Mon 27 Feb
For a while now, I’ve been playing with Newsvine, a news-driven community, Web 2.0 application that’s been generating considerable buzz since widening its beta program. Even though Newsvine, Inc. CEO Mike Davidson insists that, in its current state, the application is only a fraction of what it will be, it’s apparent to any beta tester that it’s an ambitious project.
Davidson and his team are trying to create a hybrid of citizen journalism and mainstream media news, allowing users to author their own ‘columns’ from the freely available Associated Press articles constantly flooding into the Newsvine system, or to ‘seed’ their own stories from virtually any outside source on the Web. While it may bear some superficial resemblance to community-driven news sites like Digg.com, Newsvine actually aims to be a news authority of its own, rivaling more established news sources. It’s an idea that has a certain amount of inevitability to it: an aggregated, community-authored news source that can stand as a peer to mainstream news outlets.
It helps, too, that Newsvine is gorgeously designed, and easily ranks among the most aesthetically pleasing Web 2.0 applications yet released. The fact that Davidson is a designer is no coincidence; you can tell that the Newsvine experience has a designer’s sensibility embedded throughout, from the lowest levels on up. Every detail is rendered with care and taste, but balanced with the pragmatism of a business mind. There’s a quiet meme in the design community that posits that one day, a designer or information architect will be CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Judging at least from his execution thus far, Davidson’s service at Newsvine is as good a start as any.
Still, it wouldn’t be completely candid of me to say that I’ve taken to Newsvine effortlessly. I’ve had my beta account for two months or so now, and I still struggle to use it, visiting the site only every few days to read stories here and there, but still remaining less engaged than I had expected. There are probably several reasons for this. two of which may be that I’m a notoriously late adopter when it comes to social software, and that Newsvine has yet to achieve the critical mass that would allow for truly robust network effects.
Of more significance is the fact that the “column” that comes with my Newsvine account is not Subtraction.com; it resides entirely within Newsvine’s walled garden, so to speak, and there is, as yet, no easy way to integrate it with my weblog. At this point in my life, I’m not entirely sure if I can find the time to tend another parcel of land in cyberspace — it’s a bit too much out of the way for me to make it over to Newsvine during a normal workday. I wonder too, if we’re reaching a saturation point wherein the number of ‘spaces’ that some net citizens can watch over has effectively maxed out — between blogs, Flickr, MySpace, Del.icio.us etc., there are more outlets for content production than ever… but how many people can maintain more than one?
Yet I’ll bet that, somewhere among the remaining 95 % of Newsvine’s unbuilt feature set, there are plans to allow the product to more tightly integrate with personal Web sites. I hope that’s the case, and I also hope that, among those plans, there’s a strategy for more diversified content.
As it is, Newsvine relies primarily on the stories turned out unceasingly by the Associated Press, and secondarily on content seeded by its user base. The problem that I’ve found is that, while authoritative, I personally lack an emotional connection with the AP wire. As a news consumer, I’ve become accustomed to regarding the AP as a source of temporary news stories, and I’ve reserved my passion for news brands that reside more in the spotlight. That’s an unfair prejudice that I’m not sure many other people would share, but I’d wager that, with content from a news organization that inspires some real passion — be it Fox News or The Washington Post — the Newsvine community would take on a different character altogether. In a sense, it would be a truer hybridization of net journalism and mainstream media, one that allows Newsvine’s grassroots columnists to effectively rub shoulders with top tier journalists. That’s something I could get worked up over.