I’ve long thought there’s a way for newspapers to tap the audiences in what I call “underground social media” — Reddit, 4chan, digg, Plurk, FARK, others — and I’ve been chewing on this blog post about it for some time.
For those who aren’t familiar, these are forums for interaction via user-generated refers to existing content produced by others… Less geeky translation: Social media consisting mostly of links and +/- reactions to said links, for the most part. I’ve seen them called social readers, aggregators, social bookmarks, social discovery sites and even just “internet services.”
I’m calling them “underground” since they’re wildly popular but rarely come up in daily conversation. “So, I was on Fark the other day, and came across the most hilarious post.” Uh, no. You post the link, often with a wisecrack, and move on with your life, barely noticing the obvious url branding.
So I started noodling around this post a couple months ago when I, ahem, stumbled upon a use of Reddit I’d never seen before: the Reddit list as survey. ONA used it to engage its membership, and anyone else who felt like playing along, to pick sessions for this year’s conference. I participated a couple times, and I suppose it started me percolating on this post. By the time I caught a demo of our new commenting system — Disqus, which reminded me a lot of Reddit — I knew I needed to get a lot more comfortable with social readers.
Full disclosure: I’m not personally a fan of these sorts of sites. I’m willing to admit that I might just be weird, not weird enough or, at the very least, terminally uncool. (Thank you for being shocked.) It could also be my design background getting the better of me; all those sites just look like a jumbled mess of links — not the sort of social media that appeals to me, though some have made strides in that department. I liken each of them to a shopping mall (another environment I don’t particularly relish), full of lots of places full of stuff I probably won’t buy (in this case, click). Random browsing seems to not really be my thing; surfing or shopping, in reality or online, I generally start out with some kind of actual purpose. Where I might wander after that will probably depend on what I do or don’t find, as well as what other sorts of things that might come to mind along that journey. Arguably, that’s still random in nature, but certainly not in its genesis. I signed up to be emailed now and again with “interesting” posts from a couple of them, but not very many of them got me clicking unless I was reeeeeeally bored, or in severe need of procrastination fodder.
That said, given the extreme popularity of all those sites I mentioned above (and a few I’ll talk more about below) — as well as their innate ability to propel posts to viral status — it seems like folly not to familiarize myself with what they have to offer. They’re exactly the type of social media that appeals to many of my cousins, who are fast reaching that target age group news media is constantly attempting to reach. In fact, one of them, a college student at Berkley, recently told me that he first heard about Osama bin Laden’s death on 4chan. His smirk indicated I should have nosed out a few more details, but I got distracted by a shiny object, and we never got back on the subject.
And so, I dipped my toe in via social media. I would say that was a logical entry point for someone like me; most certainly, it’s led me to click on more social reader posts — specifically Reddit and StumbleUpon, as the others don’t seem to tweet much — in the past month than my entire life previously up until that point. And I have to admit that I’ve found a few gems among the rough — a lot of rough.Not my first cave-diving adventure
A couple years back, I dinked around on digg some, but I think that was more because I’d heard about the fervor over its redesign, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Maybe it was the “flawed” new design, but nothing I experienced there led me to visit that site more than a handful of times once the fury faded. Upon a recent revisit, however, I noticed they now have a “Newsrooms” feature in beta. If they figure out a way to curate local news for users, I could see where this might help us out — or become our worst nightmare, I suppose. I’m choosing to remain positive — and keep at least one eye on it.
Same deal, kinda, with StumbleUpon, which also got my attention upon word of a redesign. The rest I’d only really visited when someone passed along a link, generally to some kind of time-wasting yet HILARIOUS meme.
I did make a run at GetGlue, which strikes me as the couch potato’s FourSquare. No judgments, but… If you don’t get out much, if you’re often glued to the gaming system of your choice, or if you make a point of watching episodes of the most popular shows as they air — and want to be “rewarded” for doing so — this is the “check-in” social media you should be checking out. (And if I were in features, I’d start brainstorming how this social media could be useful. Since I’m geared more for news, though, I’m putting that one back on the shelf… for now, at least.)
Pinterest initially struck me as a similar sort, and arguably is exactly like the rest I’ve mentioned. But since it lacks the ability to +/- a post (in terms of actually rating the post, not like Google+’s answer to the “like” button), not to mention its rather high-profile popularity, it makes more sense to lump it in with more mainstream sorts of social media.
Last week, I was sent a link to a story about BuzzFeed.com. But before I had a chance to read it, I storified what I now realize is a somewhat related example for our Inland papers and deployed it to our three websites at kind of the worst time ever — after 5 p.m. Friday. When I checked up on it Monday morning, though, it had received 750ish hits — not too shabby, especially considering how minimal an effort it to pull it together in the first place… a positive lesson for future (and better planned/developed) undertakings, I’m thinking.
And so, since it did that well with basically no help from me, and since I was in the mood to test out a couple of theories about the BuzzFeed items I’d read about, I decided to dust it off, change the headline (to something more BuzzFeed-ish), and give it a Monday morning run. By the end of the day, it had surpassed 1,200 hits, and eventually topped out just above 2,500. Amazing.
But here’s the bad news: Only a few hundred of those hits are views from any of the three papers where I posted it, according to Storify stats on that post that seem in line with what I’ve dug up on Omniture. Most of the clicks, it seems, are coming via Storify, and really I’m guessing I have Google & Co. to thank for any traction whatsoever, as well as the fact that I was unable to change the original URL to a more accurate (and less perceivably salacious) SEO than I would have liked. (Still need to check up on the stories included in that Storify to see how they might/not have benefited from the increased exposure. Stay tuned on that.)
THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA (and its aggregators): After I’d all but hit the “publish” button on this post, I happened across this one-two punch of a Storify that stands as a pretty remarkable example of what social media of all kinds, brought together by yet another form of social media, can do. According to the Storify by user Ben Doemberg, the donation drive originated on Reddit, while 4chan users worked to weed out the perpetrators (a movement that was quashed by 4chan monitors). Meanwhile, the Storify that pulled it all together has 1.6 million hits and counting — a Storify record — was picked up by the likes of Mashable, Gawker and the Huffington Post… Storify’s built for sharing, after all.What do you think? (+/-)
I think social readers, or whatever you want to call them, bear discussion — and investigation, and experimentation — about how journalists could make use of them beyond the occasional attempt to make the a specific sort of oddball story go viral. Seems like we could do better, especially since I’m not sure we’ve ever even really tried.
Let’s start with “What’s your favorite ‘underground social media,’ a.k.a. ‘social reader’?” I’d love to hear about it, and why you like it. Tag me @designerGNA or comment below with links to some of your favorite posts, or any posts worth checking out for whatever reason.
In the meantime, I’m going to finish up reading this BuzzFeed post I found on Why Digg is Better Than Reddit, which seems a touch more useful than this post about Plurk vs. Twitter, though not as instantly entertaining as the fact that Reddit has a 4chan page it describes as “The utter cesspool of humanity. The very lowest common denominator of humor. The Bottom of the Internet.” And yes, I already read the post detailing the five things I need to know about the TomKat divorce.
Maybe there’s hope for me and this whole random browsing thing after all.