Digg’in social ranking a hole

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Digg got themselves into something of, well, a hole earlier this week. The supposed user-generated social bookmarking site caught some fire after allegations broke out that the site was skewing results and using ‘editorial control’ to push certain stories while burying others. This means if you’ve recently been subscribing to the social ranking approach of internet marketing, you may not want to abandon your traditional SEO methods quite yet.

The controversy began when ForeverGeek’s Macgyver posted an article Wednesday hinting that Digg was promoting two almost identical stories, both submitted by Digg user Spit1ire, while banning stories from the ForeverGeek site.

The two promoted stories appeared on Digg’s front page and were voted on by virtually all of the same people, in the same order, with a vote by none other than Digg founder Kevin Rose. The folks at ForeverGeek (like the rest of us) found this to be too much of a coincidence. Macgyver comments:

“What made this really interesting was that the 17th digger was none other than Kevin Rose… I’ve read that Digg gets anywhere from 500,000 to 800,000 readers a day. 16 (or 19) identical diggs for two articles by the same author? 22 of the first 24 diggers being the same for both articles? Somehow I don’t think that is a coincidence.”

Conspiracy theory or did Rose just read Digg’s front page and like the stories? But why would the votes appear in almost identical order? And isn’t it strange they were submitted by the same user? It’s all very odd and doesn’t make much sense.

Digg-ing further, if the stories were voted by enough users to merit them first page status, why don’t they have any comments? When’s the last time you saw a ‘popular’ front page story void of any user response? Very strange indeed.

The folks at the Digg blog are trying to do some major PR spin, claiming the error occurred as a result of users creating several accounts to ‘mass digg and promote stories’. Rose says those accounts have since been banned. How does Rose explain ForeverGeek’s banning?

“The banning of forevergeek.com: Aside from the dozens of user reports, several accounts were created to artificially inflate the digg count of their stories. When a single URL hits a threshold of reports, our standard procedure is to block that URL from submission (spam control). Again, mass fraud digging is in violation of our terms of service.”

Macgyver denies that claim and posted his own response to what he calls Rose’s ‘non-response’ and basically tears apart Rose’s entire argument.

In response to Rose himself digging the two stories in question, Digg’s founder notes he currently tracks more than 40 users within the Digg community. Spit1fire is not on that list. We checked.

Whatever the exact cause of the ban and pushed stories, one fact now remains: the original idea behind Digg is now lost. Recent events seem to show that Digg has gotten too big for its own good. Either the editors are hand picking which stories see the front page, or the site has fallen prey to group think — causing everyone to ‘dig’ the same stories.

Regardless, the premise behind Digg and other social ranking sites has now changed (who’s in charge – users or site editors?) and marketers and SEOs alike should be wary when favoring social marketing tactics over traditional organic search. Social ranking sites are still relatively new to the game and clearly they still have some growing pains to work out. So let’s not abandon the traditional methods of SEO and internet marketing, okay?

Lisa Barone is a writer, content marketer & VP of strategy at Overit Media. She's also a very active Twitterer, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

See Lisa's author page for links to connect on social media.

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