Can you Digg what is happening to journalism?
Monday February 27, 2006
When I do my scary blogboy dance for old-media companies, I warn them that their real successor – the true media mogul of the age – is not someone they know, not someone named Murdoch, Hearst, or Newhouse. He is Kevin Rose, the scruffy geek behind Digg.com, a site where users edit the news. In him, we see the media industry of the future.
Rose was a co-host on America’s TechTV cable channel until it was folded into the G4 gaming channel and he and his colleagues lost their jobs. But they didn’t beg other networks for jobs. Instead, they started their own networks online. They didn’t need distributors. They had the internet. TechTV and broadcast veteran Leo Laporte started the popular TWiT (This Week in Tech) and a channel’s worth of other shows. Rose created Digg, which is turning out to be the root of his own media empire.
The concept behind Digg is disarmingly simple: when members find stories of interest – so far, mostly about tech – they recommend the articles to others at the site. The members get credit for being the first to find stories, which means that you have 150,000 editors fighting to find the good stuff fast, and that makes Digg a great source for timely tech news. Once the articles appear on Digg, members click to check them out, sending huge traffic to each article; this is known as “the Digg effect”. If the articles pass muster, members vote them onto the front page – they “digg” the stories, get it? And so the community creates the front page. We are the editor. Imagine if there were a parallel front page to this paper, edited by you and the smart community that gathers here. (Not a bad idea, eh?)
My 14-year-old son and webmaster is addicted to Digg and I think that’s great because it proves that young people do care about news. I also think it’s important for journalism that Digg has learned how to make news a social activity. You can go to Digg.com/spy and watch the public swarming around stories they like. My son can see the stories his friends like. I can subscribe to a feed of the stories he likes (wouldn’t every parent wish for such a conversation-starter?). The news is a community activity again.
I recently trained the faculty of the journalism school where I teach how to blog, vlog, podcast, wiki, and Digg. Actually, my son demonstrated Digg, and that was the most controversial moment of the day, as the professors fretted about second-rate stories getting on the front page. Jake showed them how the members can label a story “lame” and off it goes. He made it clear that Digg is owned by its public and that’s why it works. Shouldn’t all news organisations wish the public owned the news?
Rose continues to add more social functionality – thanks to a $2.8m (Â£1.6m) investment from eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar and Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen – and he plans to expand Digg beyond tech news.
But he hasn’t stopped there. Rose has started his own broadcast arm. He and another TechTV refugee, actor Alex Albrecht, host Diggnation, a podcast (audio) and vlog (video) in which they talk about Digg’s front-page stories. The production values are low, but that is its charm and the reason I listen with my son. Now they are looking to expand: Albrecht has been working on a cooking show for geeks and a podcast sitcom.
These guys know no limitations. Big, old media are forever fretting about brand, role, voice, and the bottom line. These innovators have reinvented news, radio, and TV – because they can.