Digg continues to grow, claiming 20 million visitors per month and an increasing amount of mainstream attention. But as traffic to Digg has grown, the incentive to “game” the site to get stories to the home page has also increased. Digg fights the abuse by using a number of weapons (deleting offending accounts, changing the core algorithm, etc.). But in doing so they risk alienating their most active users, who complain that many of the changes to Digg affect them more than the spammers.
The most recent changes to the Digg algorithm are aimed at grouping users who tend to act as a single voting block, effectively neutralizing their ability to move stories to the home page by simply acting together. One user, noting that the result was a significant decline in the home page stories by top users, said “it looks like the Digg staff is looking to get rid of its frequent posters.”
One person I spoke with tonight told me that 10 or so of the most powerful Digg users, him included, have set up a password protected IRC room to discuss the changes, saying “we’re in general agreement that we are no longer wanted, and our hours of submitting and keeping the site alive is no longer appreciated…some are leaving for newsvine, some for netscape etc…i have started participating in newsvine…i would appreciate it if you didnt name names in the post, because digg bans people over nothing.”
Digg is aware of this rebellion, of course, and is taking steps to stop it. In an update to the original blog post talking about the changes, founder Kevin Rose emphasized that their intention was not to point fingers at certain users: “The intention of the post absolutely wasn’t to point a finger at any individual or group. It was intended to openly highlight some of the things we’re doing to keep digg as useful, democratic, and devoid of misuse as possible.”
Digg is also aggresively deleting accounts of users that appear to be abusing the system. One top 20 user account, Webtech, was recently deleted as a part of this purge, even though the account appears to be legitimate (it was quickly reinstated). Many other top accounts were also deleted.
Part of the beauty of Digg has always been its simplicty. But the days of one user, one vote are long gone. In its place is a complicated and evolving algorithm that gives certain users less voting weight than other users. As long as users still feel that their participation matters, Digg will thrive. But if heavy users realize their voting weight decreases simply because they vote for a lot of stories that ultimately end up on the home page, they may have less of an incentive to participate.
As with any community, and probably more so with Digg, tranparency is important. The company continues to be very open in how they evolve and communicate regularly with users via the official Digg blog. But they don’t talk specifically about how exactly stories make it to the home page. They say this is to prevent further gaming, which makes sense. But it also has the side effect of causing some users to feel snubbed.
Digg is an ongoing experiment in a new kind of newspaper – one that has no human editors but rather promotes news stories based on a (weighted) democratic process. It’s important, and therefore constantly under a microscope. Keeping the most prolific Digg users happy is important, but ultimately its more important to have quality content on the site. And I will say this – the diversity and overall quality of stories the last few days has increased markedly. Like all storms, this will pass, and Digg will most likely continue to thrive.
Previous TechCrunch coverage of Digg is here.
Update: Two top Digg users write an open letter to Kevin Rose.