Whitesoap: Like Digg, Only Fresher

As we ride the waves of Web 2.0, more and more websites are starting to pop up that are much more user-oriented, feeding off of user-provided content. By far the most popular social bookmarking site out there is Digg, but with great success, comes great imitation. One guy giving the Digg-clone enterprise a try is “Smash“, a 19-year-old web designer from Boston. His most recent project, Whitesoap, takes certain elements of Digg and makes it a heck of a lot simpler. But is that a good thing?

Like Digg, But Not Really

In the words of Smash himself (better known to his friends as Ben Guild), Whitesoap is “a constantly-updated directory of interesting blogs, links, and news-stories. Readers can even suggest stories to help. Yay! ^_^”

Yes, that Pikachu-looking smiley at the end is part of the official website description.

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The key difference between this daily webzine and Digg is that the bulk of the stories presented on the front page are not “voted up” in the same fashion as Digg. Guild employs a handful of “moderators” that go through the stories, and they hand-select the tidbits that they feel are worthy of being featured on the main page. The “undiscovered stories” can be “suggested” by users, but it seems the ultimate choice is by the moderators/editors. This also results in no original content, much like Digg.

Room to Grow or Overly Restrictive

Another big difference is that the news items are not sporadically pulled from just anywhere. You probably won’t find a hot post originating from my blog or John Chow dot Com on Whitesoap. Instead, “we get all of our news from feeds we like, then our moderators choose stories from the pool or stories suggested by visitors.” The “feeds we like” include popular places like Jalopnik, FlickrBlog, Yahoo! News, Consumerist, and Nintendo Wii Fanboy. There’s definitely a good variety here, but without any sort of organization based on topic, it can be a little difficult finding the stories that best appeal to you. It’s just one long mish-mash of miscellaneous news.

This could be because the site is so new and the stories (and visitors) are not numerous enough yet to require any sort of real organization, but I sincerely hope that if Whitesoap expands beyond these early stages, that one of the first additions be some sort of categorization. If I’m interested in video game news, for example, I would then be able to find it directly, instead of having to sift through stuff about a new Hummer and the death of a rare leopard.

This White Soap is Really Dark

With a name like Whitesoap, you would expect a website to be all sparkly and clean. The layout is very straightforward with a simple Adsense banner at the top and an Adsense skyscraper running along the sidebar (note to Ben: to improve CTR, swap the Google ad title text to the same color as the rest of your links), but it is interesting that “Smash” chose such a dark background.

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The tagline for Whitesoap is “stay fresh”, but my first reaction to the murky grey website was a sense of being dirty and grungy. Maybe he should just switch it to a more standard white background to keep with the “fresh and clean” feeling.

One feature that I did enjoy, although it wasn’t implemented quite as cleanly (no pun intended) as it could have been, is the ability to submit any of the featured stories to a wide range of other social bookmarking services, like Furl, StumbleUpon, and even Facebook. To get at these icons, you need to click on the “info / bookmark” bar underneath the appropriate story.

Not Enough to Keep Me Coming Back

Whitesoap is still in its relative infancy, so I can appreciate some of its growing pains. I can also understand that it was designed to be as simple as possible, but this could be a part of its downfall. I could just as easily log into my own Google personalized homepage and catch up on the RSS feeds that I like to read, rather than the ones that Whitesoap’s moderators prefer.

Which news items are the most interesting is largely a matter of personal preference, but with no real “rating” system for the stories on Whitesoap, it’s hard to see what’s hot and what’s not. There’s definite potential here, but Whitesoap has got to offer me more before it becomes a part of my daily routine.