The incredibly successful news site Digg has hit a few speed bumps recently. Digg is a news site that promotes news stories, submitted by users, to its home page based on votes by other Digg users. If a story is “dugg” by enough users, it goes to the home page and a lot of traffic is directed to the link in the news story.
In addition to the recent targeting of Digg’s business by AOL when they turned the massive netscape.com property into a digg clone, a number of people have recently complained, loudly, about the ability for groups of users on Digg to get a story to the home page, or removed from the home page, by acting as a group.
Political blogger Michelle Malkin was one of the first to complain that groups of conservative or liberal Digg users were acting to remove posts from pundits on the other side. More recently, another blogger analyzed Digg home page stories and concluded that a small group of powerful Digg users, acting together, control a large percentage of total home page stories.
To some this is troubling because it removes the supposedly democratic nature of Digg. Unlike newspapers like the New York Times, where a small group of editors decide what is “news” and therefore included in the paper, Digg is a more meritocritous and democratic process where the readers actually decide what is newsworthy. If Digg is being corrupted by a relatively small group of users, the difference between Digg and the NYT becomes less clear.
Others respond that these groups are just very hard core Digg users that spend much of their day scouring the web for good stories to promote on Digg. Digg ranks users based on how successful their submitted stories become, and a handful of users are hyper-competitive about their Digg ranking. The argument is that these users are simply more proficient at finding stories.
Today Digg co-founder Kevin Rose responded to these complaints. He takes both sides of the argument. Kevin says that groups of people recommending stories to each other is actually a good thing. But he also says that Digg will soon be implementing a new algorithm that weighs a diversified group of Diggers more heavily than groups acting together:
This algorithm update will look at the unique digging diversity of the individuals digging the story. Users that follow a gaming pattern will have less promotion weight. This doesn’t mean that the story won’t be promoted, it just means that a more diverse pool of individuals will be need to deem the story homepage-worthy.
I think this is the right thing to do. Digg needs to continue to encourage people to recommend stories to their friends, but also find ways to get truly unique and interesting stories to the home page without the sponsorship of a Digg user group. Hopefully the algorithm changes will help. Another suggestion to improve things that I recently passed on to Digg CEO Jay Adelson: weigh a story digg more if it comes from perusing the “upcoming stories” area v. someone hitting the story via a direct link. Since friends often email or IM stories around via the direct link, it’s more likely to be a vote from a group. A digg from the upcoming stories page is much more likely to simply be a user reviewing stories and picking the ones that he or she thinks are important.
Update: Digg’s top user has supposedly “resigned” in anger over Kevin’s remarks…