I’d like to posit a theory: that social news sites benefit more than the sources they link to. Submit a quality article to Reddit, or HN, or Digg, and these sites, not yours, will most likely gain the most benefit of your content. Your site will see an increase in visitors, but it will not see a sustained growth. It will take a lot of work to differentiate your success from the social news site. The reason for this is simple: users equate finding your content with the social news site. The news site gains the reputation for being the source of the content.
This can be seen with Google. Google has gained a reputation, not for creating it’s own content, but for pointing its users toward content. The users credit Google with getting the content, and so Google gains that mind share. This is why Google News is so threatening. Google News merely links to the sources. However, Google News gets the credit, and therefore the readers. Suddenly, people aren’t concerned with branding. They trust in Google News, or Reddit, or HN. If these sources link to the result, the result is good. If they don’t link to the result, then it’s not worth the users time.
Branding is important. The source of content is important. This is something that is known. News Papers for decades worked hard to preserve their branding. The news paper itself was the brand, pointing toward the writers individual articles. Readers would look to the news papers to decide what was important and critical. Front page news is headline news, important, something you need to read. Just like front page news on Reddit is what people have deemed to be most important. Google News is doing what newspapers have done before. Taking the news, filtering it, and presenting what it deems is important.
The danger here is credibility. A source like Digg is controlled by democracy, and must fight against spam. Newspapers had problems with publishers and other problems that they had to contend with. The problems were different, but the results were the same. What ends up on the front page directly reflects the on the brand. Rarely with the actual creator of the content. True, people knew the name of journalists. But how many journalists can you name for the Washington Post or the New York Times off the top of your head? Now, how many newspapers can you name? Probably more, and I’m willing to bet the majority of the news consuming world can’t even name one journalist while naming off numerous news sources.
So, these sources of news become credible because of the work of content creators, and anything posted on these sources becomes credible, regardless of the source. Sure, you have your fact checkers, but it’s far too easy to make a statement and get it into the headlines and bank on the brand of the source. If your article reaches the front page of Reddit, the Reddit population makes certain assumptions. Often times the fact checking is left to the comments (or possibly other headlines later on). But still, the original headline has used the Reddit name (or HN, or Digg, etc) for it’s own purpose. But in the end, it’s content the readers will associate with Reddit, not necessarily the author.
So what does this mean for you, dear reader? The danger is information overload. Something like Digg is supposed to feed you your news. You associate Digg with relevance and meaning. But it leads you to more and more information. You visit a dozen sites each day, and rarely will you remember any particular site, but you will remember what you read through Digg. Or Reddit. And you’ll associate that article with your social news site of preference. You’ll associate that article with the brand of your choice, and as a result, provide that source with more credit then it deserves, or provide your brand with more power than it needs.
I should note I use Reddit, HN, Digg, /., and many other sites each day looking for interesting things to read. I used these sites because I associate them with the type of thing I like to read. Because of this, they enforce and validate the way I view the world. Anything not on these sites becomes suspicious and worrisome. I realize this isn’t just the internet. This is how everything is fed to us. I think it’s coming to that realization, that content and information is re-branded by practically everyone, that makes me wonder how it can be fixed. If it can be fixed.
If it should be fixed.