Last week Mashable.com launched Mashable Follow, a new personalization and social layer to their website. Their announcement video stated that this development was meant to help Mashable readers save time while discovering the content that matters to them. As the amount of content on Mashable grows, users are faced with spending more time sifting through this content, and thus, providing a method to narrow down story topics and to receive recommendations from a few (or many) trusted users would seem logical.
But this announcement left me scratching my head in confusion. Mashable produces its own content and reacts to content from the web. This is a fairly standard way of running a large site. Most, if not all, news, technology, and pop culture sites write their own articles about topics that (hopefully) will interest the reader. When a large story breaks and can’t be ignored, but there isn’t enough information yet to cover anything except the 3 or 4 facts that everyone knows, these websites will re-hash content. Again, this is standard practice. I see it almost every day on my Twitter feed—a story reported by one site’s feed is bound to show up on another’s with slightly different wording.
Aside from the socially entertaining aspect of Facebook and Twitter, I use these services to discover new information. This is not a groundbreaking revelation since I’m sure most do the same. The beauty of social networking, from a perspective of content discovery, is that a user is able to discover information from many sources all over the web. Some of this information may come from other trusted users (like the friend who always finds funny videos), while other pieces of information might come directly from trusted websites (like the @RollingStone Twitter account).
What puzzles me is why Mashable decided to essentially re-create the Twitter and Facebook experience inside their own website. It makes perfect sense to allow your readers to filter through content in order to quickly access the topics they care about. In fact, Mashable was so quick to implement this strategy that they created separate twitter accounts for separate high-level topics on their website (@MashableTech, @MashableVideo, @MashableSocialMedia to name a few). This is to be applauded, since this move took the standard filtering section links often encountered at the top of a news website and turned them into feeds, thus enabling readers to receive Mashable content from a specific subject area without having to visit the Mashable website to find these stories. But Mashable Follow seems to require that users sign-in with a Twitter or Facebook account, create a profile, select other users and topics for their feed… and then…. open Mashable in order to receive this feed? Why would I want to do that? Why wouldn’t I simply follow users and providers of specific topic content on Twitter?
Mashable Follow seems to me much like a department store with high brand loyalty. Mashable wants visitors to come to it. Which is fine, and I’m sure many people leave Mashable.com open all day to get new information. But it seems to me that the majority of shoppers don’t care if they go to a department store, as long as they can get the best price on a product they want. They might turn to the web for shopping, where a huge marketplace is attempting to sell you many similar products. Simialrly, casual users don’t care where interesting content comes from, as long as they have a way to access it easily, hence the popularity of link sharing services.
Mashable Follow has essentially taken the keyword tags associated with blog entries and turned them into individual microblogging accounts inside their own website’s microblogging service, then allowed flesh-and-bone users to create accounts and share links, comment, etc. Some of this system is useful in that it allows users to connect and share links with one another, but Facebook Comments and Disqus already did this fairly well, and across multiple websites. The rest just seems to be a mashup of social media components that, I think, work better in a larger environment.
But perhaps I’m misunderstanding Mashable Follow. Perhaps Mashable has so many dedicated readers who visit the site every day that this feature is truly useful to them. But to me it seems like just another account I “need to have” that I probably won’t do anything with. If someone can explain its usefulness to me, I’d love to listen: @SinecureLuke