On Sunday, USA Today launched their new web site that incorporates many of the social networking features that have been all the buzz of the ‘netterati‘. According to the USA Today site, the new features include the ability of readers to:

• Scan other news sources directly on USATODAY.com;
• See how readers are reacting to stories;
• Recommend stories and comments to other readers;
• Comment directly on stories;
• Participate in discussion forums;
• Write reviews (of movies, music and more);
• Contribute photos;
• Better communicate with USA TODAY staff.

For those of us who have been participating in various aspects of user contributed content that makes Web 2.0 so exciting, these features don’t seem so revolutionary. But it’s the first time a major newspaper has opened itself up to so much reader input. Most other publication have only dabbled in these ideas and technologies.

None of the local papers (daily or weekly) have any of the openness and user participation that USA Today is offering. What’s important to note is that providing these kinds of features are not really a cost issue. It’s not that difficult to develop social networking features if the will is there. It’s really more of a mind set where newspapers continue to believe the Internet is a distribution system instead of a communication system. This is what the telecommunications giants (AT&T, Cable sytems, etc.) continue to push for. What do you think? Will the Internet become just another outlet for corporations to distribute their content like radio and TV?