Tag Archives: Social bookmarking

When Old Media Buys a Community

MSNBC, owned by MSN and NBC, has bought Newsvine, a sort of citizen journalism, blogging and news-sharing site. But who stands to lose from the deal, and what does it tell us about the equity of Web 2.0?

One commenter on the page that announces the news hits the nail firmly on the head:

In the end I feel dejected, sad and I guess just a little like we should have seen this one coming. What, pray tell is going to happen to OUR huge sums of ad revenue? I mean you guys are making mad loot out of this deal, what about our money?

The deal was cash, but terms were not disclosed.

It’s one of the unresolved paradoxes of Web 2.0 (and citizen journalism): How do you reward those who make a website like Newsvine what it is? Or at least, how do you avoid making them feel hopelessly exploited?

This from Calvin Tang, a co-founder of Newsvine:

I personally would like to thank all Newsvine users who have helped make Newsvine what it is – the most vibrant and active community of users on the digital news media landscape. In addition to being one of the most powerful and unique publishing platforms on the web – the open dialogues, the free and creative expression of ideas and the genuine manner in which all of you participate on the site are some of the foremost reasons that msnbc.com found Newsvine to be an attractive company to partner with.

To be fair, Tang does point to the possibility of “an adjustment to the way contributors are compensated based on suggestions from users.” It’s not clear what this is: At the moment anyone with their own “column” on Newsvine gets 90% of ad revenue derived from visitors to that page. And all content is owned by the person who creates it.

Newsvine is actually hugely popular among those who use it: about 1.2 million unique visitors per month, according to Read/Write Web, and growing at an average rate of 46% per quarter. The site, R/WW says, gets about 80,000 comments and 250,000 votes a month. That’s pretty good traffic in a couple of years.

But still there’s the nagging feeling that money is being made on the backs of others. If all those producing the work were interested only in wider exposure, then the MSNBC deal is good — lots of opportunities for their writings to be read by a wider audience.

From the comments a lot of Newsvine users feel a sense of loyalty and protectiveness towards the site and its founders. And although it’s obvious that the best exit strategy for a site like this is to be bought out by a bigger player, probably one in old media, the illusion that something like Newsvine is an antidote to old media is an important one to maintain; how many, otherwise, would expend effort and time contributing for free if they felt the primary goal of the site was to get bought out?

Money is probably of little consequence to most of those using Newsvine. They’re more interested in the satisfaction that comes from “owning” a community. But inevitably money changes the equation: it is that very community, not the site per se, that has attracted MSNBC’s dollars. Should not the community, therefore, be entitled to some of that money?

Of course, the community itself, by not being party to the discussions with MSNBC nor beholden to the deal, can just up sticks and leave if it doesn’t like the outcome. And that’s where the other illusion kicks in: MSNBC can’t buy the community, although it may feel it has. It can buy the site where that community has built its camp. Make the wrong moves, not make enough moves, or fail to spread the wealth, and it may wake up one morning to find the camp has faded away in the night.

Newsvine – Msnbc.com Acquires Newsvine

Getting on the Social Trail

More reports of social annotation tools — services that allow you to not just bookmark sites but share those bookmarks, and other bits and pieces with them. This one from the highly readable Read/Write Web, just down the road from me in NZ:

There are a plethora of bookmarking sites out there and only a few of them have become very successful – del.icio.us and Stumbleupon are two that spring to mind. Trailfire is a bit different from your average bookmarking site, because they don’t just allow you to share bookmarks – they make it easy for you to share ‘trails’, which are “annotated navigation paths”.

I haven’t had a chance to try out trailfire, and I’m not quite sure how well it works, mainly because it won’t load (it’s been telling me to stand by for nearly 15 minutes now, which is as Bob Geldof would say, a quarter of an hour too long. It has, however, been added to my directory of such tools, which is looking quite big now.

