news gathering site for microblogging, and there’s nothing wrong with that! One of my remarks about Digg was that it increasingly faces a challenge from niche focussed rivals. It’ll be interesting to see if microblogging has enough interest to build a critical mass.

Dwigger has been covered elsewhere, but in the spirit of retweeting it’s an aggregator of tweets themselves, and it also creates threaded conversations with images and even video. Which is an interesting idea, but I suspect slightly flawed. The reasoning behind Twitter is that my contacts will be the filter of relevancy and interest, so it seems counterintuitive to go and seek out what complete strangers are judging to be relevant or important except as an object of curiousity. And Twitter Search allows me to see if terms are popular by volume across the whole of Twitter, rather than the microcosm of Twitterati who also use Dwigger.

Dwigger is by Sift Partners, so I’ll try and drop them a line shortly and get a detailed explanation of what I might be missing, and I’ll keep the jurt out until then, but I’m not sure there’s enough of a mass of microbloggers for these types of service quite yet. Considering Digg runs on around 20 million+ users a month, Stumbleupon is hitting around 6 million registered, and Twitter is around the 2-3 million mark, Microblogging.com and Dwigger might need a fair bit of patience to capitalise on the new communication medium.

Digg update and alternatives….

In an update to my last post on Digg, the good news is my colleagues and I are now unbanned from Digg, following several emails.  It’s good that the ban was lifted, as not only would it have left some of my colleagues unmotivated about social media, but I’m also quite determined to see if there’s a way to be successful at driving traffic on Digg without gaming the system – and to do that requires legitmate access rather than cheating and going through proxies, or using autoscripts etc. There’s quite an interesting profile of the top Digg user, MrBabyMan on ReadWriteWeb, and whilst our own Digg saga was developing, there was a rash of stories regarding whether or not he uses a script to autosubmit content.

But whatever happens, during my last post, I referneced quite a few sites which provide a major developing threat to Digg, as it continues to inhabit a world between the massive traffic of Yahoo Buzz, and the smaller focus of sites like Sphinn on the same technology premise.

Dan's Google Reader Feed

RSS sharing: Personally, I use two web based RSS readers – Google Reader is my main reader, but I keep an account at Feedeachother because I got to know the sole person behind it, Udi Falkson, it’s got a lot of features which are as good as Google Reader, and it’s good to have a place for feeds which I read for pleasure and aren’t work related, stopping my main reader becoming incredibly overwhelmed. What both sites offer – and what almost every RSS reader contains now – is the ability to easily share stories with friends and fans via the sites themselves or emails etc. As user networks grow, this provides one major method for content of interest to appear in front of me.

Social news aggregators: In Web 1.0, this meant Digg. Now, however, it tends to mean sites like Twine and Socialmedian. These services combine uploading discovered content with methods to follow ‘friends’ who submit quality news, and to comment around it, re-share it, and discover more via recommendations. Numbers at the moment are small as Twine is still in private beta, and Socialmedian has recently emerged, but they’re growing:

Social networks/microblogging/lifestreaming: Lumping together everything from Facebook to Twitter to Friendfeed basically revoles around one thing. Recommendations from friends. I build networks on these sites from people I know or discover who share interests with me, and therefore, their recommendations carry a certain weight with them. Can I say the same about 800 random Digg users or Amazon reviewers? I know which of my friends can recommend video cameras, mobile phones, or good hiphop. And I’ve already built up this information in getting to know them and adding them. Do I want to have to start researching each Digg user, particularly when the top Diggers tend to submit and rate so much it’s seemingly random – one of the flaws of the Shout system and blind digging the content your friends send for reciprocal links.

Niche ranking sites: It doesn’t take much to create a ranking system – probably less work than getting an article on the front page of Digg! Hence sites like Sphinn, which concentrate on Marketing news and discussion. And bearing in mind that the ‘Digg Effect‘ is infamous for traffic which may have a high Bounce Rate, and low loyalty, the smaller niche sites have a benefit for attracting and interacting with likeminded individuals. Plus you need far less popularity to get to the front!

