MEDIA: Digg Gets Real

The last time I wrote about's offering of environmental news, the site was more X than Y. Instead of rewarding the best green stories out there, visitors to the news aggregator's environmental section mostly favored ain't-it-cool type pictures, ranging from the marginally informative to the thoroughly random. "For now, go to Digg to find an oddball story or new wallpaper for your desktop," I wrote last July, "but look to professional journalists for news on the environment."

Well, you should still go to professional journalists for eco-news, but Digg has gotten much better at compiling what those journalists produce, even if its collective news judgment remains uneven. There's still no shortage of random pictures if that's what you're looking for, but the site has changed a lot over the past six months. In addition to a redesign that improved its look and functionality, Digg very smartly decided to partition off its user-submitted news, video, and image postings. (These changes were all made a few months ago, by the way.)

A look at the current top environmental news stories finds serious but interesting stories on topics like eutrophic coastal zones and recycling carbon dioxide, service journalism pieces, and green lifestyle items. There's a disproportionate number of stories picked from a handful of outlets like The Daily Green and, but overall the diversity of sources is impressive, especially considering that the number of sources for environmental reporting remains relatively small even now.

What's even more surprising is that Diggers' collective decisions about what should make it to the top of the page and what should be buried have become noticeably more sophisticated. Even when you sort for all top environmental items, rather than solely news stories, most of the hits are still hard news items. At the moment, there are only two "image" posts on the entire first page of stories, suggesting that Digg users have learned a little restraint when it comes to shooting pics up the page.

Digg still produces some questionable choices, can boost stories regardless of their reliability or accuracy, and has a tendency to favor shorter stories over long form magazine-style pieces. But Digg's mission isn't to mimic the New York Times’ environmental section or National Geographic: it's to pick up and sort the little bits of information that might otherwise get lost in the vastness the Web’s vastness – and to make the process enjoyable enough that users will want to contribute. As news continues to shift online, that's a bigger, more important job than it might seem, and Digg's taken a giant leap in the right direction.