Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Publish2 - building a better Digg or just giving more power to news gatekeepers?

Scott Karp of Publishing2.0 has announces his new project, cleverly titled Publish2. At least he left the .0 out of the name. Karp is joined in this venture by Robert Young, with advice from big name media bloggers/thinkers like Jeff Jarvis.

If you're wondering why I haven't described exactly what Publish2 is and how it will work, it's because I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. And apparently I'm not alone.

Here's what I think Karp is up to. He wants to build a better Digg. A better Google News. A better Techmeme. And a better way for people to find and interact with the news online.

The basic idea is that there's just so much news available online that there's no way any one person can read through it all. If you're interested in technology news, you can subscribe to a few dozen or a few hundred RSS feeds and be pretty certain that you've got a basic handle on the latest industry developments. But news comes in a lot of shapes and sizes. You could drive yourself batty trying to read every major newspaper in the US, let alone the world. And that's not taking into account all the other places to find news, like independent bloggers, video producers, and podcasters.

In the past few years, we've been presented with at least two ways to efficiently deal with this information overload. Both involve aggregation, or bringing news from many sources together into one web site or service. But while sites like Google News user computers to pick the top stories and present search results, sites like Digg are more social and let members of an online community determine which stories to highlight.

Human intervention is more likely to bring you stories you might otherwise have missed. But Digg is populated primarily by technology geeks. Most of the top stories are about technology. There's a growing community of Digg members interested in politics. But you won't find much about sports, the environment, or international affairs on Digg.

So here's Karp's idea. If Digg lets users find tech news because members of the community are good at sifting through geeky news, what kind of community members would he need to recruit to create a similar site for general news. And here's his answer: journalists.

But wait, aren't journalists already the ones responsible for delivering the news to the public?

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, they're telling the stories. But mainstream news organizations like newspapers, web publishers, TV and radio stations are controlling the distribution channels. Karp is involving news bloggers, or people who aren't affiliated with any major news organization in his definition of journalists.

But he's also counting on something else. Just like Digg users are tech geeks, journalists tend to be news junkies, reading and sifting through a lot of news stories. So why not create a digg-like community that allows users to submit and share news, giving heavy preference to verified journalists? Their taste in news is likely to appeal to a wide audience, right? Eh, maybe.

There's a lot of research suggesting that journalists often aren't writing for their actual audiences. They're writing for their peers: other journalists. They're writing the stories they themselves would like to read. And if you assume that most journalists are also regular news consumers, that's great. But there's far too many stories in your average newspaper about highly arcane and procedural elements of local law enforcement/legislative etc processes for me to truly believe that journalists aren't sometimes writing about important things that nobody really cares about without taking the time to explain why they're important in the first place.

*end rant*

Anyway, Karp has an interesting idea for attracting journalists. While Jason Calacanis wanted to build a better Digg in Netscape by paying people to act as "navigators," conducting follow-up interviews and research on some of the top user-submitted stories (and controversially, offered to pay some top Digg submitters to submit stories to Netscape), Karp doesn't appear to be offering any sort of monetary reward to journalists.

Rather, he's hoping to create a social community for journalists to interact with one another and to create a set of tools that will come in handy for journalists during their regular work day. Social bookmarking tools, for example, to replace or coexist with del.icio.us and similar sites.

Journalists will also be able to build profiles on the site, and popular news submitters will probably drive traffic toward their own websites and news organizations. I imagine there will also be opportunities for journalists to submit links to their own stories, which could help drive up traffic much the way that a front page story on Digg does.

I'm a little dubious about the whole thing. But then, my anti-social tendencies tend to make me skeptical of any new site with the word social in it. But I do find a lot of interesting stories and web sites from Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon. I've submitted my name for the beta of Publish2, which is scheduled to open next month. So I'm willing to reserve judgment until I've tried it out.

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