The majors: I’ve already mentioned Yahoo Buzz and the huge amounts of traffic it can bring. As major newspaper and media sites evolve towards becoming more digital, they’ll increasingly be seeking ways to aggregate and curate online content. They’ve got sizeable audiences, and a wider perceived range of interests than the ‘Digg Crowd’. If you’re not looking for technology specifically, would you browse Digg, or an aggregator run by the New York Times or the Guardian?

Something completely different – human search: I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t see a use for the likes of Mahalo when I first encountered it. Why search within a far smaller sea than Google can trawl, and rely on weak-minded humans rather than our robot overlords? But I always like to use something for a while before making a judgement, and I’m glad I did, because the Mahalo homepage and the plugin for Firefox have become really useful for seeing popular stories and sources of information (the plugin also improves Google search with a handy summary information box!). Now I get an overview of recent stories, which have had an element of human filtering. And it’s showing pretty good growth:

All of this information is coming to me without needing to visit the Digg homepage on a regular basis, or research the small group of Digg users who can effectively make or break a story. I could subscribe to sections by RSS, but given the churn of stories, and the fact I’m not interested in every car or internet news story, it becomes problematic. Instead, I can rely on friends and family who know me to be able to show me things they think are a) Cool, and b) Things I’d really like by their own self-selecting mechanism and no real effort on my part.

I’m intrigued to see how other people feel, especially after some of the great comments to my last post on Digg. At the moment, I can’t see an easy solution for Kevin Rose and the team, but I’ll try and outline some possibilities in my next post.

Is Digg’s day done?

This post was partially inspired the fact Digg recently banned my user account – and by using IP blocking also blocked at least 8 other Digg users in an office of over 500 people.

Rather than focus on the individual implications, it prompted me to look deeper at the role Digg serves – and led me to a conclusion that Digg’s days are numbered.

The theory:

Digg doesn’t work as a proposition. Essentially, the site allows people to submit stories from around the web and vote on them, but that’s a tool or mechanism. It’s not a business or user proposition. And every time I think I might have figured out what the proposition could be, I come up against something within the Digg system that prevents it.

If you want an idea of the general news ranked by the opinions of the widest audience, you’d pick Yahoo Buzz. Sadly Compete seems to default to Yahoo.com for the url analytics, but even so, it provides reasonable size evidence.

The green line = Yahoo.com, the blue line = Digg, and the red line is Facebook.com.

And the reason I’ve included Facebook is the real reason I’m not digging Digg anymore. You might defend Digg as a niche site for technology and the bizarre (the actual submission trend has gone towards more lifestyle recently), and point to the size advantage it has over Slashdot and Techmeme, that’s not where my real niche news is coming from, and not where an increasing number of people are getting it.

The trend is towards communication, conversation, and friend/network recommendation. Hence Facebook, and the following graph comparing trends for Digg and Twitter:

Digg vs Twitter on Google Trneds

If the trend continues, Digg has put itself in a corner. Because despite providing tools such as Friend Lists, and being about to ‘Shout’ stories to your friends, Digg bans you for being social.

Having multiple accounts from the same IP address should not have resulted in a ban – some were registered 2 years before the most recent, some were logged in at the same time etc – and a simple check on the IP would show it’s registered to a large company.

Submitting stories from your own sites is allowed in the Digg Terms of Service – as long as it doesn’t reach spam levels.

That only leaves the fact some of these accounts were ‘Digging’ the stories submitted by others on their Friends List – from the same IP address. Something which presumes we were trying to game the system, rather than the fact we happen to work together because we have a shared interest. ( We’re not the only ones!) Annoyingly, we did get a previous Bad IP address error which was lifted when I explained we all worked in the same building. Now, however, it’s an instant ban with no discussion – despite the fact it means I’d need to monitor the Digg accounts of anyone within a building of over 500 people.

And if you do have a friends network you’ve built up legitimately and there’s any hint of nepotism, Digg automatically gives it a lower ranking. Which would be fine over a certain point, but basically means there’s no point in friends who aren’t power users.

