A Review of Digg: Model for Social Bookmarking?

Social bookmarking sites use tagging and pinging. Digg is a bookmarking cum blog cum technology news site. Why bother reviewing it? Because this site is an excellent model of user generated content, and has already started a ripple effect across the web. As its readers grow, it could very well become the next port of call for website promoters and advertisers.

The "Digg effect" is real, and worth watching as more user generated sites proliferate. If you already know all this, stick around anyway to get the dirt on Digg’s problems and how they plan to get sold off for at least a hundred million dollars.

The first big social bookmarking site was del.icio.us. Yahoo jumped on it in order to get into "social search," which they hoped would be the wave of the future. "Social search" is simply a more primitive form of the PageRank algorithm that Google uses. After del.icio.us became big, a host of other bookmarking sites started slowly becoming relevant, among them www.furl.com, www.simpy.com, and www.digg.com. I started off writing an article about social book marking sites as a precursor to how user generated content would become even more important over time, and I ended up falling for controversial, innovative and highly usable Digg.

This article will briefly look at how you can use Digg to tag URLs so as to give other "diggers" an opportunity to vote, add comments to other digs, bury digs and give reports so that the news stays fair by cleaning up spam. Then we will examine illustrations of the "Digg Effect" and how it has the possibility of affecting the way websites are promoted online. We will also look at how top Digg users follow Pareto’s Principle, and how a small group of users are basically running the show.

We will then check out some cool features Digg has, such as Digg Stack and Digg Swarm (you should see it to believe it, the images don’t do it justice). Then some critiques will follow, such as how Digg’s web site  is rapidly turning despotic with their buddy system and blacklisting methods.

Digg was launched in December of 2004 by  Kevin Rose Owen Byrne, Ron Gorodetzky, and Jay Adelson, with Rose claiming to be sorely influenced by www.slashdot.org. In 2006 Digg surpassed Slashdot in rankings and broke into Alexa’s top hundred sites ranking. Add that to $2.8 million in venture capital money from Greylock Partners, Omidyar Network, and Marc Andreessen, and John Heilmann calling Kevin Rose the next "Negreponte," and you have a site that may change social book marking the way Google changed search.

If you have never used a book marking site (for one reason or the other), Digg is very usable and does not go out of its way to make "tagging" look like rocket science. You simply go to www.digg.com, and if you feel like contributing to the community you have to register. Registration is easy; the most personal information you are "compelled" to divulge is your email address – you can fib on everything else. 

You have the option of adding buttons to your browser (but they make it less compulsory than del.icio.us). To add a story you simply add the URL, a comment and a descriptive header. When you add your story it goes to the digg/all/upcoming page, where if it gets enough "diggs" from other users it travels to the front page, and gets viewed by all visitors who visit the home page. If a story does not make it to the home page, it is not likely to get a lot of notice (think Google page two, three, four, five…you get the  picture)

You can add videos, podcasts, and collaborate on other user’s editing efforts by digging other users’ articles (more on this collaborative feature later). You can subscribe to other users’ submitted articles either via email or RSS (this feature is available when you are a member of a "friends" list).

Apart from adding URLs for voting, you can also "digg" stories you like. You can recommend that they get "buried;" you can also claim the story is "lame," and you can add comments (you are actually expected to be as honest as possible with your comments).

Currently Digg is divided into different categories which are further divided into subcategories. The categories include Technology, Science, World & Business, Videos, Entertainment, and Gaming. There’s also a handy Sports category which seems to be favored by the web site’s algorithm, since even with a relatively low number of diggs, NBA news and NFL news make it to the home page (which makes me think any soccer fans out there should start "digging" their favorite news). The most "dugg" category is the Technology category, which makes Digg seem like a technology site (which it isn’t).

