Merc story on Newstrust
December 29th, 2006

The San Jose Mercury News, the newspaper of record for Silicon Valley, compares profit-minded Digg and civic-minded Newstrust. If you haven’t signed up yet, give Newstrust a try. Here’s somebody who isn’t out for the big IPO — he just wants to try to improve journalism and democracy:

Two years ago, the inspiration for creating a Web site for news junkies hit two men with vastly different ambitions. One hoped to make boat-loads of money. The other dreamed of enriching American democracy by identifying trusted news sources hidden in the deluge of information available online.

The latter turned out to be the tougher task.

Fabrice Florin, a successful technologist and a veteran of Apple Computer, launched the beta version of NewsTrust.net last month after turning 50 and deciding it was time to give something back to society.

Florin had founded three for-profit companies, but feared that if he focused on profits with NewsTrust “the public interest would get cheated.” So he raised a small amount of money from donors and funded the rest himself.

Meanwhile, Kevin Rose, 27-year-old host of an obscure cable TV tech show, lost no time in launching Digg.com in October 2004. Rose’s site lets people give a thumb’s up or a thumb’s down to stories other users had found on the Web and submitted to Digg.

Stories with the most “diggs” were listed first. “We find unique stories that no sane editor of a traditional Web site would put together,” Rose told Newsweek in October.

Digg didn’t screen for accuracy. Fake stories, like a recent one about Sony recalling the PlayStation 3, can stay at the top of the site for hours.

Still, Digg was listed this week among the top 20 U.S. sites, according to Alexa, which provides information on Web traffic. NewsTrust’s Alexa ranking is 106,502.

The two sites “are completely different,” said Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media and a NewsTrust advisor. While Digg strictly measures popularity, NewsTrust asks users to rate a story on the basis of 10 factors, including accuracy, balance, context and evidence. It also asks users to write a short summary.

“It’s adding judgment about quality,” Gillmor said.

“The initial mission was, ‘how do we get people to become more tolerant of each other’s viewpoints, to listen better?’ ” Florin said of the comprehensive rating system. By critically analyzing a news story in detail, Florin said, he hopes people will overcome preconceived notions about a topic in the news and end up less polarized in their political beliefs.

NewsTrust’s more thoughtful approach can yield dramatically different top stories. On Tuesday, NewsTrust’s users selected “Top Ten Myths About Iraq 2006,” from a blog written by Juan Cole, president of the Global Americana Institute. Digg’s top story was “50 Reasons — why it’s great to be a Guy!!” from a blog written by someone named Mike in Los Angeles. Reddit, a Digg competitor that was recently acquired by Conde Nast, featured `”Why iPods Are Never on Sale,” from Salon.com.

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