Inspired by Digg, Current Gets with the Web Program

Citizen journalism and social news are hard — I doubt I’d offend too many people by saying nobody is doing them really well. But Current TV, the youth-oriented cable channel, has some really interesting ideas about how to fix them.

While it’s not a good sign that Current execs were surprised when I told them I’d actually watched their channel — given I’m squarely in their demographic! — the network is actually carried in 52 million homes by DIRECT TV (DTV), Comcast (CMCSA), and other providers. And crazily enough, the San Francisco-based company is actually profitable, according to Joanna Drake Earl, Current’s president of new media.

But now, three-year-old Current is getting with the times and getting on the web in a serious way, with a smartly revised Current.com web site launching today. Our columnist Janko Roettgers took an early gander at the beta last week and was impressed, too.

currentcom_item_page1.jpg“Current.com is more than a very slick-looking Digg clone with potential TV exposure,” he wrote.

And that’s true, but alone this combo is actually an interesting proposition. Here’s how it works. The new Current.com combines editorial input and user submissions into multimedia discussion threads (screenshot to the left). “What do you think about eating local?” or “Check out this photo I took at Burning Man.”

Each thread has the potential to become an on-air segment, and so each insightful comment or webcam upload has the potential to get a site member on TV. OK, OK, new media success is totally great, and Current can be found at the end of the dial just before FitTV (FitTV?). But people absolutely love being on television.

Current is certainly a niche network, and will probably remain that way. Nevertheless, it’s well equipped for this shift to the web; over 70 percent of Current viewers watch with their laptops open, Drake Earl said in a sit-down interview with NewTeeVee last week. That specificity should be good for attracting a community of passionate contributors, similar to Digg, argued Robin Sloan, Current’s online product strategist.

“Current does have a mission and voice and we’ve developed that on TV,” he said. “To create this vibrant environment, you don’t need millions of posts a day; you need the right people posting in the right way to bring stuff nobody expects,” added Ofer Shaked, Current’s chief architect and a recent Yahoo (YHOO) departee who had previously worked on Delicious and Yahoo Answers.

The old Current site was focused on attracting independent video creators. Current continues to pay video creators $500 to $1500 to produce segments, and is upping its creative offerings to include more how-to content and mentoring for would-be producers. And while I’m not sure the initial design quite agrees with my eyes, a section called “on tv” is a really great idea. It offers shareable clips and additional information about every piece of content that airs on TV (see screenshot below).

currentcom_on_tv.jpg

To be sure, I’ve looked at many a social news or citizen journalism site, and many times been swayed by the pitches of its leaders, only to watch it become irrelevant, closed down, or spammy. Maybe I’m just a softy because I strongly think having better and more relevant news would be a good thing — but don’t we all? We at NewTeeVee will be keeping close tabs on the new Current.com to find out how things go.

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