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The New Front Page – MESH 08 Session Notes

Since I work for a media company,I was particularly interested in this discussion on how the web is the new front page.

The panelists for this session were Daniel Burka of Digg, Pema Hegan of GigPark, and Candice Faktor of OurFaves. While there are lots of places we get information, all three panelists represent sites with recommendation engines at their core, so that’s where the conversation focused. Lots of good discussion but instead of trying to recap it all I thought I’d share the main themes that stuck with me a week later.

Old vs. New
Old: Decide what’s important by what’s on the front page of the newspaper
New: “If the news is that important it will find me. Someone will filter it and it will find me.” A quote shared by Matthew Ingram, moderator of the panel.

Instead of a few editors deciding what is important, everything is potentially news and we use tools to filter through what we want. And instead of a handful of sources, we can access an immense amount of information.

(Interestingly, I read a post today that put the sheer volume of content in perspective, “10 hours of content is uploaded to Youtube every minute”.)

Newspapers deliver trust based on editorial guidelines. How is trust built in now?  Burka acknowledged Digg has had challenges in the past with people gaming the system. They use algorithms and human intervention to keep the system honest. And since users can bury a story themselves, the system is largely self-regulating. Faktor talked about the importance of “giving users the tools to report abuse or take action when something isn’t right”.

Old and New – Working Together
All three panelists agreed that traditional media isn’t disappearing. Burka described it as a symbiotic relationship as sites need material for their users to digg, recommend (GigPark), and create a fave (OurFaves).

When asked if the future includes a lack of well-sourced, well-researched material, Burka jumped in to say that if people want well-sourced, well-researched, and well-written material it will get digged and therefore generate demand. While acknowledging the front page is no longer all that relevant, the panelists agreed media companies themselves are not being replaced. In fact, all the back pages they produce are the ones that get digged.

Media companies would do well to not delay publishing content. Burka explained that often a media company will put an article online a month after it has been published. Someone else has already put the content on a blog and Digg is linking to that blog post instead of the media company who first published the piece.

It’s not about the Homepage
With all the tools and recommendation engines available there is too much weight being put on the front page. Media companies should make sure all their pages are good and leverage the long tail of their content.

Measure Action, Not Traffic
I attended a Stanford Publishing conference back in November and we had a discussion about the importance of writing headlines that capture attention, as that is often the only piece of content a user sees when they’re deciding whether to click and read the whole story. (We were talking specifically about widgets that pull headlines).

This panel extended that discussion and agreed that measuring the action a reader takes with a story is a better measure of value. Clever copywriting can generate a lot of clicks on an article. But looking at how many people emailed or recommended that same story is a better indicator of value. Interestingly, the New York Times now shows ‘most blogged’ as well as ‘most emailed’ on their website.

What do you think about the New Front Page? How do you decide what to read online these days? How do you filter information?

Photo credit: reading the paper day 24 by jemstone

One Comment

  1. CT Moore
    CT Moore June 6, 2008

    “[…] if people want well-sourced, well-researched, and well-written material it will get digged and therefore generate demand.”
    I think that it’s this kind of attitude that encourages misanthropes like Andrew Keen in the first place. There is, after all, that whole idea of the press being the watch dog of democracy and the intelligenstia being the gate keepers of culture. To that extent, there was some merit in what Loren Feldman said about social media being more of a “big dumb brain” than a “wisdom of crowds.”
    That being said, it is nice to know that the news will find me if it’s important (to me).

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