Anti-social behaviour:

The annoying aspect is that there isn’t a warning system, or an explanation. When you attempt to log in you get:

‘An unknown fatal exception has occurred

Whoa! Something blew up. If you think you reached this error in error please do not hesitate to contact support.’

So you contact support – and get back an anonymous message informing you your account has been removed – with no explanation of the reasons.

Your IP has been permanently blocked. Unblocking your domain would not be in line with the best interests of the larger Digg community, we will not reverse this decision.

For more information, please see http://digg.com/faq and http://digg.com/tos’

And presumably guess from any number of reasons why the block could be in place! Especially as Digg Terms of Service state:

Digg may remove any Content and Digg accounts at any time for any reason (including, but not limited to, upon receipt of claims or allegations from third parties or authorities relating to such Content), or for no reason at all‘ (emphasis mine).

Now, if we’d all been using different IP addresses, we would never have been banned – for doing exactly the same thing.

Or if we’d paid $1200 to get a top Digger to game the system professionally. Or spent our time stalking, courting and flirting with the top Digg users – who effectively control the front page.

Digg punishes users – not cheats:

Essentially Digg punished us for being a little naive, and gave us no response or way to use the system in the proper way – meaning a large group of people will never see any value from the site.

And Digging as an individual is a similarly frustrating experience. Unless you dedicated every hour to either befriending the Top Diggers or using fake accounts to game the system, you’re never going to get anywhere near the front page and get to experience the ‘Digg Effect’.  And the only other option is to organise and orchestrate your friends list.

Of course, when you do befriend popular Digg users – or those aspiring to it – you’re comitting yourself to hours of mutual reciprocation of shouts and Diggs.

And if it’s not a popular topic, it drives negligible amounts of traffic – certainly in comparison to other tools like Stumbleupon, which seems to drive more consistent traffic, and shows a lower bounce rate. (SU is also more popular in the UK, which is nice).

In conclusion:

I’m the first to admit we may have screwed up somehow, despite having individual accounts, with seperate friends lists, and everyone contributing by submitting content from other sites, Digging other stories etc. But noone using Digg is doing it without wishing to self-promote theirselves or their website – and nowhere in the Terms of Service or the Digg mechanism does it make it easy to let someone know personally if their Shouts are coming across as Spam, or if they’ve submitted a single domain too often.

Nowhere on Digg does it state that you can’t use the same IP address which routes your entire office to the internet (Why not run the check on registration and warn people?).

And nowhere does it counter the fact that a very small group of users control the traffic tap on the front page of the site – and without courting them, you’ll get little for your efforts. It encourages you to submit your own content, and build up a friends list – and yet will remove you without any recourse – quoting the banal ‘it’s for everyone’s good’, except not telling you why.

Maybe we should just have one main account, run by everyone wanting to use it, and thereby avoiding the idea of multiple accounts and spending time using the site?

Why Digg may struggle more:

So Digg has some reasonable-sized issues, hasn’t radically changed in years, and bans office blocks full of staff without explanation or feedback via IP addresses. Bearing in mind that Yahoo has the traffic, Twitter and Facebook show the new recommendation engines, and anyone can plug in a rating system these days for a site far more dedicated to a niche interest (e.g. Sphinn) – you have to wonder what Digg’s longterm strategy is…

And the rules don’t apply to Digg’s boss, Kevin Rose!

Tamar Weinberg has done some great posts highlighting the times Mr Rose has seemingly escaped the Digg Banhammer team despite breaking his own rules. Or see someone who submitted 1800 times, and made 4 mistakes get perma-banned.

At a time when the social media marketing echo chamber will wax lyrical about how traditional old companies fail on interaction and customer service – why haven’t we focused on the Web 1.0 Elephant in our midst?

I’m really interested in hearing some other opinions – are social news aggregators doomed? Is Digg’s 20 million uniques proof I’m talking rubbish? Or have you seen a decline in your Digging?

Edit: In my attempt to avoid turning this into a mini-website of it’s own, I didn’t cover the likes of Socialmedian, Twine, or even Mahalo. I’ll try to put together a comprehensive look at the options for information input later this week. You can always subscribe to my RSS feed to make sure you don’t miss it!