Buzz, Yahoo's social news site and “meme tracker”, has opened its submission process so that any site on the Web can now be 'buzzed'. Prior to today, only select publishers were allowed into the program, with around 400 sites vying for the top prize of being featured on the Yahoo.com homepage.
Now that the submission process is open, it's logical to presume that over zealous publishers and social media optimization types will begin to try and game Yahoo Buzz. This is exactly what Digg has faced during its ongoing teething period, and with the potential rewards of Buzz being even greater it's inevitable that we'll see the same.
However, gaming Yahoo Buzz should be a lot more difficult since a story's buzz score isn't just based on direct user votes (a la Digg) but also factors in Yahoo "searches, emails, and more". The 'more' being the hand of Yahoo's editors who pick which Buzz content gets featured on the company's homepage.
While this may help to ensure that better content benefits from Yahoo Buzz promotion, it's hardly "open" in the sense of being transparent. Therefore, says ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick, Yahoo Buzz as a social news site isn't at all democratic. As well as the direct intervention by editors, there's also the relationship that some Buzz-featured publishers have with Yahoo's ad platform.
However, democracy is a double edged sword when it comes to social news. If a story gets front page promotion based on sheer number of votes, then it stands to reason that sites with large audiences and therefore a larger pool of potential voters, will get promoted more often. Lower the number of votes needed to hit the front page in order to encourage a more diverse range of sources and the social news site becomes open to gaming.
In the last sixth months Digg has become a lot less democratic in order to try and limit gaming and encourage more diverse content, but it hasn't really worked. It's now impossibly hard to get a story voted onto the front page if you're a small publisher, and at the same time influential and loyal users are punished for trying to do so. While it may be far harder to game Digg than it used to be, the knock on effect seems to be that we see the usual suspects - already popular sites - featured on the site again and again. As a result Digg is no longer the place to discover new sources but just reinforces existing popular ones.
Without the hand of editors, Yahoo Buzz might appear more democratic but would also be more susceptible to gaming. Now that the site is open to all, will Yahoo Buzz's combination of user votes, meme tracking via email and search, and editorial intervention produce a more level playing field for publishers large and small?
Let's hope so.