One answer may be found at a little-known San Francisco startup called digg. Founded by Jay Adelson and Kevin Rose, the company's Web site pulls together articles, links, and other info, largely about the tech industry. What's unusual is the method by which content is organized. The company relies on its 80,000 members to unearth the most interesting goodies on the Net each day. It's an early example of the collective strength of online crowds -- and hints at how the sea of online video, podcasts, and blog entries could be organized in the future.
That potential is drawing some high-powered support. A group of investors, including the Omidyar Network, and Netscape Communications Corp. founder Marc L. Andreessen, just invested $2.8 million for a stake in the company. "The more users contribute to the service, the more effective it becomes at identifying the most relevant content. That's very powerful," says Todor Tashev, a director of investments for Omidyar Network, the philanthropic group of eBay Inc. () founder Pierre M. Omidyar and his wife.
How does digg work? Every day its members send in around 700 ideas of things they find interesting. Each is put in an online queue where registered members can vote for their favorites. The 15 stories that garner the most votes, or diggs, are automatically published on the front page of the digg site. The next most popular stories follow on subsequent pages. Some 500,000 visitors read the site every day, a figure growing by 100,000 per month.
This kind of people power is being used at several places on the Web. The photo site Flickr was one of the early innovators in letting Web surfers organize content. It was acquired by Yahoo! Inc. () earlier this year, and now its technology is being incorporated in a variety of the giant's offerings. The venerable tech news site, Slashdot, also taps volunteers' expertise. And Current TV, a startup with backing from former Vice-President Al Gore, uses viewer input to organize its video clips.
There are plenty of challenges to the digg approach. It requires members who are committed to exploring the far corners of the Net. Plus, you need to be interested in what those particular members are uncovering. "You can surface some really interesting results if you have a group of like-minded people," says Barry Parr, a JupiterResearch () media analyst. "The trick is finding a site with which you feel compatible."
Still, digg and sites like it are beginning to work their way around such limitations. The venture money will help digg tailor its offerings more finely for different audiences. Rose says that the company is working on making digg "smarter" by looking at users' past behavior. The founders also plan to move into categories such as science, politics, and business, and expand their popular videocast, diggnation. "The Internet is filled with all sorts of content: video, audio, games, financial information," says Adelson. "There are a lot of ways you can apply this concept of collective wisdom to make all that information more convenient." By Elizabeth Woyke