POPrl, a new site from the developers of uLiken, is trying to bring a new twist to the Digg/Reddit user-submitted story space. Instead of relying on a voting system that can be easily gamed, POPrl measures a story’s popularity by looking at its virality – the more people that click a link, the more popular a story is (makes sense, right?)
Users submit their favorite stories to the site and get the equivalent of a TinyURL (e.g. http://poprl.com/r/q is the URL for this post). Users then take this tiny URL and distribute it around the web through Twitter, SMS, or other websites. The site measures the number of clicks that link gets, and uses an an algorithm to determine a story’s popularity. The most popular stories are featured on the site’s front page, though clicks from here won’t count towards their popularity score.
Unfortunately, this system has some fundamental flaws. The site’s short URLs provide absolutely no information about what they’re linking to – users can say whatever they want in an attempt to get others to click on their links. Sam Bensalem, one of the site’s co-founders, explains that users who abuse the system will lose trust from their respective online communities, so people will stop clicking their links. In a perfect world that might be true, but you can be sure that spammers will simply find new online forums to flood with links offering new iPhone details (or something equally tempting).
POPrl has a compelling idea, but it’s going to have a hard time weeding out the spammers in its current form. For the time being the site can probably afford to use human intervention to ensure that spammers don’t get their way, but they’re going to need to figure something else out if they want this to scale.