Who was it who said, "Yahoo Buzz could drive millions of visitors to anyone's site, thousands of stories to peoples' parents, and hordes of spammers away from Digg"?
It was us, just then. And we're going to tell you why we think we're right.
Yahoo Buzz is a huge social news site, launched as a closed service this February. But it's now open to everyone: you, your Web site, your favourite news sites. So we felt the time was right to explain what it is, why it was launched and what it might lead to.
Yahoo: It's all about balls
When Yahoo launched Buzz -- a news site loosely based around voting for cool stories -- it knew the site would draw immediate comparison to existing social news platforms. So we had to ask ourselves, why did Yahoo launch a product so similar to Digg? What did it think it could bring to the market: news or noise?
The simple answer is eyeballs. Big juicy eyeballs. Yahoo globally reaches half a billion Web users. Its mail service alone has over 250 million users, and its search engine, while overshadowed on an epic scale by Google, still accounts for between 15 and 20 per cent of all Web searches made in the US and UK.
To make Buzz succeed, Yahoo needed to make the most of its most popular services and its billion-strong eyeball count. And it has done. What's more, its competitor Digg may well benefit enormously from Buzz's popularity.
We'll explain how in a jiffy. First, let's take a closer look at how Buzz works. Users and publishers submit links to news stories, then other users vote -- or 'buzz' -- stories up the popularity ladder if they like them.
In addition, stories are weighted more heavily -- that is, they're considered more important -- if Yahoo users are also using Yahoo Search to find similar stories, and weighted more heavily still if users email buzzed stories to friends.
It's all about discovering what's popular in the news, rather than what's considered cool by a group of users at any given moment.
Theoretically, for example, a story about Barack Obama will be weighted more heavily than a story about what Alan Titchmarsh had for lunch that day, because more people are searching for 'Barack Obama' than 'Alan Titchmarsh lunch today'.
Obama: Candidate, husband, recurring search term
Right now, Buzz's way of deciding what's important to its users has resulted in it being utterly dominated by US politics. Everyone and their grandmothers are searching for something to do with Obama, the moose woman or that other guy.
If given enough votes (sorry, we're not saying 'buzzes'), a story still stands a good chance of becoming popular, but the system works in favour of stories currently popular in the news and in searches.
If you're submitting a story about persistently popular items -- politics, pop stars' personal lives, the global economic crisis -- you stand a much higher chance of being seen. And if you're looking for stories the majority of the population wants to read about too, you're likely to find Buzz highly relevant.
If you're very lucky, and exceptionally interesting, your submitted story might be picked by Yahoo news editors to feature on the Yahoo homepage, potentially sending millions of visitors to the publisher's site.
Why Buzz might actually benefit Digg
With Yahoo Buzz on the scene, pimping potential traffic referrals that makes the Digg effect look as puny as a pirate on the shoulders of a giant, Digg could see a reduction in exploitation as some of those looking to exploit the system move their efforts to Buzz.
Obviously, this benefits everyone, most of all Digg's users. And for a site that has still yet to be bought up, being exploited less is what we in the UK call a Brucey Bonus.
Digg is still a massive juggernaut in the social news scene, but it's also still largely dominated by the tech community, despite its expansion into political, social and entertainment news -- the very market Buzz is currently appealing to most.
The only thing Buzz will take from Digg are spammers and possibly your parents, and they're not interested in browsing through Apple news and things MrBabyMan thinks are awesome anyway, even if you did show them how to filter them out.
The future, as predicted by the past
Buzz may turn out to be a strong product. But the bigger it gets, the more it'll appeal to those looking to game the system, and the more its repository of rubbish articles seeking quick traffic will grow.
It could benefit enormously by integrating a discussion system within each submission's page. Branching into localisation would boost its appeal to readers in countries other than the US, and even stronger localisation would make it an attractive news destination for cities and users' home towns.
Although at the moment Buzz adds little to the Internet, it could add a great deal to the Yahooniverse. Publishers will, and should, be taking it very seriously. But as far as us techies are concerned, it'll always be Digg first, Buzz second. -Nate Lanxon
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