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0 comments | Thursday, December 7, 2006

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In the beginning, there was Digg. And it was good. But there's never too much of a good thing, right? I've dug out (no pun intended) the 5 strongest community news sites and compared them according to their features, design & usability, and quality of content.

First of all, let me say that this was supposed to be a top 10 article. However, the biggest 5 community news sites - Digg, Reddit, Care2, Shoutwire, Netscape are so far ahead of the rest of the pack that there's no point adding any other service into the comparison. *let me just remind you that there are several other great news services but which do not work quite the same as the 5 I've mentioned, for example Sphere, Techmeme, Tailrank, and Crispynews, of which I've already written.

To illustrate this, in the following two pictures, you can see the traffic ranking for the big 5 and then another 5 smaller sites. However, since there are many nice and promising services out there, as you can see in this fantastic list on 3spots, I'll follow this article with a list of 5 most promising community news services.









So, here we go, in alphabetical order (grades are from 1 to 10):

1. Care2

a) Design & Usability


Care2 is not just a community news site. It sprung out from a large web portal focusing on health, human rights and protecting the environment. And, while the news part of the site is more or less independant, and covers different topics, the fact that it's all a part of something else shows, so the site lacks the clarity of Reddit or Digg. The design is professionally done, with two columns of news which turn into one column when you click on a category. The voting icons, which are here called "note it!" are visible enough, and most of the stories have pictures, which sets the site apart from its competitors. All in all, most people won't have trouble getting around the site, however, the other features of the portal do get in the way of the news part itself.

Grade: 6

b) Features

The basics - register, vote, comment, are here, but there are also some interesting additions. When you open the news archive, you can choose your channels like filters - for example, you can have all the Science & Technology and Offbeat news in one place, you can have just one category, or you can browse all 8 categories at the same time. Similarly (and at the same time) you can filter stories with more or less votes. Lastly, you can filter stories from this day, week, month and year. This is a solid concept which enables you to customize your channel almost exactly as you want it. Another feature is pictures next to users in the comments, which are bigger than at, for example, Digg. But, where Care2 really shines is the user profiles, which enable users to do a LOT. You've got friends, comments, picture galleries, favorites, videos - basically, it has all the features of MySpace. In this department, Care2 is way ahead of the pack.

Grade: 8

c) Quality of content

Not surprisingly, content on Care2 gravitates towards themes of ecology, nature, and human rights - even on the Science and Tech channel. The available channels are Environment, Healthy Living, US Politics, Animals, Society & Values, Science & Tech, World, and Offbeat & Fun. If your primary interest is technology, then I don't think Care2 is for you, since there are more science-flavoured stories than pure IT news. However, if you are into the aforementioned topics, Care2 has a lot to offer. In fact, the overal quality of the stories is really great; their help doesn't mention that they have editors, but it looks like they do. After half an hour of browsing, I've yet to find a poorly written story or just plain spam. Excellent. Grade is not perfect simply because the site doesn't cover some areas, especially IT, enough - compared to the other 4 sites.

Grade: 8



2. Digg

a) Design & Usability

I must confess right away that I adore Digg's design. I'm working on a web portal that's pretty cluttered with pictures and ads, so Digg's simplicity was a revelation, just like Google once was. There's simply no way you will be distracted from the main content on Digg, even with the Google AdSense ads that are present on the site. However, the usability isn't always perfect. For example, once I was wondering why my search doesn't work, only to find out that the context of the search changes with part of the site you're on. This is actually a good option, but it can confuse the beginner. Such minor quirks, together with the ads, are the only thing that are keeping Digg from reaching a perfect score.

Grade: 9

b) Features

Here, I should first point you to my detailed analysis of Digg's nonexistant features. But the fact that Digg doesn't have some features doesn't mean it's featureless alltogether - quite the contrary. For example, Digg Spy, Swarm and Stack are tools none of the other sites have and they're nothing short of fantastic - fun to use, useful, and they definitely give you the feeling you're a part of a live site with real people. All in all, I must grade Digg's features highly, although it's still inexplicable why some pretty basic options, like advanced search, are missing.

