Friday, May 4, 2007

Digg's Heroics

Digg users are its value. Its actual technology and website can easily be cloned (as seen in open source versions like pligg) and is already duplicated by big sites like Netscape. This is all stating the obvious and proven.

So when Digg comes out and says they are “behind their users”, be skeptical. The truth about Digg is they are always behind their users because that’s the only position they can be in. If they alienate the Digg population, all the users will move to the next social news website.

When the Digg population banded against Digg, the management took a calculated risk. They decided to “spin” the chaos to their advantage with Kevin Rose’s post, knowing that they could be sued. They probably consulted their lawyers as to the probability of actually being sued as well as the likelihood of success. All pointed to minimal risk.

Then Kevin Rose heroically rises to say, Digg is behind you. He is really saying, “Our valuation drops to 0 if we aren’t behind you, and risk is low in getting behind you.” Digg is not an altruistic company – they would sell their user base instantly if the price was right.

The Wisdom of Digg

The wisdom of crowds is usually a great tool. With a nicely rounded out audience, the probability that the crowd is correct gets exponentially higher with more people.

However, wisdom of crowds fails when the population becomes more homogenous. Take for example a Digg site made for extremist Muslims. If you posted a link to EMDigg showing that Jews were behind 9/11 and the holocaust was faked, it would be posted. If you posted a link that highlights the book ‘Infidel’, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It would be buried.

This is currently the case with Digg. Anything anti-Digg cannot make it to the top page. Whereas anything positive about Digg gets dugg immediately. It doesn’t end with Digg-related content, there are several other categories that just won’t make the cut with the Digg population.

There are also always comments that are perfectly normal and fit well with the discussion. However, since the comment bad-mouthed apple, or linux – or offered an alternative view, it’s immediately buried – censored from the conversation.

This is not a role model democracy. It is exactly what America’s founders worried about relentlessly. Without checks, the crowd can become extreme.

P.S. If this article ever makes it to Digg, it would be irrelevant because it parallels putting a sign on a wall that says “Don’t touch this wall.” Every other passing person will all of a sudden put their hand on that wall.