Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Digg is Broken?

Some very interesting issues on Digg have been exposed recently. And they're worth examining in the broader context of what this means for "Web 2.0" as such.

First--it was revealed that the top 100 Digg users control 56% of Digg's frontpage content. Yikes...

Then this, from the smalls blogger blog, and TechCrunch:

Have a look at subvertandprofit.com. Quite a simple idea really - Advertisers, pay $1 per digg. If you are a Digg user - well they will pay you 50 cents if you digg an article which they ask you to digg. The company makes a 50 cent profit.

Subvert and Profit says “…We allow advertisers to purchase actions on social networks… they are 50 to 100 times more cost effective than conventional Internet advertising.”

Its not just Subvert and Profit, here is a listing of sites that will actually pay YOU to digg articles:

I’m sure there are many more, I just couldn’t be bothered to keep looking…

Quite simple really - and it sounds stupid doesn’t it?

So does it really work? Can you pay money and get digged? I did some research, and you know what? The sad thing is - it's actually working!

There was this guy who wanted to conduct an experiment. He submitted a really stupid article to digg and then paid for it to get digged. He even posted about it on Digg confessing he paid $1 per Digg to see what would happen:

“Two hours went by, and I got another digg. Then, suddenly, diggs began to accumulate like bugs on a windshield — smack, smack, a couple every 10 minutes. After four and a half hours, I had 19 diggs. My web logs showed I had no new hits on my site through Digg, however, offering evidence that the diggs had come from people who hadn’t bothered to investigate my blog.”

“When I woke up in the morning, my story had been awarded the “became popular” tag and had 121 diggs. U/S had done what it promised: The company had helped me buy my way into Digg popularity, and my site traffic had gone way up — overnight, I’d been hammered with so many hits that the diggers had to set up a mirror.”

Want to see the result? Check out the article.

It would seem that the "wisdom of crowds" is also a simple perpetuation of the hierarchies of popularity and greed that we see in Life 1.0 (the "real" world). A very small crowd controls the general opinion of what is "news" worthy.

I believe that the original aim of Digg--that of a democratization of what is considered and reported as "news"--is a worthy ideal. It's a shame to see it all go awry.

I suppose that when you see 1000's of people on a service like Digg who are using the site as though it were a full time job (something we'll see much more of with the proliferation of sites like "Subvert & Profit")...then maybe it is a full time job.

As the saying goes, "If it looks like a duck. And it quacks like a duck..."


D Holton said...

Yeah, I think the same is true of other social software sites as well. Wikipedia is very heavily controlled by a couple of the most active admins and the normal users that they do not dislike. Other digg-like sites like reddit have a small number of highly active users who seem to post to boost their rankings and stats. The same is true on most bulletin boards / forum sites, where the software ranks and rewards those who contribute the most content, not necessarily the best quality content.

This is a problem. People such as educators judge these sites without really attempting to use them first and get their hands dirty. So they form glossy, idealistic opinions about the sites as being totally open and democratic (wisdom of the crowds, etc.).

When I hear people say, yeah, let's have students contribute to Wikipedia as part of a classroom lesson, I'm thinking that person probably hasn't used Wikipedia much. Also, Wikipedia/Digg/Youtube and the like are blocked by most school districts anyway (I don't agree with that either).

dsargent said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response. And you're absolutely correct about the need to discuss these issues more openly/deliberately in EduTech circles.

Sherif said...

@d holton
"The same is true on most bulletin boards / forum sites, where the software ranks and rewards those who contribute the most content, not necessarily the best quality content."

That's a very very good point, couldn't agree more.