Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi
 


Monday, March 12, 2007

Social News Aggregator Ranks Most Popular Blog Posts By Traffic: Spotplex Is Here

Social news aggregators like the popular Digg service bring all of the latest news together, and have their users vote on which items are of most interest - with top items floating up to the site front page, and those of less interest disappearing from sight. Websites like Digg can be a great way of tapping into the latest news as filtered by other web users, and can be used to find both valuable news content for your own blog, as well as a way to bring traffic to your website.

Spotplex_main-page-490.jpg

But a new service has introduced an interesting spin on the social news concept - using the actual page views stats of a blog-post or news story to rank it in a continuously evolving popularity chart.

The idea is a simple one - think of it like the Top 40 that used to dominate record sales, in which the more singles were sold, the higher the song would rise up in the charts, with the most popular making it to the number one position. In this instance bloggers place a small tracking widget in the code of their blog-post, which reports back to Spotplex servers exactly how many times your blog post has been visited. And every time a new visitor loads your page to read it, your entry moves up a bit in the Spotplex popularity rankings.

What this means for the end-user is that there is now a way to quickly and easily find the most popular news content on the web, all of which can be grabbed and monitored via RSS feeds. This is not the news content most voted for by social news geeks (as is the case with Digg), or the content that best matches your tagging criteria (as with Technorati) - but rather the content that has supposedly been most visited in a given timeframe.

This is good news for bloggers, too, as this could be another valuable addition to their traffic promotion and content exposure tactics, complementing and extending the opportunities already provided by the many social news and bookmarking sites.

In this review of the service I take a look at:

  • How it works, and what sets it apart from the host of competitors out there
  • How it can be used as a source of hot news to use for your own blogging content or news radar
  • How it could help you to drive traffic to your own blog, and the strategies that you can use to make this happen
  • Potential pitfalls with the platform, and how they might be improved





Spotplex - how it works

spotplexlogo.jpg

Spotplex simplifies the social news process in many ways - and while it most resembles Digg in looks and layout - with a constantly updating frontpage of news summaries - its methodology is perhaps closer to analytics services like Alexa. What we're looking at here is the application of cold hard popularity stats, rather than the opinions and tastes of users, to determine the interest of a specific content item.

While there is a lot to be said in favour of the grassroots, democratic process of Digg and its clones, which relies on their users to submit and then vote for content, such approach is not problem-free. Outside of the fact that groups of users can organize secretly to batter or promote specific content items, the very demographic of Digg users will significantly impact upon the content that gets earmarked as interests and news preferences of typical Digg users are very different from those of a typical less geeky and more mature business audience.

spotplexdiagram.jpg

Spotplex attempts to avoid this shortcoming by removing the nomination and voting element altogether, while relying instead on bloggers and site owners to submit their own content by inserting a snippet of code into their blogs.

This code updates the Spotplex server every time a given piece of content is viewed, and in turn updates the ranking of each article on the Spotplex website. As such, you have an equal chance of getting to the top regardless of the nature of your niche - if your content gets a lot of page views, you could well find yourself at the top of the charts.

While Spotplex is not without shortcomings of its own - which I will take a look at in more detail below - the novel approach taken here may well prove to single the service out as a serious contender in the overcrowded world of social news. As more and more people express their dissatisfaction with Digg, Spotplex could provide just the alternative they are looking for.



Spotplex key features

Spotplex has no shortage of ways to narrow down your news results to find the kind of material you are looking for. The more basic features of the interface include:

  • Categories that include technology, business, sports, science, entertainment, gaming, health, arts, politics and personal
  • A search box that can be modified to search by keyword, URL, tag or code number
  • The choice between displaying news by their level of popularity (i.e. how many page views a post has received) or by how recently is was published
  • A tag cloud featuring popular tags

    tagcloudpop.jpg

  • A "tags of the day" box, which can be further honed by choice of category

    tagsoftheday.jpg

  • A slide bar above the displayed posts, which allows you to select a timescale for the news stream, ranging from the 'last 1 hour', through the 'last 7 days' and up to 'all time', with further options in between

    slidebar.jpg



The above filtering criteria provide you with a healthy list of alternatives that you can combine to track down the news of most interest to you, while it is also possible to create your own custom RSS feed from the results you gather.

