The Digg Paradox: How Digg Creates the Problem It Solves

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When I first heard about Digg I was quite excited. Digg is a site where you can submit articles, pictures, or other content that you think is interesting. If other people like the story they can “digg it,” and it pushes the story to the top. The content on the front page only contains articles with a lot of diggs.

What appealed to me is that you don’t have a “gatekeeper.” You can submit content to Slashdot, but there is a group of editors who have been hired to sift through stories, find the good ones, and ultimately determine what makes it to the front page. When you have gatekeepers, you will have bias. If they are not interested in a certain topic, you’re out of luck. If a thousand people are interested in a topic, but the editor isn’t, you’re out of luck.

With Digg, this isn’t a problem. It’s democracy in its purest form.

Which leads to the problem.

Let’s look at an example. This article about Yahoo rejecting a Microsoft bid was submitted to Digg 59 days ago. You can’t tell by the time any longer, but it was submitted several hours before this article, about the same topic. The latter article was the one which ultimately made it to the front page.

I see four problems with this scenario.

First, although the one article was submitted first, ultimately it was the second submitted article that made it to the front page. Not a big deal, but it starts to raise a red flag. Why did the second article make it, even though the first article had several more hours to collect diggs? The Digg submissions were linking to different articles on the same topic – maybe the article that made it to the front page was of higher quality?

Which leads us to the second problem. The article that made it to the front page can be found here. It is three sentences long. The rest of the page seems to be nothing but ads, ads, and more ads. The article that didn’t make it can be found here. In my opinion, the article that didn’t make it is superior because it links to outside sources, is clear and concise, and goes into depth. So it can be argued that the article submitted later, which made it to the front page, is of lower quality.

The third problem is that of duplicate articles fighting to get to the front page. The article that didn’t make it got 95 diggs. Anybody who has submitted articles to Digg knows that it can take a long time to get that many diggs. If you have 5-10 articles on the same topic, and they are all getting dugg, a “breaking story” might not make it to the front page for some time because the votes are being spread over a number of articles.

Finally, what I ultimately see as the biggest problem of Digg takes us back to the “gatekeeper” issue. My initial excitement over Digg was the removal of this gatekeeper. If a story is good, it will make it to the front page. But this example shows me that this might not be happening. Instead, what I’m seeing is a group of submitters who have risen to the top and now have a better chance of getting material to the front page. In fact, we’ve ended right back where we began, with a group of gatekeepers. But it’s worse than that.

Often these power diggers seem to push their own site or maybe a site with which they have an existing relationship. Otherwise, why the low quality submissions? Minimal content or stories are copied from others sites and then combined with tons of ads on a new site (as is the case in our example). In other words, these gatekeepers now aren’t pushing material they think is interesting. Rather, they seem to be pushing whatever reused content is on a predefined set of sites with which they are likely to have a relationship. Conflict of interest in its purest sense.

So, in the end, we’re left in the same situation as we were before, except the gatekeepers aren’t paid employees who must demonstrate competence in their job or risk being fired, but people who are pimping unoriginal, copied content – likely for personal gains. There will always be bias in these “gatekeepers,” but blatant bias can be dealt with in the first model, not as much in the second.

There has been a lot of talk about Digg vs. Slashdot (which uses paid gatekeepers). In my mind, there is little comparison. Slashdot is not a perfect model, but Digg is even less so.

So, if you want pictures of cute puppies, stories about topless women, and random interesting tech articles posted as a copy of a copy on somebody’s personal website (that you can see after you’ve closed all the popup ads), then keep digging away. If you’re looking for something a bit meatier, I recommend Slashdot or any of the other “traditional model” sites.

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