Back in 2004, when developer Kevin Rose launched the community-edited news site Digg, he could not have imagined it would launch a global phenomenon. A simple application that allowed users to contribute web links and vote on stories to push them to the front page somehow appealed to so many of us that by the next year, it had permeated popular Internet culture. We began talking about “the Digg effect” — a site being swamped by traffic after being voted up on Digg.
Piggybacking on the success of Digg, several community-edited news sites have emerged to carve out their piece of the pie, among them Reddit and (strangely enough) Web 1.0 giant Netscape. But the phenomenon isn’t limited to the United States. Because Digg’s news recommendations are made up mainly of content in English, the service excludes people who want their news — and want to contribute news — in other languages. International developers began to identify this gap, and Digg-like sites in other tongues began cropping up. There are now hundreds of community-edited news sites covering the Internet’s major languages. Here’s a rundown of some of the best ones.
One of the biggest Spanish-language community news site is Spain’s Meneame, created by Ricardo Galli and Benjami Villoslada, two developers based in Palma de Mallorca. At first glance it looks a lot like Digg because Digg was its inspiration, and as its inventors say in their FAQ, why reinvent the wheel?
One of Meneame’s strengths is that it’s open to any kind of news, not just technology (which before was a limiting factor of Digg, though they’ve since widened their focus a bit). Plus, popularity isn’t based solely on “meneos” (their version of “Diggs” or votes) but also on two concepts they call “karma” and “problems.” Karma is a count of votes, whether or not the votes were anonymous, and that number is counted against problems, which are reported by users to the system to alert it to spam and duplicates. This methodology makes the most “meneado” stories more accurate.
And if the Meneame interface looks familiar to you, that’s because its code is used in hundreds of community news sites in languages ranging from Japanese to Hungarian. Meneame has also inspired several Spanish-language spin-offs, including Tuteame, for users in Venezuela who want to contribute and vote only on news from their country, and Enchilame, which employs the same idea but is targeted toward Mexican users.
Meneame isn’t alone in catering to Spanish-speaking users. Developers in Spain have led the pack in creating successful Digg-like sites in their language, and another great example of that is Fresqui. Instead of just one site, Fresqui is divided up into three different ones, each with a different focus: one for science and technology, another for news and economy and a third for leisure and entertainment. It’s a nice approach, because users can home in on the information they want rather than having to navigate multiple categories within a larger site.
Alex DC, Fresqui’s founder, told me via email that he thinks the community-edited news site model has the potential to change media in the future: “Thousands of users will be the ones to decide what news is important to them, we’re just giving them the channel and the technology,” he said.
Brazil has taken the lead in producing Digg-like sites in the Portuguese language, which is spoken by the nation’s 32 million Internet users. Most of the 20 or so community-edited news sites in Brazil are direct clones of Spain’s Meneame, but there is a standout among them called Overmundo. Overmundo’s mission is to use the community-edited news platform to help disseminate Brazilian culture. And because its primary focus is culture, categories range from music to theater to literature, leaving tech and general news to the less specialized sites.
Users can contribute (or search) culture news by geographical location, category, or file type (e.g. Rio de Janeiro, visual arts, PDF) on Overmundo’s “Banco da Cultura” (“Culture Bank”), and find events close to them in any of these categories. This is an excellent example of a Digg-like site using the technology to do more than just vote and contribute — it has become something of a cultural events calendar for the country. Overmundo is also unique in that it is sponsored by the Brazilian government.
Another Digg-like site centered around cultural events listings is France’s QuePasa. Created for “organizers and influencers,” QuePasa’s interface uses color coding to differentiate the kinds of listings. From the homepage, you can immediately spot what you are looking for: a red block is a concert, light green an art exhibit, blue a sporting event, etc. While also inspired by Digg, QuePasa’s user interface is more visually appealing, presenting a graphical look at what’s hot rather than the typical text-only rankings. QuePasa also lets users find what they are looking for on a Google Map of France, or geo-tag their events so others can find them.
As in other languages, the standard Digg format is what is most prominent in French language sites, and there are several sites in French that are basically clones of Digg, among them Fuzz, Nuouz (pronounced “news”) and GMiix.
German users also have a few (but less) community news contribution sites at their disposal. The most popular ones seem to be WebNews.de and YiGG (you guessed it, a Digg clone), which according to its authors is more feature-rich than its American counterpart.
Last year, Wikio, a Luxembourg-based company announced that it would tackle a big piece of the European market for this kind of service by launching several Digg-like sites for the region, with a German-language version included. While original concepts for sites in Spanish and French abound, German users — perhaps because the majority of the younger population speaks some English — are considered more as an afterthought rather than a market worthy of targeting exclusively.
Multiple Languages and Beyond
At least one social news site is trying to help us keep up with news in a variety of languages. Kontrib.com is trying to translate all the news stories submitted to the site into at least four languages: English, French, Spanish and Arabic, and they do it with automatic translation. As one might guess, it’s not perfect. One headline that reads “China gives death penalty to ex-Food and Drug Minister” in English is translated into Spanish as “China gives death penalty to ex-feeding and safety of the drug.” But what it does do is open up the basic information of the news piece to readers who don’t speak the source language. Kontrib also allows users to tell the system whether or not the translation was helpful, and in the future the site plans to add ways for users to correct the translations themselves.
The question remains as to whether or not the global community-edited news phenomenon will continue to grow, and the answer probably hinges on the same question asked of every Web 2.0 startup: Will they be able to make profits? While some of these sites have no real intention of monetizing their services, others seem to be succeeding only by taking in money from ads. Indeed, the most successful among the bunch, Meneame, reportedly only grossed around 30,000 euros last year (all Google AdSense), though at least 10% of the business has been sold to a prominent Spanish tech investor.
Fresqui’s Alex DC told me that his company’s earnings are also modest at the moment (around 4,000 euros per month in ad revenue), but says he thinks upward traffic trends are a good sign. “The numbers aren’t big at the moment, but the future looks bright, as we are growing at a rate of more than 20% per month,” he said.
Can these sites become profit centers? Even for Digg, that question is still up in the air.
Which international community-edited news sites do you use? Is there a potential for continued growth in these services? If you know of sites in other languages not covered here, feel free to list them and review them in the comments below.
Jennifer Woodard Maderazo is the associate editor of PBS MediaShift. She is a San Francisco-based writer, blogger and marketer, who covers Latino marketing at Latin-Know and Latino cultural issues at VivirLatino.