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Top Digg Users: "It's really not about the community"

The NY Times has a great article on a battle raging over on Digg between the site operators and some "Power Users" on the site. Digg, for those unfamiliar, is a social news site. What does that mean? Basically, people find stuff from around the web, including news stories, blog posts, photos and video, submit it to Digg and the community deems whether or not it's worth viewing. There's a bit of controversy as to what stories are dug(g) and which are "buried", meaning deemed irrelevant or not important by the community. For example, this post by Neil Patel documents stories about certain web sites or submitted by certain people are being buried by Digg employees. The Power Users are claiming "censorship", but much like the Google PageRank/PayPerPost story, once you mess with a company's business model, or in this case algorithm, they have every right to correct it. The Power Users are planning to boycott the site and not submit new stories.

So what's the story with the Digg power users? Like most communities, there are folks who invest a lot of time, effort and energy to help make the site what it is. Without their submissions and social network, stories wouldn't make the home page. Those who've had stories on the home page have seen traffic spikes, also known as the Digg effect, and some argue there's any monetary value of making the home page. That being said, the argument could be made that the site's content and popularity has been driven by these power users, which was enabled by Digg's algorithm.

So why the uproar? Well, Digg decided to re-tool its algorithm so the greater community could decide which stories work. In theory, broadening the number of people whose votes count should increase the number of users on the site, since, much like the lottery, there's an equal chance of winning; in this case it's making the home page because the general populous of Digg deems it worthy. This logic was also employed on the redesigned Netscape home page and failed miserably. Valleywag calls this the Jason Calacanis effect.

Digg has the right to change its algorithm. However, the power users have a right to leave. Will this kill the site? Probably not -- others will rise to the top and determine which stories are home page worthy.

Three key learnings are:

  1. The few rule the many in communities. Call it the "Lord of the Flies effect" -- and predictably, those in power are going to be upset when their authority and the playing field has been leveled.

  2. Don't screw with success. I understand the intention of trying to get more people involved in the site, but expanding the site to include more topics would have been an easier way than pissing off the power user base.

  3. As Phil Gomes pointed out on Twitter, No one wins. One side just loses more slowly. -- Prez, from HBO's "The Wire". Both sides are wrong, and ultimately the users of Digg will lose. The algorithm change should have been communicated better to users. The users should understand that the business has to evolve. In the end, asking the community for ideas isn't a bad thing, but pissing them off is.


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