American consumers this year will spend more of their day surfing the internet than reading newspapers, going to the movies or listening to recorded music, according to a recent study. No wonder; the Net hosts so much temptation in the shape of what you could term 'Web-based time-sink software'.
The foremost example is StumbleUpon (www.stumbleupon.com), the 'click-a-button-and-find-something-cool' site that catapults visitors towards all kinds of zany content and can be addictive - I know because it is nibbling away at my social life and career. But a rival Web wonder with pulling power looks set to give the discovery engine a run for its money. Consider the seductive charm of the user-driven social news site.
The social news site, or news aggregator, enables everyone to have a voice by proxy. As the foremost populist social news website, Digg (www.digg.com), puts it, all featured stories are submitted by its community: 'that would be you'. Digg community members vote on what they like best. 'If your story rocks and receives enough Diggs, it is promoted to the front page for the millions of visitors to see.'
Social news sites give us all a chance to manipulate the masses a fraction. In addition, they often dish up great reading.
Digg and its two main rivals (below) may one day threaten the dominance of that story hub stalwart Google News and could consume any reader with an appetite for news about tech, tragedy and trivia. Be warned: in writing this report, I lost days to intriguing links that begged to be clicked.
Founded in 2004 by University of Nevada computer science dropout Kevin Rose and friends, Digg pricks the assumption that democracy always entails mediocrity. The stories that pepper its tech-tinged pages are usually whimsical. One bemoans the dropping of vowels from company names, as in Flickr and Pluggd. Another steers the reader to a quirkily erotic 'Feeling Sexy Photo Contest' populated by strutting strippers and rutting ladybirds. Digg comes over as a lively populist read that can make news organs such as CNN and various newspapers look rather wooden.
Bearing a striking resemblance to Digg, Reddit was founded by two University of Virginia graduates, Steve Huffman (computer science) and Alexis Ohanian (history) in 2005. It manages to upstage its rival through its openness to everything from philosophy to pornography and much more.
Invested with the snap of a tabloid, Reddit steals from sites including damninteresting.com and treats you to headlines such as 'A cancer cure most doctors won't tell you about', 'Just when you thought Microsoft couldn't get any worse' and 'To iPhone: 'BAM! Now what, M@#$%^&*@#$?''
Fark, which launched in 1999, is by no means more mature in tone than Reddit. The stories its readers dredge up are perhaps even more lurid.
Founder and former slacker Drew Curtis knows it. His debut book is entitled It's Not News, It's Fark:
How Mass Media Tries to Pass-off Crap as News.
A sample Fark story: 'Police and firefighters answered an Elvis impersonator's 911 call and found that the homicidal King had pinned a half-naked guest to his living room floor with a [60cm] machete.'