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Web 2.0: Sports Sites Get Social

With football season heading into the final sprint and basketball season warming up, sports fans are heading online in droves to catch the latest news, analysis, opinions while certainly not shying away from wanting to express their own opinions. Fans can always browse to traditional popular sports destinations such as ESPN.com or SI.com, but let’s review what new innovations from the Web 2.0 movement such as social networking and social news has brought to the world of sports news. We’re going to take a look at several sites incorporating more social features while trying to immerse you into their sports community.

Fannation.comFanNation FanNation is the biggest social sports site around, probably due in a large part to their relationship with SI.com and the prominent billing they have there. Unlike some of the other sites that follow the Digg-inspired user submission of news, FanNation aggregates news itself by pulling in content from sources around the web for the major sports including football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. News is broken down into three types. The most prominent type is the “Truth & Rumors” section, the sports world’s gossip column where you can also get the standard news from “NewsScout” as well as news affecting fantasy sports. Members of the FanNation community can rate the articles and provide their commentary. Members can also track their favorite teams (TeamTracker) and players (PlayerTracker) and have the news relating to those topics delivered to them automatically. FanNation provides the traditional message boards throughout the site and some newer social networking features like friends, user profiles, private messaging, blogging, and groups.

The FanNation aggregation is impressive. I’ve been a frequent visitor of the site for a while now and I hadn’t even realized until recently that you couldn’t submit news yourself. The content is usually always fresh and interesting and the discussions are very active (this is sports news though; I don’t make any claim for the intelligence and maturity of the discussions). One thing lacking were news feeds. You will have to come to their site to get all of this content (except for a member’s blog), a very web 1.0 way of providing content. There’s also a lack of transparency about how news gets to the top, the ratings aren’t very helpful (no rating count for example), and there’s very little information about where exactly the news comes from, in other words, it doesn’t feel very user-driven.

Ballhype.comBallHype BallHype is the newest site reviewed here, launching this past spring, and it has been a great addition to the field. Like FanNation, BallHype is an aggregator, but BallHype is pulling from all of the top sports blogs on the web, rather than more traditional news sources. BallHype also provides the capability for user submitted stories to be added into the mix. Members of BallHype vote stories up or down by “Hyping” them, which determine which stories make the front page. Members can also take part in a discussion by leaving comments. BallHype slices up the news in many different ways, as you can see from their site map. You can get news by sport, team, player, and city. What’s great about this too is that any way you view the news by, you can get a feed of that. So, for example if I want to keep up with the latest sports news from Seattle, I can visit http://ballhype.com/locale/seattle/ and see news across all sports and subscribe to the RSS feed to get new news delivered to my feed reader (such as Google Reader or Bloglines).   Again we see the social networking features on BallHype with friends, profiles, and groups. When viewing a user’s profile you can see all of their submissions, comments and voting activity and they provide a ranking system for the top users. In addition to news and social networking, BallHype incorporates game scores and picking into the site, you can get all the latest scores and try to predict the outcome of games. Members can comment on the game itself too from the scoreboard, which is a cool feature, though doesn’t appear to be used much. The game picking is an interesting and probably effective way to get users more involved.

I really liked the flexibility of getting news on BallHype and the user-driven power of the site. One downside is with the focus of the content on blogs; you will have to go elsewhere for the standard news headlines. But if you’re a sports nut reading blogs, BallHype does save you an awful lot of work in finding, subscribing to and reading the interesting blogs out there.

Yardbarker.comYardbarker Yardbarker is one of the three sites in this guide (the others being ArmchairGM and FanIQ) that helped to pioneer social sports in early 2006. Yardbarker’s mission is to provide the latest articles, rumors, videos, discussions, scores, standings and more. Yardbarker is completely user-driven. All content is submitted by members and then voted on and discussed to find the most interesting news.   Like FanNation and BallHype, news is easily broken town by sport and team to let you focus in if you want to. As a member you can submit and rate news, get scores, make friends, but you can’t provide your own original content like on FanNation or BallHype. However, Yardbarker does have some professional athletes writing their official blogs on YardBarker. Greg Oden, the #1 pick in this year’s NBA draft has his blog here.

Yardbarker is utilizing the proven social news methods to push sports news and discussions forward. It’s a nice site that any sports fan would love, and if you’re really into sharing sports new, then this could be a great site for you.

FanIQ.comFanIQ FanIQ puts its twist on social sports by encouraging its members to compile the best statistics, just as athletes do. Points are earned throughout the site by contributing news, writing a blog, and picking game winners. In that sense it’s probably most similar to BallHype, but has a lot in common with YardBarker and FanNation as well. The heart of FanIQ is the “Sports Scoop”, user submitted news from around the web. Once again, users vote and comment on the stories as they come in. FanIQ has social networking too, but their profile pages are probably the most comprehensive allowing members to share all kinds of information about their favorite sports teams and athletes in addition to information about their FanIQ contributions. One new thing that FanIQ does is provide a personality test, known as the “FanMatch” to find similar people.

The emphasis FanIQ puts on the user is great to see. Everywhere you go, you’re encouraged to meet other members, whether it’s the profile pages, highlighting the volunteers on the site, meeting other people that are fans of the same teams you are, and even pointing out people that are not like you (rivals). It has a great community feel to it. Unfortunately, I think the news content falls flat and is not as fresh and interesting as the others.

ArmchairGM.comArmchairGM ArmchairGM, while still focused on providing fans a platform for reading, writing, and talking about sports, takes a different approach by providing a bliki, or combination community blog and wiki in addition to the familiar social network. The latest news, blog posts, and rumors from around the web are not the focus here. Instead, users are encouraged to write their own articles or edit the massive sports encyclopedia. The articles are the community blog where members write, vote on, and comment on whatever sports topic they’d like to discuss. Topics are filtered by sport and team and it is easy to find an area of interest. For the more permanent reference, members can contribute to the Encyclopedia, which is similar in theory to Wikipedia (and in fact ArmchairGM is owned by Wikia, the for profit sister company of Wikipedia), but with a complete sports focus, by adding or editing pages. There are number of other features on the site that keep users involved, such as polls, game picks, a great images collection, quizzes, and ratings. The ratings features is an interesting twist, it lets you rate anything and everything related to sports. Michael Jordan reigns supreme as the top rated athlete, while the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” is the top rated moment in sports history (see ratings here).   For a sports fan, ArmchairGM is a goldmine of fun and interesting information that can provide hours of entertainment as you browse around. The nature of the site makes it one that you’ll come back to every once in a while (to reference the encyclopedia perhaps), but unless you dive into the community and start writing articles or want to contribute to the encyclopedia, there’s not a lot to keep you coming back on a more frequent basis. More simply put, it’s as addictive as the other sites mentioned here.

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