The Unsocial Web

A piece by Donna Bogatin on why many more people read web sites liked digg.com rather than contribute to it has in itself spawned enough responses to become something of a summary of why the social web, citizen journalism, user-created content etc may not be quite the revolution it appears. Here’s how I see the responses:

  • I just want to watch. The more stuff is out there, ironically enough the less incentive there is to contribute. There’s probably a graph for this somewhere. People will contribute if they think their contribution is worth it. That means a) other people like it, b) it doesn’t take up too much time c) the stuff isn’t there already, or likely to be and d) that contributing to a site comes after browsing a site. (see Not On My Own Time, Thanks, below.) The logical conclusion of this is that while contributions may rise exponentially, gradually the number of contributors dwindles until a hardcore of contributors remains (see The Weirdo Factor below).
  • The Weirdo Factor. We newspaper journos have known this for a while. The kind of people who contribute, or contribute most, don’t represent a good cross section of ordinary readers/users. Readers’ letters are always great to receive, and they may contain useful and interesting stuff, but they tend to come from the same people, or group or kind of people. And that means an editor would be a fool to treat his mailbag as a cross section of his readership. Same is basically true of the Net.
  • Not On My Own Time, Thanks. Digesting Time isn’t the same as Creating Time. Most people probably browse sites like YouTube.com and Flickr.com at work. This means that the more content there is on these sites at work, a) the less productive workers will be, and b) the less likely they’ll actually upload their stuff — since that will probably have to be done at home, in a separate session. If you’ve already spent a couple of hours on YouTube.com at work, why would you spend more time on it at home?
  • People Don’t Like Hanging Out With Weirdoes Taking the above a step further, many users are going to be discouraged by the general tenor of discussions at places like Digg. Flaming and generally being rude may seem like a life to some people, but most people don’t like it very much, and are not going to expose themselves to ridicule by posting to such sites. (They are also not going to want to expose themself to being ignored: what happens if you Digg something and nobody comes?)
  • Freedloading off a freeloader Then there’s the reality that the social web is largely a Commenting Web, not a Creating Web. Not all of it, of course: Flickr.com is a very creative place. But photos are always of things, requiring only that someone have a camera and be there, and take a good picture. Writing is different. Writing is not just about commenting on what other people are writing. (Well, OK, this post is.) Writing is also about reporting  – about actually going out and finding information, digesting it, writing it up and then distributing it. Blogs, the foundation of Web 2.0, were built on the idea of commentary. But commentary always has to follow content, since without it there can be nothing to comment on. We shouldn’t confuse sites like Digg.com as content sites, since they simply aggregate links and comment. In the end, this freeloading element will have to be added to by something more substantial for it to grow. Netscape’s new site understands this, although I’m not convinced making a couple of calls to add to a wire story constitutes news gathering (but then again, a lot of journalists have done that for years, so who am I to quibble?)

The bottom line may be, just may be, that after huge bursts of participatory interest, that may even last a few years, the kinds of people who keep Slashdot going are going to be the people who keep Digg.com and every other user-driven, Web 2.0 site going. I’m not saying this is a bad thing — I love Slashdot, and there are some extraordinarily intelligent people on there (as well as some who could spend some time in the open air) — but it’s not a group that’s, er, broadly representative of the citizenry at large. They’re hugely dedicated, very focused, very knowledgeable about their sphere and have opinions coming out of their ears. A bit like folk who wrote letters to newspapers, come to think of it.

A Directory of Social Annotation Tools

Update July 24 2006: Diigo is now live, combining “Social Bookmarking, Web Highlighter, Sticky-Note & Clipping to make it a powerful tool for online research, collaboration and information discovery”. Looks good; I’d be interested in hearing how people get on with it.

Social annotation, sometimes called web annotation, is back. Put simply, it’s software that allows users to “leave” comments on webpages they visit, so that others visiting the page,  and using the same software, can see their comments. Used well, it’s very useful, as useful as Amazon book reviews, say. Used badly it ends up laden down with offensive and sophomoric graffiti. A few years back (around 1999/2000, if I recall. I’m thinking uTok and ThirdVoice) there were quite a few of these around. Most have gone. Now, with social tagging and blogs, perhaps it’s time for a comeback. (I’m not including any social bookmarking tool here; I guess the distinction is that these tools allow the comments to be read without the surfer leaving the site itself. For ordinary clippings tools go here.)