Grade: 8

c) Quality of content

Oh, boy. The thing with Digg is, it has it all. Practically everything has been submitted to it - just try and find a story that isn't already on there, and you'll see what I mean. But (and it's a BIG but), you will enjoy this wealth of content only if you're a poweruser, staring at Digg Spy and Digg Upcoming stories cloud and digging the good stuff. And by enjoy I don't mean actually enjoy, because you'll be swarmed with spam, fake stories, old news, and duplicate stories in an overwhelming amount. It's all becoming more and more like looking at random Google searches by thousands of users and choosing what's good among the trash, and I'm not sure it's the best way to find good news. If, on the other hand, you decide to stick to the front page only, you might be surprised that some of the good stories never come up there, because they can't break through the clutter. Or sometimes news comes two days too late. Yes, there is good content there - hell, ALL the content is there - but, and it pains me to say it, because it's the contrary of what community news sites stand for, it needs an editor. On a personal note, I think that the quality of Digg content has gone in a downward spiral from the moment Digg stopped being a technology-only site and broadened its scope.

Grade: 5

3. Netscape

a) Design & Usability

Netscape, just like Care2, bears the cross of "being a site that did something else before it started to be a community news site". This means that it's a bit more cluttered than Reddit, Shoutwire and Digg, but not as much as Care2. By the way, the famous browser Netscape once made is mentioned only as an afterthought. However, the overall design of the site is still very good - content is in the front row, and users will have an easy time getting around the site. Ads are present, but not overwhelming. Categories, which are called channels, are clearly visible. All in all, although I wouldn't call the site the prettiest of the five, I'd say that it's as usable as the best of them.

Grade: 7

b) Features

I've explained the Anchors - probably the most unique aspect of the site, compared to other four - below. Let's see what else Netscape has to offer. Besides the usual browse-submit-comment, you can choose from a relatively big number of categories for your posts, which is nice. You can also browse posts by tags, which is even nicer. Netscape also has a unique way of choosing content for their home page. Here's a quote from the site: "The Home Page consists of a list of 25 stories. These 25 stories consist of 2 stories from each of the top 10 most popular channels and 1 story from each of the next 5 most popular channels." When you open a story, it opens with a Netscape sidebar with some additional info, like similar stories, on the left side. I personally don't like this option, but some users might, and since you can turn it off, it's a plus. Finally, you can upload videos, and Anchors can also add videos to stories. Generally speaking, Netscape has quite a number of options, and they're all focused on content, which is very good. It seems like the Netscape team is really thinking on what's really important, and my grade reflects that.

Grade: 8

c) Quality of content

Here is where Netscape shines. The content is really solid, there's no spam and not many fakes. In the Gadgets&Tech category, which is my area of interest, I think I can safely say that Netscape is the best of the five when it comes to quality of content. And you know why? They have editors. They're called Netscape Anchors. Here's another quote from the Netscape site: "We have a team of full-time "Netscape Anchors" in our newsroom that monitor the site 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. These anchors do a number of things to keep the Netscape experience clean and compelling. First, they remove spam (we all hate spam). Secondly, they select the stories in "Netscape Anchors recommend..." box at the top of the page. Finally, they do followup journalism on many of the stories you vote to the Home Page and create original video on topics they feel you would enjoy.". Being an editor in an IT mag myself, I see nothing wrong with this, although many Digg users would probably start yelling Censorship!!1. The only possible weak point of Netscape's content, compared to Digg and Reddit, is the fact that there aren't so many stories submitted every minute, so you can't keep an eye on the freshest of what the web has to offer. But I would say this is only due to lesser popularity of Netscape compared to Digg.

Grade: 9

4. Reddit

a) Design & Usability

Design-wise, Reddit is the most minimal of the five. This means you'll get the minimal possible amount of distraction while reading your content, which is great. This minimalism is present even in the controls of the site, which might confuse some users; for example, you can sort your stories by "hot, new, top, ups", and it might not be immediately apparent what's the difference between "hot", "top" and "ups". The voting button, also, might be too small for people with less-than-perfect eyesight. In general, though, Reddit focuses on the content, and for this type of site, it's the most important feat.

Grade: 8

b) Features

Besides the basics, Reddit offers some interesting features. One of them is "Recommended". While you browse the site and vote on stories, Reddit remembers what you voted on and creates a list tailored exactly for you. Also, the comments are threaded - one of the most-wanted options on Digg. Another option is the Reddit toolbar, which - if enabled - opens the links with a small toolbar on top, from which you can vote or comment on the story. The last big feature I'll mention here is subreddits - subdomains of reddit.com like web2.reddit.com which cover specific topics. For example, web2.reddit.com is for listing and voting on your favorite web 2.0 applications.

