Is Meta Better?

I spent some time on Digg and beta.netscape.com this weekend to see how well Jason Calacanis his crew at AOL had replicated and/or improved upon Digg.

I am not a Digg fanatic, I visit it a couple times a week, vote sometimes, and submit stories at times.  I have a "Digg this" flare at the bottom of the posts on this blog. But Digg is not the first place I go for news on the Net, so I am not ideally suited to contrast and compare the two services, but I am going to make a few comments and then throw out the real point of this post.

Let me start with Digg. It is a proven model.  It works. When we funded delicious, Digg was about half the users and traffic of delicious. They are not the same service, but the delicious popular page and Digg are both places you can go see what’s "hot" on the Internet. Since that time, Digg has grown to 1.3mm unique visitors a month compared to only 350k for delicious. These are Comscore Media Metrix numbers. Clearly Digg has a more mainstream user experience. Further, Digg’s audience has doubled in the past three months, so it’s growing fast.

But let’s put this in perspective. Digg’s reach (UVs) puts it 735th on Media Metrix’ top 1000 sites list, between upromise and taleo. So in the grand scheme of things Digg isn’t necessarily the next big thing on the Internet.

To the extent that AOL is trying to take the Digg concept mainstream, they have done a few things that I like. First, they are starting with a fairly low-tech audience, the Netscape user base. So maybe they’ll get a more balanced view of what is "hot" than the Digg crowd, which like the delicious crowd is very geeky.

Second, Netsscape has added an editorial layer which is most obvious in the selection of the top story. This editorial function may serve to create a more balanced feel to the service.

And third, Netscape is emphasizing the channels a bit more than Digg emphasizes their categories.

I spent a bunch of time on the Netscape music channel and the Digg music category yesterday and even though Digg had way more users voting and submiting stories, Netscape’s stories were more interesting to me. They were about music instead of music gadgets and technology issues. So that kind of proves that Netscape has the opportunity to create a less geeky, possibly more mainstream audience.

But the thing that really impresses me is the way Jason Calacanis is using his blog to do real time customer feedback and product improvement. This is what Jason does best. He is like Bill Gates in that he is a great knockoff artist and takes customer feedback to heart and gets the product right. In Jason’s case he uses the native interactivity of the web to improve the product quickly and if you read his weblog, you’ll see him doing that right now.

Ok, that’s it for now on Digg versus Netscape. These services and many others are called "meta" services. They aggregate content and the wisdom of the crowd to create a "meta" view of what is going on. Delicous popular does that too.  And so does memeorandum and its sister sites.

But is "meta" better?  Does aggregating lots of content and audience produce a better result? Than what?

I am not entirely sure. I’ve gone through my digg phase, my memeorandum phase, and I am back to using myyahoo and the New York Times. In the first case, I am using my own choices of what’s important to me. In the second case, I am using the editorial judgement of the New York TImes. Neither of those is very good either. I have to manually change myyahoo and that takes work. The New York Times represents an editorial view that is by no means perfect for me. Plus I don’t like to be told what to think by any company or institution.

I am wondering if social networking is the answer. I find that my family, friends, colleagues, and readers emailing me links, tagging them for me in delicious, and leaving them in the comments is the single most useful way to stay on top of what’s important.

If you look at the bottom of the left sidebar, you’ll see that there is the beginnings of a social network, like those that exist on myspace and friendster, developing around this blog. If there was a way to apply that network, my network, to news and information, that would create the "meta" service I would love.

I’ve got it already, but it’s fragmented, in my email, in delicious, on this blog. Using my social network to aggregate this info, Digg style, seems like a great idea.