Whose really winning the online news war?

Shane Richmond at the Torygraph must have pinched himself this morning.

Last week saw him manning the barricades, and issuing a pre-emptive rebuttal to a (what was at the time brewing) story about far-right infiltration at Mytelegraph, from the presses of his main online rival, The Grauniad.

What better way to stick two fingers up to your nearest competitor then, than to trumpet your newly won crown as the UK’s number one newspaper website, even if the margin of victory may be transient?

ABCe figures clearly have the same hypnotic effect on the world of online news as Rajar figures have on radio production, and as Barb figures have on TV production.

There’s no good reason to question the legitimacy of these figures (albeit Alexa shows that The Guardian still has the upper hand over The Telegraph in reach, rank AND page views).

Nonetheless, the question arises: are these metrics the only way to measure a website’s worthiness? Are they even the best way to shed light on how popular, and perhaps more importantly, how secure a site is with its online audience?

Its with this in mind I decided to do a little digging, and investigate the presence of these two sources within the world of social networking and news aggregation.

Some would argue we shouldn’t be blindly bestowing our trust upon the media, but nonetheless trust (in the form of feed subscription and authority ratings here) is essential to brand-building, and points to how a sources’ audience might develop, providing a means of reach beyond today, and into the future.

Its all well and good having whopping traffic figures today (that should keep the editor off your back short-term) – but how many of these fair-weather-page-viewers will be around in five years time, under whose nose you might foist your click-per-views?

Now – disclaimers. Reader subscription figures (it could fairly be argued) favour those sources who have been out there mixing it in the blogosphere longest (The Gruniad wins this little tete a tete). But of course people always have the right to un-subscribe if they so choose.

Equally the demographics of online sites might impact on their popularity in the world of news aggregation (younger, more web-savvy audiences may well be more inclined to use aggregators). Sadly I have no figures on the demographic breakdown of each site.

Distortions like duplicate feeds in some aggregators fool some for a while, but usually they fall by the wayside once people cotton on.

It could also fairly be argued that many people subscribe to feeds they never read. But turn this on it head, and you have access to a readership that may well scan down your headlines every day, but who don’t always access the site – the fickle swines. They are potential customers – so what are you doing about them?

And so to my (completely unscientific) results.

In Bloglines, The Telegraph boasts some 9,395 subscribers to its most popular feed – its Fashion section. For news sections, the subscriber list is much smaller. 524 for Major News, 260 for Telegraph News, 239 for Top News, and so on down into the hundreds for other sections.

By comparison, The Guardian’s presence in Bloglines is far superior: there are a whopping 19,976 subscribers to their homepage feed, 1,252 subscribers to Books, 1,044 subscribers to World News, even their technology blog boasts ten times the number of subscribers that Richmond’s own Technology blog in the Telegraph has (granted Richmond’s is not the only technology blog in MyTelegraph).

And so to Technorati.

The Telegraph’s most ‘trusted’ (or maybe most ‘approved of’) page in Technorati is MyTelegraph – with an authority score of 1,168. Here’s where Shane’s Blog comes into its own – with an impressive authority ranking of 187, and there are various others in 3 figures.

Over at The Guardian though, again it’s technology section is popular – with an authority rating of 1,232. But other sections are more popular than the other Telegraph blog sections – books has 984, the Newsblog 511, Ben Goldacre even has 774 authority points.

And so into the final stretch with Digg.

Bit of a messy one this, but I tried a freetext search for each title with Sort by set to most diggs. A fair bit of distortion came back, but there are nonetheless some interesting finds – and again they favour The Guardian. One of their bigger scoops, about CIA men meeting Bin Laden from 2001, scored a whopping 3437 diggs. The next most popular got 1679, and the next still got 1662.

Over at The Telegraph, their most popular story scored 2029 digs, with the next on 1358, and the next still on 760.

Again these figures tend to favour older articles. Nonetheless, they wouldn’t keep getting dugg if they weren’t worthy of digging in the first place – and again The Guardian is out in front.

It would be easy to dismiss these findings on various points of order (not least given the main reason I undertook this ‘research’ was to keep me as far away from the radio, and events on the football pitch as possible).

But still, I think they bring something to the battle for page-views.



Declaration of interests:

At the time of writing, I have 3 Bloglines subscribers, an authority rating of 3 in Technorati, and no articles dugg in Digg.

And despite what some say, I am very catholic in my online reading habits.

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