Often, the companies that present at the NY Tech Meetup are in a fledgling pre-beta phase and haven't received a whole lot of buzz. But one of the featured New York start-ups at Tuesday night's January meetup has gotten a whole lot of coverage among tech blogs since it launched last week: Daylife, a news aggregator that comes up with creative ways to visualize the people, places, organizations, and events that shape today's headlines. You might recognize its technology from the NewsRanker feature on the popular news blog Huffington Post--Daylife is all about using cool graphs, charts, timelines, and connections to make current events something more than just words and photos. And it's automated. This could be just what the Internet needs.
Complaints about some popular sites dependent on user-generated content, namely news site Digg, has made me wonder if whether the user-generated route isn't always going to be the best one. Take the news, for example. The recent buzz about Digg has shown that a news aggregator where headlines are picked out Coliseum-style by the masses with a thumbs up or down--shockingly--might not always showcase the best or most honestly-picked news. Putting Digg and Daylife side by side, I wonder whether the collective masses of the Internet will decide that there are some niches of new media that might be better off powered by automation rather than by "people power."
There are already plenty of automated news aggregators out there, most notably the impressively successful Google News. But Google News is, more or less, a collection of headlines. Daylife aims to go several steps farther. For example, when you're reading headlines on Daylife and you click on the name of someone notable--say, David Beckham--you'll be treated to a series of news headlines, a photo slideshow, a quotations section, connections to other news topics, and a timeline that shows how many news stories have mentioned Becks on each day of the past month. (You can even separate the graph into news stories versus blog entries!) News, in the Daylife sense, is something that's quantifiable and dynamic; it's all interconnected, and anywhere you click can bring you to a whole new set of headlines and pictures: at first glance, this is a perfect presentation of the news for today's media-heavy, information saturated world where anyone can be a journalist. And with automation, Daylife avoids the arguably oligarchic nature of Digg.
Besides, the news really is more complex than an up-and-down ranking.
But Daylife is far from perfect. I'm not a huge fan of the site's "cover," as pretty as the photographs on it may be. Aren't splash pages totally 1998? Take me to the content, please. Additionally, I can relate to some of the disappointment that TechCrunch's Michael Arrington expressed when he wrote up Daylife's launch last week. The site is indeed missing several features that are practically must-haves for any rich-media start-up these days: Arrington mentioned RSS feeds and the ability for users to post comments. Sure, I read somewhere that only two percent of Internet users actually use a feed reader, but RSS is pretty much a requirement for the geek elite who are often the first crowd to pull a start-up out of its nest. And as for comments, I'd at least like to see some way for users to contribute to the site. At the NY Tech Meetup presentation, we were all assured that there's plenty more on the way--yes, including widgets, so that you can share Daylife data on your blog.
So, as with so many sites featured on Webware, it's really too early to gauge Daylife's potential for success. But in my opinion, it has a niche to fill. User-generated news sites like Digg are a colorful alternative to the often dry nature of automated aggregators, but there's the strong potential that their content won't actually reflect what's going on in the world. Daylife could find its footing on the Web as an automated news site that's actually interesting.
We'll just have to stay tuned.