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Current TV, the Al Gore-backed TV network, is gearing up for a major relaunch of its web site that could help it break away from the nirvana of cable and recapture the Net. The official launch of the site is scheduled for Oct. 16, and Gore himself has been taking a break from the slideshow business to drum up publicity at the Emmys and on The Tonight Show, proclaiming that Current.com will “take interactivity to a new level.”
A number of beta testers have been able to play with the new site a few days early, and we couldn’t resist sneaking in. The biggest news: Current is dropping the TV. The site, which was called Current.TV in it’s old incarnation, is now simply known as Current. References to the actual TV program have been moved to a side column, leaving lots of space for social news and videos.
The new Current.com asks its users to submit stories, links and videos in a manner similar to social news sites like Digg, but with a bigger emphasis on creativity and conversation. Users can write up their own articles, link to outside sources, upload videos or even record “video opinions” on the fly. The community can then vote on these contributions — popular stories get more exposure, and some of the top user-contributed videos may even make it onto the airwaves.
Current.com is more than a very slick-looking Digg clone with potential TV exposure, though. The site uses some interesting features to steer around the usual social news pitfalls: Users don’t get to see the total number of votes for a particular story or video, for example, just the percentage of up and down votes. Current is also using editors to pick the stories on the home page and start discussions within their audience.
Another feature that sets Current apart from the overcrowded social news space is the way it integrates media. Want to comment on something by referring to a YouTube video? Just paste the link into the comment field and the site will open the clip in a Lightbox-style layer. Want to rant in front of your webcam? Just start the Flash-based cam recorder.
So far, the site completely lacks podcasts or RSS feeds. It does have some of the typical social networking features, including profiles, friend-based news filters and activity streams. Useful, but predictable. More innovative is the “Viewpoints” area, which is basically a wall of user-generated video responses to topics like gay rights, abortion and climate change. Features like these really give the community a face.
Current used to be about lowering the barrier of entry for the production of TV news and features, and the Current web site ended up as a testbed for talent that really only attracted producers and would-be videographers hoping to get picked up by the network.
Now it’s almost the opposite: Freelance videographers and paid editors seed the site with content and ideas which then get picked up and discussed by the community. It’s definitely a brave experiment, and it will be interesting to see how it will affect Current the TV network.