Yahoo Puts the 'Buzz' in Social News, Launches Digg Competitor

Yahoo has finally launched its long-rumored Buzz portal, a social news site where you can vote stories up or down, with the chance to send the day's most popular stories to a featured spot on the Yahoo homepage.

The obvious comparison for Yahoo Buzz is the social news kings, Digg and Reddit. But, while there are some similarities, Buzz is not just a Digg clone.

Yahoo Buzz is aimed at a much more mainstream audience, one that doesn't care about wading through tech-related minutia to find a worthwhile article to read.

Perhaps the most obvious difference is that Yahoo Buzz stories are not user-submitted, rather Buzz aggregates stories from select publishers and then users can vote them up or down. While that means Buzz will lack the variety of sources that you'll find on Digg, it also handily eliminates a good bit of spam and the pointless link bait articles that clutter up the Digg homepage.

But the "select publishers" are not just mainstream media outlets, there's also a good bit of content pulled from smaller sites like Make Magazine and WordPress blogs. Overall Buzz strikes a good balance between the big news sites and smaller sources.

[Full disclosure: Wired.com is one of the 100 publishers participating in the beta phase of Yahoo Buzz. Wired is also owned by Conde Nast, which operates Reddit, a potential competitor to Yahoo Buzz.]

Another key difference between Digg and Buzz is that rankings on Buzz are not determined by voting alone. While voting is still the primary means of moving a story up in the rankings, Yahoo is also mining its search logs in real-time and matching the results of frequently searched terms to what's hot on Buzz -- if a story topic is frequently searched the Buzz story will get an added boost in ranking.

Buzz ends up a bit like the free for all of Digg combined with the regulated approach of Techmeme.

The algorithmic addition is then combined with a human hand that will decide which of Buzz's two or three top stories will be bumped up to Yahoo's homepage.

Yahoo's homepage has been experimenting with outside links for a while now (with Wired.com being one of the sources during that phase) and publishers will be happy to know that a Yahoo homepage listing generates a lot of traffic -- 2 million hits in two hours in the case of one Wired story.

Of course that creates a problem for smaller sites that would buckle under the traffic -- if you think the "Digg effect" is bad, wait until Yahoo effect happens. To offset any potential Yahoo effect, the company says that smaller sites will only be linked less frequently.

The design of Buzz is very similar to Digg and other social news sites, but significantly less cluttered. The only real issue is the annoying Flash menu that loads at the top of the main story page and must reload every time you click through to the next page -- fire up your Flash Block extension to solve that problem.

Like Digg, Buzz is divided into news categories -- world news, sports, business, entertainment, travel and more. There are also dedicated sections for image and video links. Perhaps the most telling aspect of Buzz's design is that the Tech/Sci category -- a Digg staple -- is buried near the bottom the of the "more" drop down menu.

Yahoo isn't the first mainstream site to try out social news, AOL has its own effort, currently known as Propeller, but so far it hasn't achieved anything near the success of Digg.

However, Yahoo has an advantage over both Propeller and Digg -- its massive user base. And for the mainstream audience Yahoo is after, Buzz has the essential ingredients for success. Whether or not the Yahoo Buzz will draw that audience in remains to be seen. For more on this angle, be sure to read Betsy Schiffman's post on Epicenter.

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