Is Digg Broken? Here are Some Suggestions

Kevin Rose threw down the gauntlet on the Digg community in response to the increasing cries of foul play and gaming on Digg. Aside from announcing his intent to push changes that will make it even harder to game or manipulate Digg, he drops the bomb on the Digg community by announcing the removal of the Digg User ranking list which has been a staple of the site since the early days.

Currently, you get a complete list of users sorted by rank (30 members per page times 4703 pages!). Moving up the list may not be the only reason why top users submit to Digg but it is definitely one of the things that maintain their motivation. It not only pushes them to become better everyday but also serves as a badge of pride.

While Rose suggests Digg will introduce new ways to connect it’s users, this might certainly alienate the very users that have helped grow Digg. Whenever you take away a level of status, or prestige, from your loyalist supporters, you risk them finding a new place to reside.

Digg Takes Away Power from Top Diggers | Marketing Pilgrim

The current number on reveals his honest feelings:

Believe me dude, I’m totally bummed about this because it does take away recognition from folks like me who contribute a lot to the site. I guess I’m being faithful (perhaps blindly faithful) that the alternative will continue to recognize top contributors. I hope so.

Digg – A Couple of Updates from Digg

Another top users weighs in:

I give it 2 weeks before everyone realizes the top user list had nothing to do with the “Gaming” that goes on here. The largest offenders are the lesser knowns who dont have tons of users keeping tabs on what the they do, as is(was) the case with most of the top users.

Real key to stopping “Gaming” is to stop the “Ill rub your back, if you rub mine” system that Kevin has proped up and promoted for so long. But we all know that will never happen.

Digg – A Couple of Updates from Digg

Clearly, the top users aren’t happy with the decision, just willing to go on if it will bring improvements. I think the solution is simple for this: just show the Top 100. The rest can find out what their rank is in their profile page. You can even rip out links to the individual profile pages.

However, there is really a deeper issue here that indicates some aspects of Digg are broken. Alienating top users is not going to make it go away.

I broke into the Top 500s (very close to the top) in under a week’s work and basically followed the same strategy that got another into the Top 60 in roughly 21 days. Don’t interpret that as bragging as I only got 13 stories to the front page. It’s an illustration of how little it takes to rank in the upper 500s among the “nearly 900,000 registered users”. This is all the more reason why Digg should be careful about taking away the ranking: the passionate users are a bigger asset than they realize.

1. Revamp the Friends Functionality

This is where 90% of the so-called gaming and manipulation is happening. In fact, Digg is the one making it so easy. When you mark someone as a friend the stories they digg gets a nice green ribbon on the upper left corner. The more mutual friends among the active users you have the more likely the green ribbon shows up and catches a friend’s attention. Once a couple of them digg the story it sets off a cascading effect that has a better chance of gaining critical velocity.

Frankly, this system just doesn’t work. You can’t send each other messages or do anything with friends. They’re nothing more than glorified bookmarks but they give you a real edge when it comes to getting your stories noticed. It’s clearly bankrupt and needs to be fixed.

What’s more Digg even makes it easier by giving you options to sort the submission queue by “stories submitted by friends” or “stories dugg by friends”. This system is just begging to be abused.

Naturally, the top ranking Digg users attract the most attention and people are eager to “befriend” these users. It also gives the top ranking users an added edge to get their stories on the front page because so many people have marked them as a friend.

The quick solution? Turn it off for a while or rip it out completely and watch what happens to voting patterns. It’ll make it that much more harder to collect Diggs meaning: more well-written submissions linking good content reach the front page. This is the quickest way to level the playing field.

Some sort of friends functionality could be introduced back piece meal but it either needs to be more tightly regulated or some system needs to be introduced to buffer the advantage.

If you’re going to keep the current system:

  • put a cap on the total number of friends allowed
  • mutual approval: people can’t add you as friend unless you approve it and make it mutual

Another idea would be to “discount” the velocity of stories submitted by people with massive friend networks. It’s a known fact that stories getting lots of diggs in a short amount of time have a better chance of breaking onto the front page. So if a story is getting most of their diggs from friends, the velocity score gets dampened.

2. Break the Current Chain of Negativity with More Transparency

Digg encourages you to do dirty things like bury people and sites you hate and being a general nuisance because the negative actions you take to undermine an article are done anonymously though Diggs are prominently displayed and competed over.

The main problem is the bury function was bolted on after many complaints. It used to be harder to report stories and only diggs counted. Having a reporting system is great but they are in fact “negative diggs” that have a disproportional influence on a story.

If you think something’s spam, lame or should be buried then you should be able to stand by and defend that decision. If there’s nothing to be ashamed of you should do it in the open. Currently, Digg hides this information and it makes it easy for jealous people to carry out underhanded attacks on unsuspecting people and sites.

