Sunday, December 31, 2006


San Jose Mercury compares Digg and Newstrust


Posted on Thu, Dec. 28, 2006

Web news opposites

By Elise Ackerman
Mercury News

Two years ago, the inspiration for creating a Web site for news junkies hit two men with vastly different ambitions. One hoped to make boat-loads of money. The other dreamed of enriching American democracy by identifying trusted news sources hidden in the deluge of information available online.

The latter turned out to be the tougher task.

Fabrice Florin, a successful technologist and a veteran of Apple Computer, launched the beta version of last month after turning 50 and deciding it was time to give something back to society.

Florin had founded three for-profit companies, but feared that if he focused on profits with NewsTrust ``the public interest would get cheated.'' So he raised a small amount of money from donors and funded the rest himself.

Meanwhile, Kevin Rose, 27-year-old host of an obscure cable TV tech show, lost no time in launching in October 2004. Rose's site lets people give a thumb's-up or a thumb's-down to stories other users had found on the Web and submitted to Digg.

Stories with the most ``diggs'' were listed first. ``We find unique stories that no sane editor of a traditional Web site would put together,'' Rose told Newsweek in October.

Digg didn't screen for accuracy. Fake stories, like a recent one about Sony recalling the PlayStation 3, can stay at the top of the site for hours. Still, Digg was listed this week among the top 20 U.S. sites, according to Alexa, which provides information on Web traffic. NewsTrust's Alexa ranking is 106,502.

The two sites ``are completely different,'' said Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media and a NewsTrust adviser. While Digg strictly measures popularity, NewsTrust asks users to rate a story on the basis of 10 factors, including accuracy, balance, context and evidence. It also asks users to write a short summary. ``It's adding judgment about quality,'' Gillmor said.

``The initial mission was, `How do we get people to become more tolerant of each other's viewpoints, to listen better?' '' Florin said of the comprehensive rating system. By critically analyzing a news story in detail, Florin said, he hopes people will overcome preconceived notions about a topic in the news and end up less polarized in their political beliefs.

NewsTrust's more thoughtful approach can yield dramatically different top stories. On Tuesday, NewsTrust's users selected ``Top Ten Myths About Iraq 2006,'' from a blog written by Juan Cole, president of the Global Americana Institute. Digg's top story was ``50 Reasons -- why it's great to be a Guy!!'' from a blog written by someone named Mike in Los Angeles. Reddit, a Digg competitor that was recently acquired by Conde Nast, featured ``Why iPods Are Never on Sale,'' from

``Civic vitality depends on stories about things that matter,'' said John McManus, project director of Grade the News, which operates in association with Stanford University's Graduate Program in Journalism. McManus is also a NewsTrust adviser.

``It seems to me that what they are doing is really important,'' said Jim Emerman, executive vice president for Civic Ventures, a San Francisco non-profit that seeks to encourage older Americans to actively participate in social ventures. ``We are working in an environment in which the media is under attack and struggling to maintain journalistic standards.''

The idea that journalism is in jeopardy and that technology can make a difference motivates Florin, who started his career as a television journalist before joining Apple's Multimedia Lab as a founding member. Florin subsequently launched Zenda Studio, an independent development studio that provided software R&D services and multiplayer games.

From Zenda, Florin moved to Macromedia, where he helped create In 2001, he founded, which provides multimedia content to mobile phones. Now owned by Andrews McMeel Universal, Florin continues to advise Handtap on content and business strategy.

Florin said he is concerned by both the cutbacks in traditional media, as well as the enormous increase in unconventional sources on the Web. ``There's a problem: It's hard to know if you can trust the information that you can get. But there's also an opportunity,'' he said.

A community has already begun to form around NewsTrust, with more than 2,600 people submitting stories for review. Florin believes the rigor built in to the site can help ordinary people evaluate new sources of information, at the same time forming connections with each other and deepening the dialogue about civic affairs.

NewsTrust is also trying to offer extra rewards to participants; for example, subscribers can receive e-mailed digests of highly rated stories that otherwise might not get called to their attention. ``What we care most about is seeing the community enlighten itself,'' Florin said.

Contact Elise Ackerman at or (408) 271-3774.

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