Eric Johnson

Recent Posts by Eric Johnson

Out-Trending the Trendmakers: NewsWhip Says It Defeats Twitter and Facebook’s Filter Bubbles

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Yes, it’s possible to stay on top of the news entirely from within Twitter and Facebook … but it takes work.

Following the right number of people (so as not to get overwhelmed) posting about a broad variety of topics (so as not to leave oneself ignorant) is an inexact and tedious science.

And call me cynical if you must, but I don’t trust my real-life friends to keep me informed, either: Absent the professional news organizations I follow there, my Facebook news feed would be largely pets, music videos and distressed chatter about how winter is, evidently, cold in some places.

Screen shot 2013-01-24 at 4.57.20 PMAll of this is a roundabout way of making the case for NewsWhip, a Dublin-based startup trying to beat Twitter and Facebook at their own social-news capabilities.

NewsWhip claims its site automatically pulls in and ranks the best trending stories of the moment from Twitter and Facebook, based on aggregated and weighted data of what the world is tweeting, sharing, liking and commenting on. The faster a recent story is spreading online, the higher it moves in the rankings.

CEO Paul Quigley said that speed is his “fundamental metric.”

“If a story has 10,000 shares and is 12 hours old, it won’t necessarily be a big deal,” he said. “We only care about how many shares it got in the last one to two hours, or even 30 minutes.”

Users of the free site or mobile app are greeted with a single column of stories from around the Web, which can be filtered by topic or location. A sister site for news professionals, Spike, lets paying subscribers filter even further by time intervals (“published in the last hour,” “published in the last three hours,” and so on).

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Quigley’s pitch is that NewsWhip and Spike are better at surfacing trending news topics than Twitter and Facebook because the filter bubbles created by whom we follow “can cause us to become isolated from alternative ideologies to our own.”

But does it work? This isn’t a review, but I will say the algorithm would need some work before I could make NewsWhip my first stop for news. Unsurprisingly, the stories that gain the most speed and, consequently, the most prominent placement on NewsWhip are very “social-friendly.”

So you’ll see a mix of stories that provoke outrage sharing top billing with pop-culture watercooler fodder in the default “Worldwide” section, and not so much “real” worldwide news of the same moment, which usually makes it to the top of that other little aggregator, Google News.

And within certain topics, the absence of human editors is sorely noticed: I came to the technology section yesterday afternoon expecting something similar to the homepage of (human-edited) Techmeme, with stories about Microsoft’s Q2 or the rocky launch of Twitter’s video app, Vine.

No such luck. Instead, one of the top articles in tech was “GRAPHIC: Girl Puts Apparently Bloody Tampon Where It Should Never Go.” Thanks, but no thanks, Huffington Post.

(I’ll leave the inevitable hand-wringing about what the popularity of these articles says about society, or whatever, to the commenters.)

Still, NewsWhip has potential amid a crowded field of curators and aggregators, and even in the short term it could be a decent alternative news source for, as one example, the majority of American adults who have never seen news on Twitter or Facebook. It’s a good surface glance at the zeitgeist, and for some casual newsreaders, that’s enough.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald