Back in June 2005 when I first wrote about Digg (six days after starting TechCrunch), it took just 15 diggs and a story was automatically sent to the home page of the then small and innocent site (there are lots of old screen shots of Digg in that post). Today it takes an average of 150 or so to get to the Digg home page, although that varies considerably based on the user who submitted the story and the domain name being pointed to.
But tonight some Digg users noticed something a little strange. This story had 936 votes 16.5 hours after it was originally submitted. That’s way beyond what’s normall needed to get on the home page. The next most popular upcoming story in its category had just 178 votes.
If a lot of users vote to bury a story it takes more votes to get to the home page of Digg. But those stories that get a lot of buries tend to be taken off of the upcoming section. In this case, that didn’t happen, and the story just continued to get a ton of votes by users, but was never promoted to the home page (from a brief perusal of the destination story, it seems that this is a story that should have been buried quickly). Perhaps the story just tread a fine statistical line between being promoted and buried, and went on collecting votes until Digg could figure out what to do with it.
So what’s the point? It’s clear Digg is continuing to struggle with vote gaming and trying to maintain their model of letting their users decide what news makes it to the top of the pile. As they add more hurdles and filters, the main side effect seems to be a delay in promoting hot news quickly. It also shows that even a thousand people working together can’t necessarily get a story to the top of Digg. Which is a good thing, I guess.
There are persistent rumors that Digg now employs editors to review upcoming stories before they are promoted, to increase quality. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but it does tend to undermine the theory that the crowd can make better decisions on what constitutes “news” than a single human being using common sense and their best judgment. Digg, for their part, deny that editors are involved in story selection.
Digg may ultimately prove to be a great business model for its founders and investors. But the news revolution that it appeared to be be vanguarding may eventually fizzle out. As, perhaps, will users if they ultimately discover they aren’t, in fact, in charge.