Site that help aggregate news, like Twitter, Hacker News, and Reddit, are a great way to keep informed on what other people think are the most important or interesting stories at any given time.
But they have one major problem: as their communities get too big, their value for individual users actually decreases.
When a community is small, its users generally have many interests in common. That’s why they join in the first place.
But as a community gets larger, the group gets more diverse. On a community site with an emphasis on news, the links that are shared will also become increasingly diverse.
Each site has its own way of deal with this, and each solution has its own problems.
On Twitter, the links and pictures you see come from the individuals you follow. Obviously, this means that if you want to hear about gaming news, you follow gaming news sites and journalists. Same thing for tech or politics.
But Twitter is also a social networking site. People use it to not only share links but also to discuss them in real-time.
The problem with this stems from the insane number of followers that newsmakers have. If someone has 50,000+ followers and shares an interesting story, it could be replied to hundreds or even thousands of times. No one has the time to engage with that many people.
So people follow their friends or other non-newsmakers so that they can actually have conversations with people. But then those people start sharing things involving their other interests.
This turns Twitter into a balancing act between following people they can converse with and people who share things they actually care about.
Reddit has a similar problem. Rather than following what individuals post, people subscribe to sections of the site dedicated to specific topics, called “subreddits.” There are thousands of these subreddits, so to keep new users from being overwhelmed the site has created a set of curated “defaults” that new or unregistered users see when they go on the site.
As the subscriber counts for these subreddits increases, an ever-larger number of links and comments is submitted each day. On Reddit, this has created a system where certain cultures become dominant within a given subreddit. Since Reddit users only see what gets “upvoted” (liked) by other members of the community, people submit links and comments that they think greatest number of users will like.
That’s why the politics subreddit turned into a left-leaning sounding board and atheism became a place for angsty atheist teenagers to make fun of their religious friends and family. And that’s why Reddit had to remove those sections from the defaults people saw when they first started using the site: they just aren’t good examples of what the site can be anymore.
Like Twitter, Reddit has become a balancing act. If you don’t want the content you see to become an endless stream of repetitive drivel, you have to always be looking for subreddits where people aren’t self-conscious about posting things they’re sure will be upvoted. If you want your links and comments to be seen, you have to post on subreddits that actually have subscribers.
It’s for this reason that Rob Malda, the founder of Slashdot, doesn’t think there will be another site like Hacker News or Reddit. In an interview with Timothy Lee at the Washington Post, he states that in the past, the issue with online news used to be finding stuff to read. Now, it’s about finding the stuff that’s actually relevant to you:
“This is why Hacker News would be better if I could get the 10 best items. I don’t care about a new version of CoffeeScript, but when tech culture stuff happens, the right story is there and it’s fast. But I have to click through a lot of stories that aren’t relevant to me.
Slashdot we kept bounded to 10 or 15 [posts per day in the early years] and by the end we kept it bounded by 20 or 25. At some point that 31st story isn’t really that much better. With more and more voices, you tend toward broader subjects. Eventually it becomes less and less interesting.”
Providing interesting, relevant content for many people with many interests is a difficult problem to solve. For now, it seems that the best solution the biggest sites have is to let the users handle curating their own content to varying degrees and through vastly different methods.
If you want to “disrupt” something, why not try here?