September 12, 2007

The Latest News Headlines—Your Vote Counts

Differences Among the 3 User-News Sites

The three user-generated sites had a lot of the same characteristics. Still, there were a few things that make each one stand apart.

Digg

Digg, launched in December 2004, is the most popular of the three user-news sites, according to data from Hitwise, which measures Web traffic for over one million online businesses. At the end of June 2007, when PEJ’s content analysis was conducted, Digg was the 194th most popular site in the Computers and Internet category. The site’s audience is more male (57%) than female (42%). It is also had the youngest audience of the three user-news sites we studied, with just under half (47%) of all users between the ages of 18 and 34.

The content is entirely user-driven. Registered users submit and vote on content, “digging” those they like and “burying” those they don’t. The stories with the most “diggs” move to the top of the page, with the order changing almost every minute as users submit and vote on new content.[1]

What users of Digg seem to choose most is technology and science news. Amounting to four-in-ten stories (versus 2% of all stories in the News Index), technology headlines for the week ranged from new features on Facebook—the popular social networking site—to tips on how to build your own lap top.

But it was the release of the iPhone that dominated the technology and science category, with 16% of all news stories on Digg that week. Stories included hundreds of people waiting outside stores to get their iPhones and reviews from various techie Web sites like TechCrunch, Pogue and also techie columnist, Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal.Behind that, at 6%, was another technology-related big story, video game consoles, which are interactive computer devices that are used exclusively to play video games.

Digg’s heavy dose of technology and science stories mirrored that of Del.icio.us (41%), though Del.icio.us’ technology and science stories tended to focus more on social networking Web sites like Twitter and Foldera.

Of all the other outlets studied, Digg was also the most U.S. national-centric at 89%, slightly higher than what it was on Reddit (83%) and Del.icio.us (81%), and considerably more than what it was in the Index (71%).

Del.icio.us

The Web site Del.icio.us, founded by 32-year old Joshua Schachter in late 2003, is the “oldest” of the three sites studied. It was acquired by Yahoo in December of 2005 and was the 410th most popular site in Hitwise’s Computers and Internet category at the end of June.Del.icio.us, unlike Reddit and Digg, had more female (55%) users than male (45%) users. It was also skewed the oldest, with the lowest percentage (35%) of users under 35.

Del.icio.us is also 100% user-driven but works a little differently than Digg. Del.icio.us is a social “bookmarking” Web site, which lets users “tag” content they find most interesting. So when users find a piece of content (or an entire Web site) that they want to share—whether they find it on Del.icio.us or an outside news outlet–they “tag” it and add a list of keywords to describe the story.

The site then offers several ways for visitors to view the content. Most immediately, there is a “Hot List” on the homepage which lists content items that contain the “hottest” keywords of the moment.[2] Users can choose to view a list of the “most popular” content, or that with the most number of tags from users. This subject-based content was the page analyzed for this report.

In the week studied, Del.icio.us had the most fragmented mix of stories and the least overlap with the mainstream News Index. Overall, just 3% of its stories were devoted to continuous, major stories that dominate the mainstream news media. Rather, stories on Del.icio.us were of a more eclectic flavor, such as one on how to make coffee in Japanese and another on the nature of airplane seating.

Not surprisingly, the content on the site resulted, during the week studied, in a more diverse range of topics than the other two sites. Technology and science stories still dominated, at 41%, with articles on the history of Adobe Photoshop, how tagging works on social bookmarking sites, and shortcuts on the popular Internet encyclopedia site, Wikipedia.

There were also a high number of lifestyle stories, such as a link to a Web site that rates more 20,000 hostels.Two in ten (20%) stories overall fell into the lifestyle category, a higher number than what we found on Reddit (15%) or Digg (11%). Meanwhile, they made up just three percent in the News Index that week.

Reddit

Reddit, founded in 2005 by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, two recent graduates of the University of Virginia, and then later acquired by Condé Nast Publications in October 2006, is the newest of the three user-news sites. Data from Hitwise found that Reddit had the smallest audience of the three sites we studied, ranking 1,222 at the end of June. Meanwhile, other data showed that it had the highest percentage (64%) of men and almost as many users (45%) 18 to 34 as Digg (47%) did during the week we conducted the research.

Its content selection is based on user submission followed by “up” or “down” votes. Next to each of the 25 stories on its homepage there is an up and a down arrow for users to vote for or against the content. Stories with the most “up” votes rise to the top.According to Wired, “web content posted to Reddit tends to center on politics, opinion and world news.”[3]

In the week studied, Reddit too showed a high affinity for technology and science stories, though it also included the most coverage of Washington politics.

More than two in ten (22%) stories on Reddit covered technology and science issues.But while technology and science was the most popular story topic on Reddit, it was roughly half the percentage on both Digg (40%) and Del.icio.us (41%).

The second most popular topic was lifestyle (15%). This number was similar to what was found on Digg (11%) but less than what it was on Del.icio.us (20%).

The third most popular topic was coverage of the federal government, at 13% (compared to about 5% on Digg and none at all on Del.icio.us). The bulk of government stories on Reddit were about President Bush and Vice President Cheney, with particular reference to eavesdropping programs and coverage of the Vice President in which he claimed he was not part of the Executive branch.

In terms of specific stories, Reddit focused most heavily on domestic terrorism (7%). These stories included a cartoon that made fun of President Bush for allowing the NSA eavesdropping program. Domestic terrorism did not receive similar coverage from any of the other outlets.

The next three most popular stories on Reddit were the Vice President Cheney controversy (4%), Supreme Court actions (3%), and video game consoles (3%).

In terms of geographic focus, Reddit was similar to Digg and Del.icio.us. Eighty-three percent of all its stories were U.S.-centric, parallel to Digg (89%) and Del.icio.us (81%).


[1] Alexa.com, May 2007.

[2] The programming for this is based on what the industry terms a “folksonomy,” a non-hierarchical way of categorizing content by using tags (freely-chosen keywords).