Here’s the beginnings of a list:

  • WizLite “allows you to highlight text (like on real paper) on any page on the Internet and share it with everybody (or just your friends).” Nicely executed, though development has been sporadic.
  • trailfire marks “web pages that interest you and add your comments. Stitch them together to form a trail. Send trails to your friends, post them in your blog, or publish them on Trailfire.com. Use Trailfire to communicate your own view of the web.” Yes, I’m not quite sure what it means either.
  • Diigo combines “social bookmarking, clippings, in situ annotation, tagging, full-text search of everything, easy sharing and interactions.” Now live.
  • Squidoo lets you join thousands of people making their own “lenses” on their favorite stuff and ideas. It’s fast, fun and free. (And you could even get paid).
  • Jeteye enables users to create, send, view and share any type of online content, add notes and annotations and save it all in user organized Jetpaks™ through an easy drag and drop interface.
  • Chatsum “is a FREE add-on for your web browser that lets you chat with all the other Chatsum users that are looking at the same website as you.” (thanks, pieman)
  • Gabbly  “enables people to instantly connect and collaborate around any content, topic or interest.”
  • Wikalong “is a Firefox Extension that embeds a wiki in the Sidebar of your browser, which corresponds to the current page you are viewing. In its simplest form, a wiki-margin for the internet, but it can be much more.” I like this one because it makes best use of the sidebar. But it’s basic and only works on Firefox.
  • BlogEverywhere “is a simple way for you to log your thoughts and comments on any web page “without leaving it” . It enables you to have a conversation with other readers of that page.” (Thanks, Charles)
  • stickis by activeweave “is a simple and unobtrusive part of your web experience: wherever you are, stickis are there with you, helping you see, compose, and remix all the web, your way.” Still in closed alpha, so I’m not quite sure what that means.
  • Annozilla is another Firefox extension that is “designed to view and create annotations associated with a web page”.
  • Boingle “is a stripped down social annotation system that lets you annotate within web pages with the result being a simple markup (“Boingles (2)”) that looks as though it belongs in the page, much as a link titled “Comments (4)” looks normal within a blog. It is very understated in nature, and lets the annotation content itself be the star.”
  • HyLighter “extends the potential of documents as a medium for the negotiation of meaning. Use HyLighter to make what you understand more transparent and how you understand more effective.” Whatever that means. Website seems to be idle.
  • Plum Why is collecting and sharing, beyond photos and email, so hard? Why can’t I put all my favorite stuff in one place? (still in private beta; it’s not as hard as it was before, guys)

Please do let me know what I’ve left out; I’m sure there’s more. I do get the feeling that this kind of thing is going to make a comeback. But the ones which work will be those that allow either everyone, or groups of users to see each other’s comments on web pages, and to leverage tagging and other new things we’ve gotten used to see comparable pages. And some way of filtering out the silliness would be good.

technorati tags: , , ,

PR Newswire Gets Delicious

It’ll be interesting to see how Yahoo, new owner of social bookmarking and tagging pioneer del.icio.us, tries to bring the whole tagging shebang to the wider marketplace. Here’s an early example of how it might work. PR Newswire, a news release service, has announced a partnership with del.icio.us, to allow visitors to PR Newswire’s public website to tag individual news releases issued by PR Newswire members and post them into their personal profiles on del.icio.us.

The feature appears as a button alongside existing RSS, email and print button above each press release:

Prnew

Click on the link and it takes you to your del.icio.us account (if you have one) and prepares a new entry. Nothing that revolutionary here, you may say, but I’d suggest that this is one of the first examples of del.icio.us breaking out of the usual blogosphere world. PR Newswire is, after all, for journalists, who are not known for their passion for things nerdy.

Of course, it’s a great way for PR Newswire to spread their news releases around, as the press release itself admits:

Once posted in a personal Del.icio.us profile, the news release is accessible to the thousands of users who search Del.icio.us for information regularly.

Indeed, this is one of the great strengths and weaknesses of del.icio.us. On the one hand it’s great to see what other people are tagging, and to get access to a live list of the latest exciting websites. On the other hand, how soon is this list going to be polluted — if it’s not already — by people promoting their own stuff or just by people tagging stuff that’s not very interesting? The irony of del.icio.us, in my view, is that it was wonderful while it was being used by people in the know, but it becomes less useful the more popular it gets and everyone starts tagging American Idol and Britney Spears websites.

That said, the popular feed of del.icio.us remains as nerdy as ever.

