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September 7, 2006

What Digg’s Troubles Mean for Everyone Else

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Right now Digg is under massive fire for being a 30-person clique instead of the user-controlled bookmarking site it’s supposed to be. Users are revolting, Top Digger P9 has publicly resigned and Kevin Rose is promising algorithm changes to help correct what he calls “digg gaming”.

Digg-nation is officially and universally in revolt.

The problem with social bookmarking sites has always been that they promote a high school clique mentality. It becomes clear that a site that is supposed to be run by the masses is actually run by 20 or so really popular members. It’s not shocking, and in reality, it’s not even a new development.

But now things have taken a more serious turn. Digg’s flaws have been very carefully documented, its top users are being insulted, and Kevin Rose has decided to straddle the fence defending digg’s current system while announcing an algorithm change that will change it.

For me, Digg’s new approach exposes them to a new series of problems.

  • Problem #1: The Creation of a Diluted System – The Digg community is what makes it so successful. For whatever reason, users wake up at 4am to Digg stories before work and then stay up late to Digg some more. Taking away or diluting the impact of Digg’s top users may help new members to see their stories get “dug”, but it’s also a really bad business decision for the site.

    I don’t think that the top 30 Digg users should be automatically digging each other stories and dominating the front page, but from Kevin Rose’s point of view, without those 30 members, his site isn’t as successful. Taking away their influence and motivation is a dangerous move. There will always be an elite group on sites like Digg. Changing the system may change who sits at the popular table, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is a popular table.

  • Problem #2: An Angry Lifeline – Kevin, your most influential members are really angry with you. In fact, your top user has just relinquished his throne after you basically accused him of “gaming the system” when really, all he was doing, was playing by the rules you set out. Where will he go? I bet Jason Calacanis make him a job offer any minute now, probably publicly on his blog. Scratch that – he just did.

    Digg-nation is your lifeline, and you just stepped on all of their toes.

  • Problem #3: Jason Calacanis – Jason, a man I’ve probably been a little unfair to in the past (I apologize for that), is an excellent business man and will capitalize on every disgruntled Digg member that comes his way. Remember that you are not the only game in town. Members angry with the new algorithm changes will defect. And when they do, Jason will warmly welcome them into the Netscape Navigators’ club.
  • Problem #4: Those Other Users – Your family is fighting, which puts your community in jeopardy. The strength of the Digg community is what differentiates it from the rest of the copy-cat sites out there.
  • Problem #5: The Seed Has Been Planted – And planted, and planted. This isn’t the first time Digg has been blasted for controlling what stories make it to the front page and which get buried. Every vote should count once. No more, no less. From here on out all of your stories will be suspect.

As you can probably tell, I think Digg is in for a bumpy ride. However, I’m not a Digg user so why do I care?

I care because Digg is the model for many of the Web 2.0 and social bookmarking sites that came after it. Its problems are not specific to Digg, but are universal to all social sites. I think it’s important that other sites see Digg and learn from its mistakes.

For me, the problem at hand isn’t How To Save Digg. It is how do you maintain a high level of quality on social sites while still making the process attractive to users? How do you build a community without creating a clique?

It’s a universal question that sites and businesses in every industry will face once their company reaches a certain level of success. How do you keep your company community-friendly? How do you make your site attractive to users, while still abiding by the fundamental design of your site?

Digg needs to get itself back on track. Hopefully, algorithm changes will help to keep the creativity and interest flowing over at Digg, while not alienating its top users. I don’t know what the middle ground, but if Digg wants to keep its bubble from bursting, it’s going to have to try and find it.





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