Further to these features, you can choose to display a 'blog standing' list, which as you would expect sorts the participating blogs into a numbered ranking, with the most popular at the top of the list. You can also choose to filter results by language, allowing you to read only news and posts from selected world idioms.

Another nice little feature that Spotplex offers is the ability for you to share and submit any news story you find in Spotplex to most of the other popular social bookmarking and social news sites, from Digg to Yahoo! MyWeb. All you have to do is click on the 'share it' button on any selected news item and an array of social news icons opens up for you to make your submissions:

sharethis.jpg

This is a nice touch, given that these sites could potentially be seen as Spotplex competition, and I applaud this open-mindedness to the idea that Spotplex will not be used exclusively in what is a crowded and multi-faceted market.



Spotplex as news source

With its focus on the statistical popularity of blog posts Spotplex may prove to be a useful addition to the online toolkit of those looking to gather news for their own purposes. Whether you are looking for material to blog about, re-publish or include in an evolving news radar like the one featured on the Master New Media frontpage, Spotplex is one valuable way of determining what's hot in the blogosphere.



The Spotplex web widget

One out-of-the-box solution supplied by Spotplex is a user-definable web widget that you can embed right into your blog or webpage to display fresh news coming from the popularity ranking created by Spotplex.

Spotplex allows you to decide whether to publish content only from a particular blog, by selecting only the most popular or latest articles, or even a combination of filtering factors that may include language and a specific range of topic categories. You can see it for yourself here:

In this example, I have selected to display the ten latest technology posts from English-language blogs in a 200 x 300 pixel widget. You can, however, create a widget of for any topic and in any dimensions you like.

Such solution would allow you to track the most popular news in a given category in the sidebar of your blog, or at the end of a theme-related post, for instance.

I like the idea a lot, although it would be nice to be able to further narrow down the options by displaying news items by tag or search term, as is possible in the Spotplex web application, and indeed in other web widgets of a similar nature - with the Grazr and Technorati widgets springing immediately to mind.



RSS feeds

If you want a little more control over the outcome, however, you'll be pleased to know that Spotplex has made available RSS feeds for all of its news streams, and as such its content could be easily incorporated into both your news reader for quick access to new postings, or into an existing feed, where results could be combined and filtered to create your own thematic news radar.

searchoptions.jpg

In fact, by narrowing down the content Spotplex will feed out tp you by way of filtering keywords, tags, URLs, categories, dates, language and popularity, you have a very powerful set of selection parameters at your disposal to generate topic-specific RSS feeds that could elegantly complement the specific theme of your online blog or web site.

Your site is all about blogs? Here is a simple example: grab a RSS feed with the tag 'blogging', ordered by 'most popular' and add the parameter 'published within the last 7 days'. This shows how easy it is to tweak Spotplex to your personal needs, creating custom news streams that you can then mine for content relevant to your audience.

That is what makes Spotplex an alternative useful source of up-to-the-minute content, helping you either stay on top of the specific news you need to read or in bringing in extra site visitors to your own content in a number of ways. Here's how:



Promoting your blog through Spotplex

At the time of writing Spotplex is only allowing in an initial 1000 blogs, and intends to keep expanding from there. While it is only a matter of time before anyone will be able to sign up directly from the Spotplex website, at the moment it is possible to apply to take part by sending a blank email to "signup@spotplex.com."

reachout.jpg
Photo credit: Dennis Owusu-Ansah

SpotPlex could well prove a very productive way to garner attention for your blog posts, and will be a nice addition to the existing social news services for anyone looking to promote their work beyond the major search engines. Social news and social bookmarking have proved themselves to be effective means of increasing traffic to your website if used well, and by making it easy for your readers to submit your posts to de.licio.us, Digg and other social bookmarking services you can only increase your chances of bringing in fresh site visitors.

Spotplex is no exception, and has some advantages over Digg and its clones.

For one thing, with Digg you have first to bring your potential voter to your blog post, and then have the question of whether they are interested in what you have to say, or if they agree with your point of view before you get their vote. And that's if you have made it easy for them to submit your content, by including a 'Digg This' button beneath your blog posts, for instance.

With Spotplex, things are a little easier. All you have to do is make sure that someone visits your page. Whether they like it or not, they will have been counted as a visitor, you will have been propelled a step further up the Spotplex rankings, closer to the attention of those browsing the site for fresh news.

