Wired’s Incoherent Coverage of Digg

All the big media sites just went on a Digg bonanza starting with the three articles from Wired: Herding the Mob, I Bought Votes on Digg, and Hunting Down Digg’s Bury Brigade(which is really David’s article on NewAssignment). With additional mention from BoingBoing and of course Michael Arrington calling on Digg to sue Wired because Wired is a sister company to competitor Reddit (or maybe Mike is just having a bad day).

The main article, “Herding the Mob” is really a sorry excuse of an article as mentioned elsewhere simply because it’s lumping the Ebay rating system with social news. Oddly, the main article is mostly about Ebay’s seller reputation system and how it affects sales and only mentions social news sites in passing while the other two articles are solely focused on Digg. It’s as if the author took a story on Ebay to the editor and was told to make it about Digg instead to ride the recent buzz of negativity.

If you discount the main article, you have two interesting pieces that are at odds. In one piece, the main author details how she bought Digg votes and succeeded in getting her otherwise boring blog on the Digg frontpage (and was promptly buried). In the other David explores the implications of Digg’s so-called “bury brigade”. Basically, you have one article showing the bury system succeeding to keep an unworthy article off the front page while the other explores the implications of informal censorship and passionate users trying to get to the bottom questions unanswered by Digg the company.

In an effort to prove that “Scammers Manipulate the Mob” they pretty much hand us back an inconclusive picture. One thing for sure is that the Digg’s algorithm for catching scammers isn’t as good as all the eyeballs on Digg as proclaimed by the CEO.

CEO Jay Adelson told me before I conducted this experiment that all the groups trying to manipulate Digg “have failed,” and that Digg “can tell when there are paid users.” Adelson added, “When we identify a (Digg user) who is part of a scam, we don’t remove their account so they don’t realize they’ve been identified. Then we let them continue voting, but their votes may count a lot less. Then the scam doesn’t work.”

I Bought Votes on Digg

This all takes us back to the original question. Who controls Digg? Aside from some moderating action from the company, the answer is probably everybody and nobody. The problem with the “bury brigade” is not that there are people burying stories (as you can see it had the desired effect of burying the story the Wired reporter bought) but the fact that its implementation is also open to abuse to push an agenda. I think the Digg-rigging scam also highlights another aspect, that sometimes it’s hard for a good story to hit the front page without the right elements (being submitted by a power user, etc.).

A lot of times when I monitor my submissions I note the sudden pickup in activity once a story’s font gets bigger (from having more diggs) in the upcoming cloud view. The fact is the majority of users would “rather not waste their time” pruning upcoming stories and this is why high ranking users and people pushing an agenda with their buries can both exert more influence on the process.

Kevin Rose finally does speak out on the issue with a statement on their official blog:

For the same reason that we don’t expose all of our back-end methodologies for the Digg promotional algorithm, we also don’t expose the details of how the burying algorithm works. We spend a lot of time analyzing our data and understanding how people Digg and bury content. We have spent the last 2.5 yrs building systems that ensure a diverse group of users promote or bury stories.

For what it’s worth, and to shift the blame off of the users listed here – quite a bit of this data was gathered inaccurately as the author states in the Digg comments. Please also note, due to the massive number of Diggs/submissions/buries and comments, Digg spy only shows a portion of the activity within Digg at any time.

Digg the Blog » Blog Archive » On Buries and Blocking

However, all this brings me back to the original controversy surrounding the removal of the top users list. If the system has been improved over 2.5 years, why suddenly strip that out? Also, they’ve dumbed down the friend feature quite a bit some time back, making it harder to manage friends. Why? Also, the submissions from power users had died down quite a bit, though not completely, and I think that it still shows in the quality of submissions on the front page.

It was interesting to see this whole issue, originally raised by the community, taken to the next level by the big outlets. Most of the opinions out there are just that but with more discussions, maybe this will lead to genuine improvements.

Wired 15.03: Herding the Mob

Wired News: I Bought Votes on Digg

Wired News: Hunting Down Digg’s Bury Brigade

Boing Boing: Tricking the social voting sites

Wired and Annalee Newitz Drop the Ball – Sugarrae