Jul 20

What hash Digg wrought?

Digg is probably the epitome of “mob rule” websites, where articles battle it out to reach the conciousness of the world.    Every vote counts, and every vote against counts as well.   But in essense, Digg represents the “voice of the community”.

You can see this by viewing the Digg Spy, a never-ending waterfall of stories still in their infancy.  Here, you will see plenty of green votes (positives) but also some yellows and reds (neutral or “bury this”) votes.  However, on the front page? Nothing but green, and lots of it.  There are a lot of topics covered by Digg, especially now in the “version 3” phase, but generally posts get attention if they fall into these major areas:

  • Microsoft sucks
  • Censorship sucks
  • George W Bush sucks
  • The Iraq war sucks
  • The US sucks
  • Linux is cool
  • Apple is cool
  • The Internet is cool
  • Digg rocks!
  • Google is cool
  • Open source is very cool
  • The earth’s destruction from Global Warming is imminent

The problem with this model is that opinions that are popular to the majority of diggers are the ones that survive, while other opinions are often (but not always) quickly strangled.  There are two things wrong with this system:

  1. People who hold different opinions may flee from Digg, creating an “echo chamber” that kills Digg’s usefulness for everyone who isn’t part of the “popular” club
  2. It is vulnerable to organized vote fraud.

To some degree, these are contrary problems – if Digg is an echo chamber with a large number of users, it becomes harder to execute vote fraud, while the ability to execute vote fraud demonstrates that it is not yet an echo chamber.   So these are potential problems, not real problems.

But these are serious problems – with only 500 votes required to get a front-page view, China could trivially control every post on every category on Digg by getting 2000 dedicated Digg-voters in a room to ensure that only China-friendly messages made it onto the front page.  All they really have to do is decide to do it, the infrastructure required is trivial.


But even without China manipulating votes, there are still essentially two “power groups” within Digg.

  • The people who put posts up
  • The people who vote posts down

The posters – the “one-percenters” are the most important group to Digg, and to the world at large – they are the people who keep everyone else informed.  By and large, there’s nothing “wrong” with being an active participant and sharing your knowledge and discoveries with the world.

The second group – the “vote downers” are the ones with the most potential for abuse, because enough negative votes and a story is dead, whether it is true or not.  The Vote-Downer population can claim that a story is inaccurate, even if it isn’t, they can call a post spam or lame, or what have you, without any “checks” on their power.   Right now, they generally behave responsibly to my eyes, but I’ve seen several stories that seem accurate but are marked inaccurate because they deviate from the “accepted truth” of the Digg population.

Win Friends and Influence People

But there is a way to fight back, and that is to become a Vote-Downer, and actively mark down any article that you find lame as lame, or any article that mischaracterizes what you understand to be the truth as inaccurate.   Because if you don’t, you are essentially saying “I will let others control my Digg experience.”

So get out there, register, and get active, because Digg’s concept is awesome and the only thing that will save it from the Echo Chamber or the Vote Fraud problem is you.

I’m sure this article will rile some people up, so I want to issue some caveats here at the end:

  • I don’t think Vote-Downers are bad people
  • Digg is a very effective mechanism at informing the world about interesting stuff
  • I am not calling for people to lie and deliberate “astroturf” Digg.  I am calling for people of all opinions to participate, to make Digg better
  • You can get access to the “raw” Digg by visiting Digg Spy
  • Digg, the company has done a number of things to make the system fair, and it is not clear that adding more layers of technology will make the system “more fair”.  Again, the solution is for people to get involved.


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