Here, then, the importance of good titling suddenly becomes even more evident. Writing an effective title that lures potential readers to your blog will ensure that your Spotplex ranking receives a welcome boost. There are no shortage of articles on how to go about doing this, from Robin Good's own tips on great titles to the advice on how to write magnetic headlines at Copyblogger and Andy Hagans ultimate guide to linkbaiting. Whichever approach you take, clear and enticing titling will prove one effective way of boosting your Spotplex ranking, and in turn the overall popularity of your blog.

This can lead to increased in direct ad revenues, in newsletter and RSS subscribers and also in getting more traditional web readers interested in what you're doing. All obtained simply by dropping a bit of code into your blog and taking the time to think a bit more about your titles before publishing.



Potential pitfalls and room for improvement

Interesting and refreshing as Spotplex key idea is, it is not without a few problems. Key among the potential pitfalls of the Spotplex stats-based-approach to news tracking is the very real possibility that the most popular blogs signed up to the service will dominate the news headlines consistently. This has the potential to become very boring, very fast.

dwarvedbyarrington.jpg
Photo credit: Ryan Pike

If every time you visit the site, you see - for example - the latest news from TechCrunch dominating the top three news items, from the sheer might of their viewing figures, you may well start wishing for an alternative way of finding fresh news.

Therefore, should Spotplex rely on page view popularity alone, it may prove very difficult for a variety of fresh news to make it onto the front page, unless it comes from sources with well established readerships.

That said, it is possible to read the news not only by means of popularity, but also filtered by the most recent entries. As such, it is quite possible to reach the top of the ratings, at least for a short while, by simply being the last to post.

Other reported issues at the time of writing include a slower than average update rate, so that news items are slightly lagging behind the latest published to the source website, and the contention that without the social element of Digg, Spotplex may not prove to be popular with users.

The success of Digg must certainly be tracked back to its participatory nature to some extent, and from a reader's perspective, Spotplex is certainly a more passive experience in this respect. However, comparisons with Digg are perhaps unfair, given that the two services use very different models to define the popularity of news items. I would contend that Spotplex may well draw a different crowd, or prove to be a service capable of sitting alongside Digg, rather than one that will replace it entirely. Time will tell.



Conclusions

Spotplex could very well prove to be another valuable way to sort through the endless streams of Internet news and blog posts appearing minute by minute. Measuring the amount of times a given blog post or webpage has been viewed seems like an obvious and intuitive approach to gauging popularity. While critics may argue that this could easily propel artificially inflated high-traffic posts spam to the top of the news, it is yet too early to say this, but this is indeed a likely possibility.

For those looking to find an up-to-the-minute idea of what's hot in the blogosphere, Spotplex will prove to be a simple and effective way of keeping your finger on the pulse. This can be interesting both in terms of following the latest trends and in finding material for your own potential blog posts. With the ability to filter results by tag, timescale, specific blogs and popularity, Spotplex is a flexible tool that would make a good addition to your existing collection of news filtering and aggregation services.

Furthermore, for those looking to promote and drive traffic to their own online content, Spotplex will be an excellent complement to Digg, StumbleUpon and the other means of getting the word out on what you have written.

With good copywriting skills, and a special emphasis on clear, effective titling, Spotplex could be a great way to give your latest blog post greatest exposure and attention. Your visitors don't have to like or agree with what they read, as they would with Digg, they simply have to land on your page, to synergize with the promotional and content marketing capabilities that Spotplex provides.

Spotplex apparent biggest limitation is its apparent heavy bias on who is already popular, creating a potential and artificious digital divide between good news and popular news which may not be attractive to everyone. On the other hand, if you are looking for a refreshingly different way to tap into the most popular content in the blogosphere - whether to re-blog, comment on, or simply read, Spotplex is well worth checking out.

Likewise, if you are on the lookout for new ways to further grow your own audience, and your content exposure and visibility, using Spotplex may be a valuable addition to your existing content marketing tactics and one that only time will tell how of an impact it may create on your overall traffic.



Additional resources

If you would like to learn more about Spotplex, and what others have said about it, you might want to take a look at the following links:



Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and first published as: "Social News Aggregator Ranks Most Popular Blog Posts By Traffic: Spotplex Is Here"

 
 
 
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posted by Michael Pick on Monday, March 12 2007, updated on Saturday, February 27 2010


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