Digging into the News

Social news site Digg has expanded from technology news into broad-based coverage of many popular topics, with stories ranked according to their popularity among Digg users.

Digg calls itself “a user driven social content website,” and then rightly asks “Ok, so what the heck does that mean?” It’s a simple idea, really—allow users to suggest news stories, blog posts or other web content, and then have the user community vote to promote the story to the front page (“digg it”), comment on it, or get rid of it (“bury it”).

The result is a dynamic, rapidly changing view of popular content on the web that’s also extremely fresh.

This approach leads to a very different view of news and current events than you see at most traditional news sites, where editors make the decisions about what’s important and what’s not. The sheer diversity of Digg’s more than 300,000 users surfaces a lot of unusual content you might not ordinarily see in the course of your daily web activities.

Until recently, Digg focused on technology news, but on Monday added new subject areas including as world & business, entertainment, science and gaming. Another new area allows users to suggest and digg videos posted to sites such as YouTube, DevilDucky and Google Video.

Of course, everyone has topics that they’re more or less interested in, so the new version of Digg also offers a lot more control over the types of content you can view.

Each of the major topic areas now has sub-categories that allow you to zoom in to specific categories:

  • World & business (business & finance, politics, world news, offbeat news)
  • Entertainment (celebrity, movies, music, television)
  • Videos (animation, comedy, educational, music, people, gaming)
  • Science (space, environment, health, general sciences)
  • Gaming (gaming news, playable web games)
  • Technology (apple, design, gadgets, hardware, industry news, linux/unix, mods, programming, security, software, tech deals)

You can customize these categories, removing topics that you’re not interested in (you can always add them back later).

When you look at the stories that have been voted to the front page (called “popular stories”) you see a title and a brief description along with the story’s URL and the number of diggs the story has received (very similar to search results). There are also links to digg or bury the story yourself, and to email or blog the story if you use any of the most popular blogging tools.

But Digg also encourages users to interact with one another. You can view all of the stories a particular user has dugg, and if you like their approach you can add them to a “friends list” to see all of the articles that they digg going forward.

You can also comment on a suggested article. As with many forum sites, or sites like Slashdot or ZDNet that allow user feedback, there can be some very interesting comments, but I find that most are inane, and “discussions” often break down into juvenile flaming sessions—in other words, a colossal waste of time.

The real value of Digg and other social sites like this lies with the collective opinion that causes interesting content to get surfaced. For my part, I just ignore the comments.

While you don’t need to register to read the popular stories dugg by Digg members, you do need to sign up for a free account to suggest or vote for stories yourself. It’s worth doing this to check out the “upcoming stories” section. These are stories that have been suggested but haven’t yet received enough votes to have been promoted to the front page. This is a great way to spot stories that may not have yet broken at major media sites.

The upcoming stories section also allows you to view suggested stories in a “cloud view,” essentially just links to all suggested stories with popular stories showing in a larger font size—another great way to spot developing or hot stories.

Digg provides numerous RSS options. You can use RSS for specific users, friends, topics, digg search, and the popular/upcoming sections of digg. Simply visit any Digg page and then add that page to your favorite RSS reader.

An interesting related site is DiggTrends, which offers interesting stats and charts of Digg content. The “forecast” section attempts to predict which upcoming stories have enough momentum to ultimately be promoted to the front page, while the “missed” section shows those that almost made it but didn’t acquire enough votes to make the front page.

And if you are a fan of these user driven social content sites, be sure to check out popurls.com, a site that aggregates the top new content from Digg, Flickr, del.ico.us and other such sites all on a single page, and refreshes itself every 10 minutes or so.

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