Also, the flame wars that flare up with every story in the comments section gets tiring. What’s the point of digging up or down a comment? It just enforces people to stick with the status quo. Opinions need to be left alone. However, there should be a way to ignore people who you don’t like. I just don’t think making it a public voting process does anything for discussion.

3. Ban Users Not the URLs They Submit

Currently, it’s way to easy to get an URL banned from Digg more or less permanently. This aspect is also prone to abuse by a malevolent minority. By giving the anonymous mobs such power you only encourage them to harm sites that are providing good content from reaching Digg. Digg should always be about the quality of content and not how it got to Digg.

Even though Digg may now drive traffic to these sites, it is these very sites that made Digg what it is today.

If self-promotion is a no no then do something to throttle users who keep submitting from the same URL. It is so easy for someone to go and and ruin a site’s reputation on digg against the site owner’s will. This is unfair because the bigger sites will never suffer from this. Supposing a select group of users succeeded in getting sites like TechCrunch, Engadget, or Gizmodo banned from Digg, I bet they would be reinstated after a couple phone calls and emails later. The current system favors bigger sites that already have an advantage.

As for the real spam, there are services like Akismet that can flag something that really might be spam. It would be great if Digg could work out a real way to block spam submissions.

4. Handle Duplicates and Similar Submissions Better

I think the duplicates function of digg could be better. Right now it’s first come first serve for any given URL. However, this really doesn’t prevent duplicates since you can put hashes and query strings at the end to submit a duplicate. Also, there are lots of occasions when the duplicates function just doesn’t catch a duplicate.

To be honest, I don’t see the problem with duplicates as long as they get consolidated. Submissions shouldn’t overshadow the URL it points to. Sometimes really good content gets submitted by someone who doesn’t know how to write a decent submission. Maybe those URLs that fall by the wayside can be given a second chance after a day or two, after that no more.

There are also “de facto duplicates”. A pattern I see often is the same story source is covered on Gizmodo and Engadget. Even if both articles are more or less the same story they both get their “front page time”. iPhone day at Digg was a good illustration.

I’d definitely like to see similar stories and even dupes grouped with a story on the individual submission’s page along with the date and time they were submitted. Right now vigilant users have to post a link to the dupe in the comments section. Why not automate this and also point people towards similar stories?

Conclusions

A community’s greatest asset is the user. However, not every user is as valuable from the site owner’s viewpoint (although you’ll get flogged if you say it in public). The fact is the passionate users may be 5% or may be 10% but these are the people who will really fight for you. I don’t see the point in alienating the top users just to give in to mob jealousy and envy. Those users sacrificed enough of their time and efforts to deserve some recognition. Maybe there are other ways to recognize their contribution. If so give them that recognition before taking away the existing form.

Sure, there will be plenty more people willing to take up the mantle should the top users cool towards Digg but that wont prevent a downward spiral that results from increasing the top user’s churn rate. Some of these top users have their own fan base and that says a lot.

Either way I think there are lots of areas calling for attention (starting with bad performance) and the ranking list is the least of them. I really want to see the Digg system improve and become better. If everyone feels that taking away the token recognition from top users is the way to do it, that’s fine by me (most users will never be on that list) but once you start alienating your best users it’s hard to mend ways. Let’s hope that Digg 4.0 or whatever version they’re on blows away all previous versions. I still have faith that it will be done.

Which leads me to a disappointing trend that we’ve noticed over the past several months. Some of our top users – the people that have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours finding and digging the best stuff – are being blamed by some outlets as leading efforts to manipulate Digg. These users have been listed on the “Top Diggers” area of the site that was created in the early days of Digg when there was a strong focus on encouraging people to submit content. The list served a great purpose of recognizing those who were working hard to make Digg a great site, as well as a way for new users to discover new content. Now, as the site has matured and we regularly get 5,000+ content submissions per day, we believe there are better ways to discover new friends based on your interests and what you’re digging. So if you have been digging stories about digital cameras and Oolong tea, you will be introduced to other top users with those interests.

So what does this all mean? After considerable internal debate and discussion with many of those who make up the Top Digger list, we’ve decided to remove the list beginning tomorrow. As for what’s next, we’re currently working on designing and refining the technologies required that will help enable our nearly 900,000 registered users to make real connections that we believe will greatly enhance the Digg experience – whether you’re brand new to the site or have been on Digg since the beginning. We plan on rolling this out in the coming months along with features and programs that do a better job of rewarding positive contributions to the Digg community.

Digg the Blog » Blog Archive » A couple updates…

A nice article by the always on point Dr. Tony Hung:

Deep Jive Interests » Why Digg’s New Changes Won’t Really Matter

Some other mentions of note:

The consequences of Digg’s top user list removal – franticindustries.

Digg Removes List of Top Users