When Google's automated news service (news.google.com) was first launched, there was a certain amount of dismay on the part of journalists and media companies.
This was, after all, an attempt to replace editors --real people who earn real money making decisions about news - with software.
But there was no ripple effect on the rest of the industry, and no-one lost their job as a writer or editor as a result of Google News.
In fact, the service ended up being a boon to journalists because it offered a much simpler and quicker way of monitoring headlines from around the world.
Along with the innovative Google News Alerts service, it made it very simple to keep track of just about any topic you care to name; just try a search on it, then ask Google to keep doing that search and email the results to you every day.
So a software editor turned out to be a useful little tool, and the hoo-ha calmed down.
Now there's a new kind of threat, and this one might be a little harder to deal with.
It's called Digg (digg.com) and this time, the editor is being replaced not by software, but by people. Lots of people.
Digg calls itself a technology news web site, but the difference is that stories it highlights are spotted, linked to, and voted on by the site's users.
The more people who like a story (and click the "Digg it!" button next to its headline), the higher up the story will appear.
The most popular stories get displayed on the front page. What's more, every story or link becomes a topic for discussion; users can make comments of their own about the subject matter, or the suitability of the story for Digg's front page.
This isn't the first web site to allow the users editorial control, but it's the first I've seen that does so while calling itself a 'news' service. Other sites, notably Kuro5hin (kuro5hin.com), have allowed the most popular items to float to the top, but they weren't trying to be a news service.
Digg offers news for nerds, as chosen by the nerd community (and I mean 'nerd' in its best possible sense). Digg's subject matter is technology, geek stuff. It's bound to attract a certain nerdy type of person who will feel instantly at home with what the site offers and the interface required to make it all work.
It's an interesting experiment. Will the decisions of the majority end up being acceptable to readers in the long term? Can group decision-making end up being a good way to editorialise a news service?
Put another way: is the most popular stuff necessarily the best stuff?
Electronic communities with purpose are becoming very popular, very quickly. Flickr (flickr.com) for photos, Delicious (del.icio.us) for links, Wikipedia (wikipedia.com) for facts, TheyWorkForYou (theyworkforyou.com) for UK parliamentary activity.
Now Digg is staking a claim for the territory of technology news, and it won't be long before carbon-copy sites spring up to cover other areas of news.
* Giles Turnbull has a website at gilest.org