Outlook Gets Del.icio.us

Attensa, an RSS reader for Microsoft Outlook, has added del.icio.us tags:

You can add tags to articles and access them using a pull down list using the Attensa Toolbar for Internet Explorer. When you tag articles with Attensa your bookmark list on Del.icio.us is updated and synchronized automatically. With the addition of tagging, Attensa gives you a set of tools for organizing your feeds and articles. Categories let you create a hierarchal [sic] structure using folders to keep feeds organized. Tags give you a more free form tool for keeping articles organized and they connect you with the del.icio.us social network.

Sadly Attensa only works with Outlook and IE. But it is free.

Directing Del.icio.us

I’m blown away by some of the amazing, but simple, stuff people are doing with tags and Ajax and all these other things I only dimly understand. What’s great is I don’t really need to understand them, I just need to be able to use them and see them as useful.

Here’s yet another candidate: del.icio.us direc.tor: Delivering A High-Performance AJAX Web Service Broker from a guy called Johnvey Hwang:

del.icio.us direc.tor is a prototype for an alternative web-based rich UI for del.icio.us. It leverages the XML and XSL services of modern browsers to deliver a responsive interface for managing user accounts with a large number of records.

The main features are:

* In-browser handling of del.icio.us bookmarks (tested up to 12,000 records)
* Find-as-you-type searching of all your bookmarks, with basic search operators
* Sort by description, tags, or timestamp
* Ad-hoc tag browser

Simple looking, but it does a neat job of enabling you to look through your del.icio.us tags easily. John explains his plan thus:

I have always been intrigued by the idea of using a client-side application to act as a service broker, integrating various services like Google Maps, Flickr, and del.icio.us. Unfortunately, after doing the research, I found that the security blocks in the browser prevent normal untrusted code to poll sites that are not from the same server, so that grand service idea couldn’t be a reality. What I was able to do, though, was provide a service for a single website: del.icio.us.

Part research, part appreciation for del.icio.us, del.icio.us direc.tor is a prototype for an alternative web-based rich UI for del.icio.us. It leverages the XML and XSL services of modern browsers to deliver a responsive interface for managing user accounts with a large number of records. Try it out, and let me know what you think.

Nice.

Searching for Tags

Denis Sinegubko tells me of his new tag searching facility in his software FirstStop WebSearch. Here’s an excerpt from his FirstStop Blog: Social Bookmarks in FirstStop WebSearch which explains it in more detail:

The pre-installed (in version 4.2) category “Social Bookmarks” contains the following search sources: LookSmart’s Furl.net, CiteULike.org, and Zniff.com, a search engine for the Spurl.net. Anticipating your question about del.icio.us, I can tell you that we didn’t include this very popular social bookmarks manager only because it doesn’t have a search facility.

Sounds like an interesting tool.

Two More Bookmark Managers

Here are two additions to my Directory of Bookmark managers:

Henrik Sjöstrand tells me of his Netvouz,  which includes

your own online bookmarks page which gives a good overview of your favorite web sites and easy access to them. You organize your bookmarks in categories and tag each bookmark with keywords and can then browse them by category or tag, or search for them. Bookmarks can be public (like a social bookmark manager) or private. Your bookmarks are regularly validated to ensure they are not broken. It also has import/export capabilities, intranet bookmarks, Hotpicks for your most used bookmarks, RSS feeds, an Add2Netvouz button for easily bookmarking new sites, and a clean-looking user interface. The “new” and “popular” pages show what other people use and is a great way to discover new interesting web sites.

While from David Ross, author of WindowSizer, comes FavoritesFinder:

Favorites Finder runs in a bar at the bottom of your browser and by typing a few key letters you can navigate quickly to any website you’ve added to your favorites. You can now add more websites to your favorites and reach them much more quickly than by scrolling through a long list with your mouse.

Instead of scrolling through a long list of bookmarks or typing the full address for a website you can simply click in the Favorites Finder bar, type a few letters from the website title, address or folder name, hit Enter and be off to that site. It’s especially useful for those sites you’re always visiting, be it an ebay listing, your webmail, or favorite blog.

Favorites Finder is available as a free 30-day trial, downloadable from  To continue use after that costs $12.95.

Anyone with more suggestions to any of the directories, please feel free to drop me a line.