Greatly looking forward to sticking with this site as it grows and flourishes into one of the web's premier community-based collaborative news sources. When you have the brains behind the ESPN.com design team working their magic to make this site what it is, you know you're onto something good.
First impressions? Ok, let's go:
I've been flitting around the site for the past couple of hours. In fact, at the same time, I've been involved in a chat using the embedded Flash-based chatroom feature on the "We're Opening The Gates" blog entry. It's great to see that the developer team, and the VC (!), are willing to hang about in the chatroom, answering queries, bugfixing on the fly, discussing features and accepting constructive criticism from users - as they use the site for the very first time (if they're anything like me). Apparently they have something like 7,000 private tester invites to send out, and they've only just started sending them out tonight - looks like I was one of the first from this wave of private invites to get active on the site.
The nature of the side is intrinsically community-based - you have the Vine, which is seeded by users submitting news articles (in a Digg fashion, but a little more sophisticated), and you have the Wire, which is a collection of newswires collated from various sources, including the Associated Press, Reuters etc. The site has syndication deals with these news clearing houses, so that's great.
When you register as a user (either via invitation from Newsvine themselves or from another private beta trialler, as I am) you receive your own little publishing space, where you can post articles, seed articles from foreign sources, and manage your writings. You can syndicate your own comments, replies, postings and other waffle via RSS and JSS feeds - great if you already have a blog (as do I). You can tag articles, in a similar vein to Technorati, Digg et al, and those become searchable and cross-referenceable. However, while this site may share a fair few features with Digg and the like, it feels more adult, more grown-up. An instant comparison between the Newsvine front page and the Digg front page is evidence of this - Digg looks a lot more cluttered, chaotic. The presence of preselected news from respected newswires, in addition to the seeded articles, really lends this site an air of sophistication which I feel Digg lacks.
The user interaction on this site has the potential to be truly staggering I feel, with the ability to comment both in a forum-like comments fashion AND via live interaction with other users in the live chatroom which accompanies every news article. Logically there's a separate chat room for each article, so you don't all just get mushed in together.
At the moment, the site is somewhat US-centric, but that's pretty much a no-brainer considering it was developed in the US. After speaking to the VC of the company in the chat, a very personable guy named Nick Hanauer, he said (and I quote),
"Well, we're hoping that you guys over there will be big contributors."
That's definitely good enough for me!
So, in summary - first impressions: very, very promising. The site feels slick, smooth, and fairly polished - and considering the site hasn't even been fully completed yet, that's pretty impressive. The design is elegant and wonderfully logical, and that's thanks to the design team (the same design team who worked at ESPN and Disney redesigning the ESPN.com site several times over) - there's a great breadth of standards-based, sensible UI design coming from that design house, and it's been well-implemented.
So, I raise a pint to Newsvine - if it's started as it means to continue, things are looking good!