Publishers dream of it happening to them. A page that makes it to Digg’s home page has the chance of being hit by a slice of the ten million unique visitors Digg claims to have (Comcast say one million three hundred thousand). The Digg effect can be good, very good, or bad, depending on the user and how s/he phrases the comments. Digg is based on a democratic (and sometimes flawed) framework, which lets users submit, approve and even vet submissions. Quite often users are extremely subjective in their summaries of the information contained at the other end of the link.

The good part of the "Digg effect" is what makes publishers and web sites add the logo of the book marking site, with a call to action for readers to tag the site on Digg. The publishers hope to get favorable votes and hopefully travel to the front page. The bad part of the Digg effect is that, if  the "editor" decides to portray your site in a bad light (or just decides to highlight your bad parts) you can get tons of very negative publicity. The audience may even be totally misinformed about your content due to "anchoring," meaning that they read something in the summary and on their way to your site, their mind is already made up about what they are reading.

You are also at the mercy of the typographical errors which these editors make. An excellent illustration of this was what happened when video game publisher Stardock was portrayed as wanting users to pirate one of their releases (Galactic Civilizations II). When the comment posted with Digg was corrected (after Stardock put up a rebuttal on their site), when the user submitted a correction, there was an error which switched the name of the publisher for the name of the game. The vetting system does allow inaccurate information to be reported by other diggers, but these does not take away the fact that there are trends in the postings that appear on the front page, which show that Digg may not be as democratic as it tries to appear.

Digg Tools, Digg Labs

Digg list tools allow pictorial representation of the activity going on; the site also features tools which can be added to websites or browsers. The features of Digg Stack (http://labs.digg.com/stack/) and Digg Swarm ( http://labs.digg.com/swarm/ ) really should be checked out to be believed.

Wag the Dog

Pareto’s principle states that 20 percent of all input is responsible for 80 percent of all productivity, so 20 percent of your current phone list ought to be responsible for 80 percent of your calls. As you put this Industrial Age paradigm into the current Information Age we are in, you discover that the percentage is actually much lower than 20. The point is that some minority tail always wags the majority dog. This has been occurring on Digg, and has started a sort of war between the owners and users. Kevin Rose has announced that a fourth version of Digg which will reduce the effect of networks within the community will be released soon.

The percentages currently state that the top hundred users of Digg influence 56 percent of the postings on the first page, and just 20 people control 20 percent of the front page content. How do they do this? Simply put, friends digg each other’s postings, so you begin to notice how many people bash the PS3 and seem to digg only stories touting the Nintendo Wii as the quintessential next generation game console. You also get a lot of Apple adherents and open source fans.

The model seems to be going bad. Bloggers over at http://www.forevergeek.com/ noted that some users dugg in exact sequential order a particular user’s posts twice, and then posted a link to the story about it on Digg. Forever Geek’s URLs were subsequently banned, although Digg claimed Forever Geek users were inflating diggs artificially, and Kevin Rose actually claimed it was a coincidence. Later Forever Geek’s URLs were restored (could posting this article on digg get this URL banned too?). URLs can get banned if enough people complain about the URL or if the site administrator deems it fit. Forever Geek’s users have taken to calling these "diggers" who gang up against bad press, and who digg each others stories the "Digg Army."

Digg 4.0

Kevin Rose announced version 4.0 of Digg in order to reduce the power of this "Digg Army," which he is trying hard to disassociate from. In response, the number one user of Digg announced his retirement from the site, citing backstabbing. A small network of users taking control of the web site is rather inevitable, with six million pages served daily and 180 thousand registered users. Any network will grab a large share, since users are alerted when their friends dig stories, and large networks will tend to attract even more people.

Money Talk

Digg is shopping around for between three and six million dollars in second round venture capitalist finance; they are also looking at being acquired for something in the range of $150 million. No one seems to be biting on the acquisition aspect yet, but a second round of financing is very possible, as the same VC companies who financed them the first time are still interested in giving additional financing.

Will Digg become yet another overpriced start up being acquired? The News Corporation seems interested, and some rumors claim Google is sniffing around. Until then, do "digg" some stories, and become happily addicted to getting the best and freshest news on Digg.

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