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Is ShareThis the next Digg?

Will "share" buttons on stories supplant the popularity of the aggregation powerhouses? The real trick, of course, will be for ShareThis to succeed financially.

ShareThis, a handy little widget that site managers can install to make it easier for readers to share and save Web pages, is preparing for a new release that gives the service Digg-like powers.

The service's user interface, which lets people post items they like to dozens of services, such as Digg, Twitter, Delicious, and plain old e-mail, is also getting a graphical and performance refresh designed to make it simpler to use. (See story, "ShareThis and the stealth business model," for a look at the current version of the product.)

The real power is the new ShareThis page that reports on what people are sharing with their friends. As I said, there's a Digg-like element to this. But while Digg only ranks the stories that people send to Digg, ShareThis can track what people are sending to Digg, Reddit, MySpace, and dozens of other services. Also, ShareThis is egalitarian--the ShareThis button appears on every story on more than 60,000 sites, CEO Tim Schigel claims.

The service will also soon get new group features. When you're in the process of sharing a story, it will also show you other similar stories that your friends (people you've shared with in the past) have also shared. Schigel has commissioned research that shows that adding general-sharing functions to a site increases readership by 3 percent and that ShareThis in particular does so by 6 percent.

New, improved pop-up ShareThis menu.

If people begin to use the ShareThis aggregation page to find sites and stories to read, it will kick off a virtuous cycle of site managers installing the widget to get onto the aggregation page, and the aggregation page potentially driving traffic back to the sites.

ShareThis can also provide analytics on sharing, showing site managers which stories are the most shared and what services they are shared on. (I'd love to get this data for my work.)

The service also has a browser plug-in for FireFox, but the product's real power comes from the widget that publishers are voluntarily installing in their site templates.

There are other sharing widgets out there, like AddThis, but I continue to be impressed by ShareThis. It's unobstrusive and functional. Site managers seem to be adopting it as the default sharing widget on new and existing sites. And now the company is planning to leverage that growth in a new and interesting direction. It's smart.

What remains to be seen is whether the company will succeed financially. Schigel explained his revenue ideas to me in a meeting in January, and repeated them last week when we met again. But he still hasn't turned them on. I'm concerned that he may be building a powerful and important online service that won't actually make any money; in my opinion, companies should begin beta testing their business models as soon as their product begins to attract loyal users.

The new ShareThis will show you how many times the things you share are shared by others. There will also be a Digg-like page showing what's being shared around the Web.

ShareThis plans to put the updated service into very limited private beta on October 6. First 100 people to e-mail with "Webware: beta" in the subject will get access to some of the new functionality at that time, through a Firefox plug-in.