Congoo: Social news that isn't social enough...yet

Premium-content news engine launches social networking features, but it's being too timid with them.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
3 min read

News aggregation site Congoo just announced that interested members can start testing out its new social networking features. It'll launch in full at the beginning of July.

The service already allows you to create your own custom news portal based on your specific areas of interest. You can then share that portal with friends, or opt to have a daily news briefing sent to your inbox. We're not talking just "Business" or "Entertainment"; Congoo's options are much more niche-oriented than the likes of Google News, from "Nanotechnology" to "Internet Telephony." The real draw is that it provides members with limited access to subscription-only news articles, like those from the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times Web sites, through its NetPass search toolbar. The site claims that stories are drawn from over 25,000 sources and that the site is updated automatically every 15 minutes.

Now, with the new networking features, each vertical news category is accompanied by a list of members who are interested in that subject and allows them to interact with one another. The options for filling out a Congoo profile are much more along the lines of LinkedIn than MySpace--clearly, this is for grown-ups. By focusing its networking features on the consumption of news, Congoo is essentially creating a target demographic of well-informed Web users. Its professionally-focused categories give off a very different vibe than Digg, which is typically the site that comes to mind when "social news" is mentioned. On the surface, centering a social networking site around industry news seems like a great solution for attracting a smart crowd that's looking to interact with other people but not necessarily on a strictly-business level. Unfortunately, Congoo doesn't quite get there.

A look at Congoo's social news, with member profiles to the right Congoo

There are a few things the site really needs to work on. The design leaves a lot to be desired, but the real problem is the fact that the social networking features really don't go beyond standalone profiles with friends lists. I'd like to see more interactivity. If I'm going to participate in a social news site, I'd like to see active commentary on the articles--which apparently there will be when it launches in full--or at least some way to "popularize" the news, whether it be through Digg-style voting or user submissions. Additionally, the social networking features just aren't highlighted well-enough as is. The right sidebar looks like an advertisement rather than part of the site itself.

Creating next-generation news has proven to be a challenge for just about every player in the field. The much-hyped Daylife has been criticized for not being social enough, whereas Digg has been snubbed for being member-controlled to the point where a sizeable number of the stories on the front page aren't terribly relevant. I think Congoo has a great concept in mind with its new social networking features, structuring the site so that it's oriented toward people with distinct niche interests in news consumption, but it just isn't there yet. There are still several weeks until the site's full launch, so perhaps more improvements will be made in the meantime with sufficient member feedback.

Too many companies launch halfhearted social networking features as a way to "2.0-ify" their brands. Congoo, in my opinion, should go out on a limb and put the networking features front-and-center. There's still a wide-open spot for a social news site that targets a professional audience, and Congoo could easily jump into it--with some improvements.