Maybe Newsvine, and the Internet in general, is supposed to be entertainment, just some distraction from the many very real issues we face individually and societally. That's not exactly what it was designed for but, hey, with so many new people 'getting online', knowing exactly how to participate is going to be a guessing game until contact is made with the right people. That's understandable. It all needs to start somewhere. Knowing that these people will eventually [hopefully] catch on and contribute more positively is what keeps the hope alive. In the meantime, unfortunately, it leads to a lot of childish and pointless behavior that attempts to undermine everyone's efforts.
Newsvine has always been mostly above the negative fray, the 'elitist online social experience', if you will. It's always been about getting smarter through positively contributing to the community by honestly participating in discussions of the issues du jour with your contacts, as well as the greater community, writing and reporting on the issues that are near and dear to our hearts, to help facilitate the understanding of why they are issues in the first place, as a first step to getting them resolved, and all motivated by an encouraging community striving to make a difference. Get Smarter Here implies constant improvement. To think of this process, and this goal, as mere amusement is short-sighted, to say the least.
Of course, knowing the power of social networking, or anything really, takes a bit of education, and while being ignorant isn't inherently bad, refusing to acknowledge inconvenient truths (I hate you for the association, Al Gore) contributes heavily to the problem. Everyone knows there are more than enough problems for us to deal with, but they all seem content enough to screw around and pretend that everything is OK, while continuing to ignore the fact that nearly everything is totally fucked in the world (uh, that is in my strong opinion, of course) because it's somehow tolerable until something bad happens.
The intention behind this writing was to help strike an honest discussion on the topics it brings up, reminiscent of the mostly 'civil' discussions of yore, by alluding to weaknesses in current community practices. The social experience here at Newsvine has dramatically changed since Time published an article citing it as one of the best new websites for 2007. (That was what brought me here.) It is not meant to reminisce in the past, or re-live the good ole days - they are gone - but to take a step back and take an honest assessment of how well the community is doing on 'news' part of Newsvine today, particularly when it comes to the quality of user-generated content and the discussions they inspire.
This is how Time described Newsvine, if you didn't happen to click the link above:
See what everybody is talking about right now, and add your two cents. That's the basic idea behind Newsvine.com, a Web 2.0 cocktail that mixes elements of Digg (social news), Netvibes (customization) and NowPublic (user-generated news). The most prominently placed articles are the ones voted most important by users. You can plant your own "seeds" on the vine, i.e. links to stories from elsewhere on the Web, along with your comments, to start a discussion.
If you're not familiar with NowPublic, or user-generated news, and you submit articles, it's pretty much required that you familiarize yourself with the concept of citizen journalism. While the social aspect is certainly a great motivator in helping to cultivate talent on Newsvine, the proper balance of fun and serious needs to be well-maintained. Too much fun and the community becomes unfocused and degrades accordingly. Too serious and it becomes inconvenient for most and not worth the added trouble, "leaving behind" some contributors.
It's the community's responsibility to adhere to the standards it has, itself, created. That was the product and brand that MSNBC.com purchased. A bright, 'self-moderated' community eager to contribute to the news-collecting process. They realized that in a rapidly changing news media landscape they needed to take advantage of what social media has to offer to retain their market-share (expand in their minds, I'm sure). With the increased popularity of participating in online journalism, this will become extremely important, there will be too many sources of credible news reaching for limited advertising monies.
The same thing happened in the world of stock photography, by the way. The advent of the digital camera made it extremely easy for more people to contribute, sell, and improve (using programs like Photoshop) images they produced. It's hard to make a living as a photographer selling stock today because of it, too many hands are reaching into the pot.
If earnings have been any indication, the members of Newsvine aren't collecting enough from the pot to even be assured a payout of a few dollars per user each month. Partially to blame is surely the retraction of the prosperity some of the world economy once enjoyed. It should still, however, be disconcerting to the community that there are sometimes no payments at all. No, we're not here for the money, but that's not the point. Websites need ad revenue to run, and it's uncertain what would happen when it doesn't cover the bills anymore, and in order to invest money into new employees or resources, it needs to be profitable.
To drive the necessary traffic, to share our passions with a greater audience, requires the community to provide content compelling enough to attract readers from outside Newsvine, that has always been our audience, not the community, and like stock photography, it is becoming increasingly difficult. The community needs to at least realize and keep it in mind when writing articles, to help ensure a good thing continues to grow and doesn't cease to exist.
There are, of course, other issues that contribute to these problems, issues that are probably demotivating. MSNBC.com / Newsvine would do well to 'feed' the community that once held promise, to re-ignite interest in the news-gathering process. Of course, it wouldn't hurt if the community, you know, let them know there were such an interest. The community should stop taking the time to fight the "trolls" and "re-regs" (and perhaps a little less time screwing around) and put it into their content. Before publishing comments or articles, one should take a step back and ask how it could be better and how it is making the audience smarter. It is to the benefit of all. Let the community be critical and encouraging.
To not consider these things and not take action could put everything in jeopardy. The apparent disinterest in Newsvine from its community and owners is, in my opinion, not a very good sign of things to come.