31 October 2008

SPOTLIGHT – Social Bookmarking II

Following on from last week’s introduction to the world of social bookmarking, this SPOTLIGHT post will be examining how it relates to journalism.

What advantages does it present to journalists? And what possible dangers could be lurking?

These are the issues we’ll be looking at in this post, and we’ll discuss the ways that some mainstream sites are dipping their toes in the waters of social bookmarking.

We’ll also have a list of the ten most popular social bookmarking sites linked to by the UK’s mainstream media.

And at the end will be a list of useful places to visit if you want to find out more about this dynamic and fast-changing online activity.

Bookmarking The News

The early years of social bookmarking have already been marked by innovation and invention as new service providers pop up to the surface like bubbles in a glass of champagne.

And among these are the sites dedicated to the collecting and sharing of online news content links – such as Digg, Reddit and NewsVine.

So do these websites – and their counterparts such as Delicious and StumbleUpon – present journalists with an opportunity or a problem?

Freelance journalist, blogger and social bookmarking superfan David Cohn is firmly in support of the former.

“I think ignoring it is like shooting ourselves in the foot,” is his take on whether journalists should be getting involved in social news sites.

While academic and blogger Paul Bradshaw stated that social bookmarking holds “enormous potential” for reporters.

So here’s an introduction to just a few of the ways that social bookmarking could aid journalists and media groups with the gathering, production and distribution of news.

The Benefits Of Bookmarking


Generate Story Leads

According to Cohn, social news websites are a good source of stories if journalists are prepared to dig (excuse pun) for them.

“Often there are great ideas that stay at the bottom because they were presented poorly. Journalists have the time to take those ideas and polish them up.”

While Bradshaw notes that the use of tagging on social bookmarking site Delicious can help reporters to “spot leads or information you would otherwise have missed”.

For example, any member of Delicious can look up a particular theme or topic and see all the page links saved by other users.

Grow Contact Book

Most social bookmarking sites enable you to find people who are prolific collectors of the same content as you.

For example, the Conversation Tracker on NewsVine allows members to follow comment threads of their peers while users can “make friends” on Reddit, create a network of like-minded people on Delicious and receive notice of Diggers Like You on Digg.

As Beat Blogging editor Patrick Thornton puts it: “Social bookmarking is a way to find experts in specific fields.”

Thornton also notes that these contacts don’t always have to come from outside the news world – they could be fellow journalists.

He points to new networking/bookmarking hybrid site Publish2 as a platform that could help local reporters covering a particular beat share sources and information with a journalist from a different location.

Create Extra Content

It’s becoming an increasingly common practice for bloggers to automatically publish their Delicious links on their own pages.

Blogger Martin Belam writes: “Publishing daily lists of links in this way gives a blogger an opportunity to ‘micro-blog’ about items they’ve read but haven’t wanted to or had the time to write a full-length post about, and to add another regular stream of content to their blog.”


Crowdsourcing Research

Social bookmarking websites can also be used during the writing process as they can help point the way towards relevant articles for information.

For example, in writing this blog post about social bookmarking I searched through the most popular articles on Delicious tagged under “social” and “bookmarking” to find useful examples and background material.


Draw More Traffic

Just taking Digg as an example, the site passed the milestone for one million registered users back in 2007 and could have almost tripled that figure this year according to one estimate.

So any website which gets its articles on the hallowed pixels of the Digg front page can usually expect a pretty significant increase in traffic.

One newspaper putting this to the test has been the Chicago Tribune, which has created the character of Colonel Tribune to be its representative on social media sites including Digg, Twitter and Facebook.

According to one of its media coordinators, it was the social bookmarking sites that proved to be the most successful of the social media platforms for drawing traffic to the Tribune online.

These kinds of strategies could soon be emulated by news groups in the UK after it was reported that Digg, which tends to lean towards North American news, has plans to launch localised versions early next year.

Attract New Eyeballs

If there’s one demographic grouping that you could say has embraced social bookmarking it’d be the young (see this Hitwise study from 2006 on Delicious).

So social bookmarking websites offer regional news providers an effective way to put their content in front of people who may not visit their neighbourhood news website or read their local newspaper.


Show Your Sources

Social bookmarking is also a way to open up the news production process to the audience by sharing links to source material.

For example, Bradshaw’s model for the modern newsroom includes social bookmarking in its list of “Five Ws and a H that should come after every news story”.


Most social bookmarking sites allow their users to submit comments on stories and therefore provide journalists with another platform for interacting with the audience and ascertaining their opinions.

Putting This Into Practice

If you want to know how to start putting some of these ideas into practice, this excellent slideshow produced for Journalism.co.uk has some practical tips for journalists using Delicious and Furl.

The Downsides Of Bookmarking

Finding What You Want

Social bookmarking websites are folksonomies so there are no hard and fast rules for tagging content and giving names and terms to things.

This means that journalists using sites for research may miss out on articles with unexpected tags or ones with spelling mistakes and so on.

Spammers can also make it hard for users to find what they’re looking for as they could deliberately mislabel content to appear in popular searches.

Cliques Rule

This is an allegation levelled particularly at Digg, where bloggers in the past suggested that a relatively small group of contributors were responsible for submitting a significant share of the front page stories (this Mashable story has details).

