While everyone talks about Digg, sites like Sphinn are quietly reforming the online forum space in verticals, with a vertical affinity that has nothing but forward momentum. At the same time, Digg-like general interest sites fail miserably in the forward momentum department. The more generic they become, the more irrelevant they become to passionate users, and it seems the more attractive they become to sophomoric drive-by posters and roving gangs of click-cliques. Of course with growth comes buzz, as even grandma starts to “digg” the Internet (I kid you not!). So Digg will still get bigger, but will it ever get better?
How many daily posts about Brittnie Spearz’ Linux-distro-homophonic puppy “Mandrake” can we stomach? That Mandrake has nothing to do with Linux, and, I’m sorry to report, it really isn’t “ironic”. Like 900 numbers and pay-per-call services, Digg sites are destined to devolve into the high-sensation, low-relevance markets where they get the big growth numbers. Think tabloid.. ever wonder why there are so many supermarket tabloids? Because the Alien Invasion tabloid rack empties almost every day. Someone has to satisfy that demand.
Meanwhile the Digg concepts get applied to vertical markets with their tight communities, where passionate users willingly participate not to be “hip” but to support each other and their industry. Sphinn is for search marketers, and highly relevant for search marketing. If you are involved in search marketing, there is no doubt you will find some value in Sphinn. And if you contribute, by keeping Sphinn on-target and supportive of search marketing, that value will only increase.
It took just ONE DAY for Sphinn’s passinate users to break the record for member participation when I proposed a challenge - come out of your shell and start Sphinning-up stories. I asked for 100 votes to make Sphinn history… 33% more than the previous “all time” high held by the third most prominant figure in the search marketing industry. I notified people by posting on Sphinn and on my little blog. My blog has less than 10% of the readership of most high-profile SEO/SEM blogs out there. Yes, I played a few obvious marketing tricks, but nothing radical, and certainly nothing that took time or effort.
Anyway those passionate users responded genuinely and powerfully. Among the many comments were one disparaging remark about my sex appeal and one negative comment about my blog. Virtually nothing negative, relatively speaking.
If you go over to Digg you will see plenty of passionate users, but I see the most passion by far dedicated to killing stories, burying submissions, preventing certain people or stories from getting attention, and defeating efforts to give attention to news items. That sort of passion leads to ridicule and bullying, which (obviously?) deters further participation from all but the combative. Sphinn-like passion leads to support and positive growth of not only a user community, but in the case of well-defined verticals, the industry.
I don’t think I have to highlight which is likely to succeed long-term on the marketing level. You can always bully and ridicule your way to attention, but unless done continually and with increasing energy (think terrorism and fear, uncertainty and doubt), that behavior won’t influence markets for long. Maintaining becomes very,very expensive. On the other hand, empowering your passionate community in a supportive way is a sustainable way to market, with user-supported maintenance less expensive with each added passionate user.
Think about the potential of a Sphinn-clone in your favorite vertical… and you start hyperventilating from the potential for growth in our business. The early web days had us dreaming of local shoe repair shops leasing warehouse space to handle the 10,000 heel replacement orders coming in daily through their brokenheelrepair.com websites. It might have been silly, but it wasn’t stupid - just ask Zappos and Stormhoek. Now the blog concept has revolutionized publishing, and brought us individuals out of our shells, and we’re sharing opinions. Point that at a Sphinn-clone and you’ve got the replacement for the forums that drove the early adopting industries. Yes, I’m talking social media, but using plain language, which is what is needed now.
It’s time to get “web 2.0″ out of the geek-o-sphere and into the hands of the people. Digg’s got nothing on sites like Sphinn (for influencing markets) and the next social media site you are about to create for your favorite vertical market.