Unfortunately, Reddit also lacks some pretty basic features. I would guess that it's on purpose, but I still can't understand the lack of categories. I, for one, don't want to see a story about "Chipmunks gansta rap" amongst IT stories. Since the feature of subreddits is already here, I think categories could easily be added as subreddits. Or perhaps filtering, like in Care2, could solve this problem. Also, like Digg's, Reddit's search is pretty basic. Generally, Reddit has what it takes to stay a major force in community news sites, but it also lacks a few important features.

Grade: 7

c) Quality of content

As far as quality of content goes, Reddit is little Digg. The content is similar in topic, and although there's definitely less spam and fakes at Reddit than at Digg, you get the feeling that the only reason for it is the fact that Digg is more popular. Also, the mentioned lack of categories, in my opinion, severely cripples the overal quality of content, because it's much harder to filter good content. To Reddit's credit, its content seems to be just a bit more serious than Digg's, so I guess it will appeal better to...well, the serious crowd.

Grade: 7

5. Shoutwire

a) Design & Usability

One of the nicer and cleaner looking sites of the bunch, Shoutwire doesn't hide its purpose for a second. You get your news, search, login, submit button, and categories right on the front page, all clearly visible, which makes it probably the most usable site out-of-the-box, if you will. The comments for the stories (together with the map, which I'll cover in features) are also easy to read. If I were pressed to find a flaw, I can only say that it might not stand out of the crowd enough (it looks a bit too much like all the other Pligg sites). Unfortunately, quite prominent AdSense ads and the fact that there's a whole entirely empty column on the right bottom part of the page take another point from the otherwise great design.

Grade: 8

b) Features

Remember the categories as filters feature that Care2 has? Shoutwire has it also. Unfortunately, there are some problems with them. Everything is fine until you try to subscribe to an RSS feed for a category - it doesn't work, you get the regular non-categorized front page news. Search is also quite lacking, it doesn't search the actual URLs of the submitted sites. Another feature is the fact that the links open with a frame from which you can vote on the site - a feature quite common as Reddit and Netscape also have it. But the most original feature is the Shoutwire map. Click on the number of comments on any story, and you'll see the comments for the story, but also a Google Map which shows the location of people who voted on the story. It's not really an essential feature, but it adds to the fun of browsing the site. In conclusion, Shoutwire has some nice options, but not enough to actually set itself apart from the others in this department; and some options are clearly lacking.

Grade: 6

c) Quality of content

The content on Shoutwire is good. The site doesn't break any records in amount of stories or in speed in which new stories show up, but there's also a limited amount of spam. The categories and the filtering capabilities are making Shoutwire a joy to use - if only I could find a way to have them in RSS. The site perhaps lacks a few dedicated fanatics who would push some really fresh stories, which would make the site a bit more authoritative, but it might also be a popularity thing which will come in time. *exploring Shoutwire further, after I've finished the article, I've discovered that it wasn't just a bad day for them as I've initially thought - the stories are actually much older than one would expect from a news site, ranging from 2-3 days, even on the front page. I had no choice but to lower the grade for the content from 7 to 5. I apologize for not being thorough enough in my research in the first place.

Grade: 5


And now, the final scores:


Care2 - 6 + 8 + 8 = 22
Digg - 9 + 8 + 5 = 22
Netscape - 7 + 8 + 9 = 24
Reddit - 8 + 7 + 7 = 22
Shoutwire - 8 + 6 + 5 = 19


Although the scores are similar, they are very revealing, as different sites amass their points in different areas. This means that there's no perfect community news site yet, and that - however advanced - all of these sites still have a long way to go ahead of them.

If you just scrolled here to see the grades, without reading the text, then the grades will be meaningless. Each service has its own quirks peculiarities, pluses and minuses, and the final grades can only be a pointer of the overall quality of the site. For example, someone who falls in love with Digg Swarm will probably sorely lack the feature on other sites, although it's by no means essential. Someone who prefers the minimal looks of Reddit will find a hard time switching to Care2, while users used to MySpace will love Care2's personal profile page which none of the other sites have. This text should make the decision easier, but you must try the services yourself and see how you like them. And if none of the above fit your needs, wait for next week, when I'll make a writeup of 5 most promising community news sites.

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