It means that in some instances it can be difficult for newcomers and those without an extensive social bookmarking network to get their stories where they can be noticed.

How Wise Are Crowds?

The voting systems on social bookmarking rely at least partially on the actions of its users to help good content float to the top and let poor content sink to the bottom.

However, some say the crowds cannot always be trusted to make the wisest choices and this Read Write Web story has an example of misinformation and herd behaviour in action.

Overloaded and Out-ranked

This occurs when a website’s article appears on the main page of one of the big bookmarking sites and the subsequent traffic influx results in some kind of technical failure.

Whether it’s the Slashdot Effect, the Digg Effect or you’ve been Farked or Drudged – the end result is the same.

Here’s one blogger’s account of their day of mixed fortunes after one of their pieces made the Digg front page.

Meanwhile another blogger tells of his Digg front page experience and points out another potential downside is the fact that the Digg link page then out-ranked his own blog post in a Google search for a certain period.


If you want to know more about what some see as the potential pitfalls of social bookmarking check out this 2007 blog post entitled “Top Ten Reasons Bloggers Should Avoid Social Bookmarking”.

Mainstream Media & Social Bookmarking: Who's Linking Who?

The majority of mainstream news websites in the UK now feature some sort of bookmarking options, encouraging users to share content in the wider world of the Web.

But which bookmarking sites enjoy seeing their little logos adorning the most Share This boxes?

To get some insight into the most popular bookmarking tools I did a quick data collection exercise looking at the share buttons available on 20 UK news websites.

Of course, this is by no means a definite picture of the current situation in the UK but it provides an interesting peek into some possible trends.

With the regional news websites, publishers seem to have installed a generic selection for all their sites so I looked at examples from nine of the 20 biggest groups and also gathered information on 11 national online newspapers.

Ranked according to the percentage of the 20 sites including it among their share icons, here’s the Top Ten Most Popular Social Bookmarking websites:

Digg - 100%
Delicious - 95%
Reddit - 85%
Facebook - 75%
StumbleUpon - 65%
NewsVine - 50%
Fark - 35%
Yahoo! My Web - 30%
Google Bookmarks - 25%
MySpace - 20%

(The Nationals: Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Record, Daily Star, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Mirror, The Sun, The Telegraph, and The Times.)

(The Regional Groups: Archant, CN Group, Guardian Media Group, Iliffe News & Media, Johnston Press, Midland News Association, Newsquest, Northcliffe, and Trinity Mirror.)

Interestingly, from the ones I looked at only two websites – Express.co.uk and Mirror.co.uk - have the Add This widget function which posts content to over 30 bookmarking sites simultaneously.

(I'm working on a fuller version of this research with results on 15 national news websites and the 20 biggest regional publishers' sites and will make it available soon.)

If you want to compare these results with trends in the US, this Poynter Online article from Ellyn Angelotti has some interesting data on the social bookmarking situation stateside.

While the effectiveness of these social media options has been put to the test recently by Belam.

Belam monitored social bookmarking sites to see how many articles from online newspapers and broadcasters were being featured on them.

And his results for the Metro, local London news sites and ThisisPlymouth.co.uk (looking at Fark only) can be viewed on his blog.

Plus, Belam looked into the help and advice which mainstream media sites offer to users with regards to the often bewildering array of colourful logos.

Internal Social Bookmarking

To finish up, we’re going to take a quick look at a fairly rare phenomenon but one which may become more widespread in the future – that of in-house social bookmarking systems.

For example, The Guardian has a clippings file option which lets registered users not only collect and store articles, but also share them with other members.

According to The Guardian: “Your clippings are publically available at a web page personalised with your username so that you can access them without signing in.

“Anyone can see your clippings so you can send the link to your friends and let them know what you’re reading.”

Each clippings file also has a webfeed so users can receive their own saved stories via RSS or sign up to get a feed of someone else’s, including a Guardian journalist.

While earlier this year the New York Times launched its TimesPeople service, which acts as a social bookmarking meets social networking service for its registered users.

According to the NYT: “TimesPeople is a great way to discover things on NYTimes.com that you might not otherwise have found and to share your discoveries with people you know and trust.”


If this hasn’t satiated your appetite for knowledge about social bookmarking, there are plenty of resources on the Web.

Dosh Dosh has a good introduction to over 40 social bookmarking sites with a screen grab of each.

Meanwhile, eBizMBA has an up-to-date chart of the 30 most popular ones measured by criteria such as inbound links, Google page rankings and traffic data.

And Wikipedia has a list of various social software sites with links to their home pages.

In terms of practical tips for utilising social bookmarking services, Poynter has a good guide to Delicious for beginners.

And this slideshow from web developer Stuart Marsh is an introductory guide to building traffic by using social bookmarking tools.

Pro Blogger has a post from 2006 with ten tips which have stood the test of time for encouraging a “Digg culture” for your site.

While Cohn’s Columbia Journalism Review article has some good advice for becoming an effective Digger.

Finally, if you want to share your thoughts about social bookmarking and its value for journalists, Cohn has created a social network group for just those kinds of discussions.

So that’s it for this week’s SPOTLIGHT post. As usual, do get in touch if you have any examples of innovation you’d like to share or any topics you would like to see covered in future posts.

[Pictures from top: eConsultant; Martin Belam.]

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