On Social Bookmarking

The following is the text of a podcast given for Mike Lewis' JRN 350 Online Journalism course:

The first place I go for online news and information isn't Google or the New York Times. Instead, I go to Reddit, an online space for the sharing of news articles, op ed pieces, blog posts, videos and anything else others frequenting the site might find intriguing, hilarious or useful. Built on particular aspects of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, Reddit is a social bookmarking website, relying on user-generated and user-submitted content for its continued existence. There are many other similar social news sites, like del.i.cio.us, Mixx, Newsvine, Propeller, Stumble.upon and Yahoo!Buzz, but Reddit, and its dominant competitor, Digg, draw the most users and, thus, the most attention and influence.

In essence, such sites exist as a way for interested parties to share content and exchange information. But there are additional, valued elements of interactivity here. On Digg, this takes the form of digging and burying links; on Reddit, it involves voting up or down particular submissions. Positive and negative votes impact not only the visibility of a submission, increasing or decreasing the likelihood of hitting the front page, but also the user's overall standing on the site, in the form of particular stats on Digg and in the form of karma on Reddit. These stats and karma reveal to others a particular user's reputation, if they are simply a partisan spammer or someone honestly interested in providing good-quality material. In other words, Digg's stats and Reddit's karma are the direct results of active participation in the community, acquired through the submission of links and/or the offering of substantive observations on the submissions of others.

All content submitted to Digg and Reddit is organized according to subject. On Digg, predetermined subject headings include Technology, World & Business, Science, Gaming, Lifestyle, Entertainment, Sports and Offbeat, all of which include 3-5 more specific subheadings. With the exception of Gaming, such headings mirror how stories are organized on mainstream media websites, like that of the New York Times. On Reddit, however, there is one main heading and an incredible variety of what are called "subreddits." These subheadings range from the more familiar and general, like Music, Politics and Technology, to the more specific, like Apple, Beer and Cognitive Science. Created and moderated by users, each subreddit becomes a community as others subscribe to it. The most popular subreddits reveal what the Reddit community values overall, including Politics, Pictures and Images, Funny, Technology, Programming and Science.

The many choices presented by the likes of Reddit, Digg and other forms of social bookmarking are a large part of their appeal and success. As a Redditor, I choose only those subreddits which matter most to me. And while I could, for example, bookmark or set up an RSS feed for the Technology section of the New York Times, there's a greater diversity of news, information and commentary submitted to the Technology subreddit. These submissions are quite diverse, but I also have some say in their worth and usefulness. I could, as another example, provide a critical comment on a news item posted to the New York Times website, but there's little chance it would ever be removed. However, as a Redditor, I help in determining what others see on Reddit's front page. This greater participatory element is an additional value to me as a critical reader of information. For me, then, the value of Reddit, and social bookmarking in general, concerns not only the personal tailoring of news and information to my own needs and interests, but also the opportunity to exert some influence over what others read.