Digg’s Dirty Little Secret: The Art of Getting Buried

Let me tell you a dirty little secret about Digg that is more or less public knowledge: the average reader doesn’t bother to read stories in the submission queue. It’s true. I wont claim the number is zero but it’s very very small.

I’d say the only real person who reads your article is the person who submitted it and a handful of people that glanced at it. Some may say it goes against the principles of Digg but with the sheer volume of stories I think it’s only natural.

Most of the users only read stories that hit the front page and that’s after it proved itself to have lasting power.

When I look at the submission queue one of the first things that catch my eye is the green ribbon showing whether it was submitted by a friend or not, then I look at the title, blurb, avatar, username, and the URL in question. I suspect a lot of other people look at the submission queue in cloud view and cherry pick from the biggest stories. I’ve noticed lots of my stories gain more momentum when the font size got big enough to visibly set it apart from others.

If the URL is from a reputable place like TechCrunch, Engadget, etc. it’s pretty safe to Digg and I suspect that’s also what the majority of users do as well. To be fair, I read most of the major blogs in my news reader so I usually know what the story is beforehand so I only need to glance at stories from users or URLs I don’t see often.

Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand wrote a great rebuttal to Jason Calcanis titled Why The SEO Folks Were Mad At You, Jason. It even hit the Digg front page and then got promptly buried. The reason?

  1. The URL has business connotations: if your domain name has “seo”, “business”, “advertising”, “pro” or in this case “search engine” that’s already a big hurdle for your story to overcome.

  2. The article is too freakin’ long: never expect Digg users to read a story that doesn’t fit into a single screen without scrolling. My best performing submissions to Digg are a single picture from Flickr. It happened three times. The third got buried because people got bored with the same pictures.

  3. Stay away from the Digg comments section: The comments section is for oneupsmanship and bashing. When the author starts chiming it you only mobilize the mob to bury you. Stay away from it because there’s rarely any intelligent debate to be had. Some people read the comments more than the story itself to judge whether it’s “Diggworthy”.

    It’s not everyone but negative comments usually outweigh the good ones. Let them vent and hope they stay away from the bury button. Hands off is always the best: if it’s your domain don’t submit and don’t comment.

  4. Bad luck: At the end of the day, you just never know. Even if your story hits the front page it’s not safe until it gets at least over 200-250 Diggs.

    Remember the Ninja.com search engine story? That was pure commercial spam but it played off of the previously popular story of how turning the Google page black would save the environment with the megawatts saved and added ninjas to the mix for bonus points. By the time people realized the Ninja story was complete trash and making the domain owners rich it had too many Diggs for anyone to bury it.

I suspect that with the activities of top users subdued that you will see more of this mob rule. Top users will rarely bury a story unless it really is spam because they know the hard work that goes into the submission process and have enough experience to discern what’s really spam or just something they don’t agree with. They’re less likely to get their gratification from burying because their main reward is hitting the front page. Live and let live.

Now the argument for Digg’s recent move to tone down the emphasis on the competitive elements of Digg is to reduce gaming and manipulation. In other words, they don’t want a small clique of users handing out Diggs like tissue. Fair enough.

Well, burying a story and banning a domain was trivially easy before but now it just got easier with the absence of the most passionate users. Digg, you really need to fix it. There’s a big difference between controversial content and malicious intent (spamming to make a quick buck). If you’re going to take away the so-called power from top users you should do something to tone down the angry anonymous cowards too.