Social News: Following the Herd
I’m a nerd and an obsessive consumer of content, so for me social news sites, like Digg, Reddit etc have always been a big draw for me. In their early days, these sites always seem to attract a decent quality of reader and the conversations held in each posts comments are always educational and interesting. However, these sites always seem to have a tipping point, where their popularity brings them into the public spotlight, and a less enlightened user begins to enter the ranks. These users, post irrelevant comments, endless memes and generally lower the standard of the whole site.
When this happens, the original members start to get aggrieved by the new users and start looking for new places, this happened not long after Reddit launched, and droves of former Digg users moved to Reddit. Over time, more and more of the unenlightened users swarm into the original site, pushing more and more of the original users to another site. Eventually, the unenlightened users themselves are pushed out by an even lower form of life – the trolls, spammers and other layers of pond-scum, leaving a site that barely functions and nobody wants to be a part of.
This leads to a continuous migration of users from site to site, First Slashdot, then Digg, Then Reddit, even niche sites like Hacker News seem to be suffering lately – once a dedicated community of like minded entrepreneurs, they too have slowly begun to attract a number of “Digg caliber” users.
I’ve also seen this phenomenon happen on other sites, like the photo sharing site Flickr. Once a place where photography enthusiasts shared high quality images and talked about composition and techniques, in recent years has been overtaken by award clubs, and cat picture societies, slowly degrading the experience for anyone that really cares about the subject.
Forums, blogs, news sites, they all seem to suffer from the herd like mentality of their users, slowly killing themselves as a result of their own popularity. I too, am a part of this herd having been a member of Slashdot, Digg, Reddit, Hacker News and many other sites, all of which have faded into the background of my internet history as I constantly migrate to warmer climes where the grass is greener and the conversation is more intelligent.
Sometimes I’m at the front of the herd, other times – fearing change – I stay at the back. The one thing I’ve learnt is that eventually… we all move on. Anyone that can predict the direction of the herd, build up a community and sell out before the herd moves on, can come out of the deal with a loaded wallet and a wealth of experience and kudos that can be applied to other areas. Just look at Kevin Rose, founder of Digg and Steve Huffman, founder of Reddit, both have built massive communities and moved on to other things.
So the big question we should be asking is… where next?