Digg’s Outlash Against Yahoo: Post-Mortem

Today’s hot Digg front page story of the day Yahoo Shamelessly Rips Off Digg and Brags About It is starting to make the rounds on some influential blogs. This whole exercise was to illustrate two things:

  • How hopelessly out of touch Yahoo is with the world
  • Digg’s herd mentality

The voices of reason at blogs such as TechCrunch and Frantic Industries rightly defend Yahoo:

I don’t have any problem with what Yahoo did. First, Yahoo credited Digg in a blog post announcing the new product. Second, the purpose of the site has nothing to do with finding and promoting news stories. Rather, they’re using the Digg-voting mechanism to power the Yahoo Suggestion Board where users can submit their comments to Yahoo on various products.

Yahoo Launches Digg-Like Suggestion Site

On Digg, of course, there’s an outburst of negativity, with the title of the story suggesting it was a Digg rip-off. It’s not. Digg doesn’t have the RSVC (read submit vote comment) set of features copyrighted. Everyone is free to use it, there’s hundreds of sites that have the same or similar functionality, and there will be thousands of them before 2007 is over.

Yahoo! suggestion boards offer Digg-style voting – franticindustries

Yahoo! Just Doesn’t Get It

Aside from the sensationalist headline and blurb of the Digg submission, let’s look at what’s wrong with Yahoo’s side of the picture.

The interface:

digg_yahoo_clone.png

It’s really not about whether there are grounds for copyright infringement or if Yahoo!’s implementation matches Digg feature for feature. In fact, if the interface wasn’t so similar it probably wouldn’t achieve such critical mass.

For most web services the algorithms powering the site are proprietary and kept secret. Even sites in direct competition with each other are implementing different technologies. Many times the only thing setting services apart is the interface: it’s part of the brand image.

Color schemes and layout are an integral part of the design that gurus spend months agonizing over. Digg’s design is a crucial part of its success and the fact that Yahoo! is more or less tweaking the “Digg template” is simply unacceptable for a corporation as big as Yahoo!.

Even if the whole idea of voting on user submitted content is not novel or patented to Digg (as you can see by Netscape.com), it speaks volumes when you go and replicate the layout and color scheme.

It’s not hard to imagine that these bad decisions happen because of the bureaucracy that pervades Yahoo!. Anybody that’s in touch with the web would know that the design looks suspiciously like Digg and would simply say “that looks too much like Digg, don’t you think it’s risky?”. I think these kinds of decisions are made when you have management calling all the important shots instead of people at the ground-level working on their own and running with their own ideas. This is what happens with management by committe.

Just look at the Yahoo! CFO’s letter leaked to TechCrunch. Am I the only one thinking, “what is the CFO doing with so much time on her hands writing a long letter like this?” It’s filled with so much marketing junk terminology that you’d think it’s an encrypted message using text garbled from a business textbook.

Instead of spamming employees she should be talking to the engineers, starting up incognito conversations with customers, and even exploring the net to see what the rest of the world is up to. I’m even sure that some of the direct recipients of that email read it for the first time on TechCrunch. Sadly, that isn’t the only Yahoo! executive (spam) letter that was leaked to the public. In fact, it’s more like a monthly feature.

In a Dilbert-esque world like this it’s no wonder people start looking for easy ways out instead of thinking of something more original.

To Yahoo!’s credit they’ve published quite a bit of the flaming and comment spam that ensued on their blog. They’re obviously trying to embrace a very different web from the one they pioneered.

Digg’s Herd Mentality

A lot of people give the general Digg as a group too much credit without realizing how trivially easy it is to mobilize the lynch mob. I think there are two dominant factors contributing to this:

  • users want to feel special about their community
  • people get trapped in herd negativity

They’re naturally going to be defensive of anything that threatens their uniqueness or degrades it in their eyes regardless of whether the charge holds water.

It’s also the dilemma of the psychology ruling anonymous masses. It’s much easier to stick with whatever everyone else is going with. I’m sure there are more people who would speak out against the negativity if they thought it would make a difference. The problem is experience has already conditioned them that it wont. It’s just like being a member of a street gang, getting too loud with your dissenting opinion will make you the target instead.

In this case it was Digg’s users lashing out against Yahoo! but even internally you’ll see a lot of it with comments or submissions that criticize Digg, even if the criticism is constructive and is to start a dialog for improvement.

It’s easy to see the toll such negativity takes when it’s taken out on third party sites like Yahoo! but this is the exact same negativity that can wreak havoc between users. Instead of spam comments on someone’s blog you have bury brigades doing their best to drag people they don’t like down.

Conclusion

I’m really not trying to make a judgement about who’s wrong or right but to explain a big corporation can lose touch and how the negativity contained in Digg can contaminate things for everyone.

Today these elements clashed like gasoline and fire. I’m hoping it’ll lead to a more meaningful look at “what’s really wrong with Yahoo!” and “what can be done to make Digg a happier place without killing the community”.

Having said that, I don’t think you’ll see any significant changes on either side for some time to come.