Newsvine – What is that like then?

posted on January 6th, 2006 by Anthony

Most of you will probably know who Mike Davidson is.

For those who don’t – he’s a web bloke that used to be the head guy at Disney/ESPN, but who recently went solo to do his own secret project.

After months of speculation Mike lifted the covers on his brainchildNewsvine.

With bold statements such as:

At Newsvine, we feel strongly that an article’s life only begins the second it is published. It is only when readers interact with it that it achieves its full impact.

And:

Why shouldn’t you be able to comment [on the story] like you would on a blog entry? Why shouldn’t you be able to chat about it with whoever else happens to be reading the story at the same time?

So basically it’s like a combination of Google News and Digg, with a few other ideas added. Interesting, but not the groundbreaking enterprise some had expected.

However, Mike is one of the industries biggest names, so when he puts his weight and talent behind something, you expect it to be good.

It’s well Beta

The Newsvine header

Well this morning I got an email saying I’ve made it onto the private beta, so I’ve spent a bit of time going through what the site has to offer. And this being the internet, I’d thought I’d share some of my experiences.

The Sign Up

The Newsvine sign up screen

As ever, there is the initial sign up procedure to go through first. (Well that was after trying to access the page 15 times – there seems to be an issue with the server being hammered by testers at the moment!)

You are presented with a standard form, which asks the standard questions: Name, username, email, password, and one to set up an address for your ‘Newsvine Column’.

There is some nice use of real time AJAX that checks whether your chosen names are available. This a great touch, except it seems a bit flaky at the moment. A few times the fields got stuck in a state of ‘checking’ until you changed something. Not a big issue, but you can’t proceed until it they are confirmed available.

The Design

The Newsvine home screen - click to see bigger image

Once you have coxed the fields into submission you proceed trough to the front screen and you get to have a look at the design and structure for the first time.

It’s a fixed width, three column jobbie, with a horizontal navigation bar under the header to let you move between subjects. Stories are in the centre, top headlines and hot topics on the right, and the left holds links to your personal sections.

I think you could describe the design as functional – a lot of it’s foundations can be traced back to Mikes own blog. It’s not ugly, but it doesn’t knock you off your feet. It does, however, let you read the news without too much fuss.

The Structure

The news is split into 11 top level categories, which then split off into seemingly randomly generated sub categories. Pretty much everything is covered by the first ten, and all the rest can be shoved into the ‘Odd News’ section.

You can also choose to see the top news by region – which leads me to my first real gripe.

The site is very US centric. I know it’s an American site, by American staff, but it’s the internet for gawds sake!

One of the sections is ‘US News’ it would be nice to be able to tailor that to your country. And I mean country. As I said, you can see the top stories (only the top stories mind) by region, but the regions to choose from are like: Atlanta, Baghdad, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, London, Miami, LA, etc etc.

I’m sorry the UK (or most of the world) isn’t like the US. London in this context doesn’t really mean anything. I can understand the need for a New York version and a Los Angeles version, but I don’t think there will ever be the need for a Liverpool option, or even Edinburgh or Cardiff – UK will be fine!

There is a call for it, seeing as the Brit Pack is already out in force (see pic).

The News

American Soccer journalism in full swing

Being British I quickly went to have a look at the footy news. I don’t really have a problem with it being called soccer, it’s our word and I understand the need to differentiate from American Football (even if the use of feet is minimal at best…) but please, please, please get some sources that know WTF they are talking about! Here are some example headlines:

I’m sorry but they are just gibberish. They need better sources of news than just the AP.

Seeding the Vine

Seeding the vine, baby!

Well of course you can add your own stories, which should help thin out some the AP pap – and let us contribute our own.

Using the ‘Seed the vine’ bookmark you can quickly add any story you are reading on any site. So for test purposes I’ve added some proper footy news, a couple of Xbox360 stories, a heads up about Hyperdrive and, most important of all, Celbrity Big Brother!

The system work well, but there doesn’t seem to be a way of stopping duplication of stories. This is something Digg combats pretty well, but if you look at the soccer section of Newsvine you will find something like 6 entries about Real Madrid legend Di Stefano having a heart attack. And that’s quite annoying.

Overall

I’ve only really scratched the surface here – there is quite a bit more I could have covered – but for now it gives a pretty good overview of what to expect from Newsvine.

I’ve quite enjoyed the experience so far, and there is some potential there. If they could add some greater regionalisation and personalisation it could be great, but at the moment it doesn’t seem to offer anything that is startlingly new.

It feels like an aggregation of ideas from several other sites on the web, and at the moment the mix doesn’t feel quite right.

At the moment there’s just a bit too much crap in the fertiliser to prevent the vine from flourishing.

But there’s plenty of growing time left, and once more users are in the mix, hopefully the right balance will be found. As Mike said himself “life only begins the second it is published”.