Thursday, April 20

Dig it! Digg digs itself into chaos!

or The Trouble with Societies

I am fascinated by how people interact and how different "systems" affect these interactions. This is why I enjoy Survivor and such. I really enjoy watching when a system starts to show its flaws. This is why I just adore the internet.

For example, the whole MySpace fiasco right now. You make a system that is borderline anonymous, has an extreme amount of freedom and is open to anyone, eventually it will be abused. As I've said over and over, it is much easier to break something than it is to create it. So its no surprise that people with use MySpace for hate or for trolling for children or whatever.

So lets look at Digg. I you aren't familiar with Digg, it is a tech news site that tries to function without an editorial system. Or rather, all of the users are the editorial system. They submit all the stories and they "vote" on which stories are worthy. If the masses agree, the story makes it to the front page. The benefits to this system are great: news can be aggregated to users attention rapidly, users feel like they have involvement in the processes, stories are filtered through an almost true democratic system and not through what what a hand full of folks might thing is interesting.

But it negatives are also large. A lot of garbage has to go in to get gems out. Since it is user submitted and any user can submit, you get a lot of garbage. Inaccurate stuff ("Comet to hit Earth on May 25th!"). A lot of non-tech related stories, mainly of the standard viral internet type stuff, but also politics, gossip, etc.. A touch of religious arguments (mainly stemming from Creationism/Evolution debate). A lot of duplicated stories. When BootCamp was announced there was a flood of stories submitted on the topic, and they haven't stopped. Most of them recycling the same information, over and over.

And then there are people who submit their own blog, usually a blog that is just linking to a different blog where the real story is. Usually these are young blogs, with out much content. But the "Digg Effect" (similar to the "Slashdot Effect") is a powerful draw. A story/link that makes it to the front page of Digg will create a huge amount of traffic (often crushing smaller sites in its glory), so I understand to temptation. Heck, I've been tempted but I have not had anything nearly worthy of it.

Now it is clear that Digg is ripe for abuse, but they to have methods to keep things under control. Don't only can you "digg" a story, voting that the story is interesting, but you can also "report" it, marking it as inaccurate, spam, bad link, duplicate, old news, or just lame. These are like anti-diggs. But unlike diggs that show a number next to the story (approximately 50-80 diggs to get to the front page), you don't see the count of these anti-diggs. They remain secret. Much of the system remains secret. There are algorithms operating behind the scenes figuring out if something is worthy of being elevated to magical front page status. I truly don't understand how it works, but my assumption it takes into account the amount of diggs a story gets, the rate at which it gets diggs and how many anti-diggs it gets. A story can also be entirely removed (automatically) if it gets enough reports. Enough people mark something as inaccurate, it will go bye-bye.

But the biggest flaw, the flaw with any system that gives users a feeling of ownership and control, is that people will find things that make their control feel less than complete. And that has happened. I won't go into it in detail, but a series of irregularities were noticed and then reported on by other sites (Slashdot, forevergeek, etc). Digg responded. This of course then led to a flood of stories submitted to Digg about digg's own abuse. Most of these stories are then rabidly anti-digged by users, which leads the posters to believe in more editorial abuse. And the cycle continues.

I have no idea if there is editorial shenanigans going on. I really don't care. Doesn't affect me. The interesting thing is how protective of people's freedoms, true of just perceived, people get. In addition, the competitive nature that the internet brings up in people. Yes, it feels good to get a submitted story t the front page, a sense of approval and accomplishment. Some people will try to do this by "cheating" (creating fake accounts, etc). And out of 250,000 registered users on Digg, there will be plenty of people who attempt to abuse it and many will succeed.

I'm not bagging on Digg for all this. It is the nature of the beast.