Is the Digg Community Its Own Worst Enemy?

In all online communities there is a point, somewhere north of “critical mass” that marks a transition from benevolent community fluffiness to evil dictatorship in the eyes of a voiciferous minority of it’s top contributors. I think Digg may have reached that point if the rant, and subsequent uproar of it’s former top users leaving remarks are anything to judge by.

Get a load of this:

And for all of you that do nothing but bitch about your being PREVENTED from getting your stories dugg – here’s your chance! Now YOU can spend all the time, all the effort and get stabbed in the back by fellow Diggers (aptly named) and then tossed to the side by a Digg team that values toilet paper with more worth than the core users that feed this site it’s content every day.

Didn’t he do well? There’s a ton more like that, and it’s an absolute corker of a tantrum post.

Having made no small number of noisey exits myself, being a consumate community tantrum thrower, I can understand what this users going through. But having run a few communities aswell, I can also sympathize with the dillemas the Digg management are facing right now..

Here’s a couple of excerpts from Clay Shirkey’s A Group is its Own Worst Enemy which seem relevant at this time:

The problem of size

The downside of going for size and scale above all else is that the dense, interconnected pattern that drives group conversation and collaboration isn’t supportable at any large scale. Less is different — small groups of people can engage in kinds of interaction that large groups can’t. And so we blew past that interesting scale of small groups. Larger than a dozen, smaller than a few hundred, where people can actually have these conversational forms that can’t be supported when you’re talking about tens of thousands or millions of users, at least in a single group.

Gaming and Policing

So the group is real. It will exhibit emergent effects. It can’t be ignored, and it can’t be programmed, which means you have an ongoing issue. And the best pattern, or at least the pattern that’s worked the most often, is to put into the hands of the group itself the responsibility for defining what value is, and defending that value, rather than trying to ascribe those things in the software upfront.

Users, ownership and rights

The people using your software, even if you own it and pay for it, have rights and will behave as if they have rights. And if you abrogate those rights, you’ll hear about it very quickly.

Sheesh, i could quote from that all day, it’s all relevant to scaling communties and Digg is scaling very very rapidly, and clearly experiencing some growing pains.

What Should Digg Do?

To a certain extent, you have to accept an amount of rotation of top users. And also except that often they don’t go quietly. But these things absolutely do blow over. Other users take over from the old, and cycle rinses and repeats.

A stagnant community can be pretty boring, so you can view the loss of members and an inevitalbe consequence of scale and handle any problems it causes as and when they occur.

Now im not saying top users dont deserve respect and consideration. Far from it in fact, if you disrespect and undervalue your top users you’ll have more noisey exits and administrative headaches than need be, and the whole group will suffer more. But there is a limit to how far you should go to appease the core groups wishes and whims.

In summary, I’d be in favor of acceptng a few casualties as par for the course, but also it seems (and i dont know enough to comment with authority here) that the Digg management are making the situation worse than it needs to be — the galvanizing effect of Jason Calacanisis Netscape shinanigans is being counteracted by a lack of respect for core Digg users.

Still, it’s easy to sit here and comment. Dont forget, Digg has half a million users, and it’s surely no easy task managing them, and you just cant always get it right.

Either way, it’s pretty interesting and educational to watch. Let’s hope Digg manages to work through the blips and come out on top.

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10 thoughts on “Is the Digg Community Its Own Worst Enemy?

  1. To clarify and expound on that a little bit, I’d say that people are looking to connect to ideas and concepts and sometimes even the people that are behind those nuggets of wisdom.

    People are definitely a major component of the successful experience.

    maybe its a search for an original thought

    maybe its a search for a personal connection

    maybe its a hope to connect with people and build a community and make a fortune

    maybe its something like a blog I read tonight about a housewife somewhere in the blogosphere that is a stripper in SecondLife – She’s not connecting with people she likes in second life, she’s practicing or trying out a personal reality with other people that are there to interact with as sounding boards. However since everyone is interacting online, it becomes safe for everyone. So in a digg community or any group like this, people can experiment with their interactions in ways that they don’t get the opportunity to interact in real life.

    Its kind of like when you get in an argument and walk away from the argument wishing you had said something else. Online, you get the chance to rethink your words whether its argumentative, or in a debate or a brainstorm or anything. Your brain is going through thoughtful iterations that helps prepare you for real interchanges offline.

    The obvious peril to this is that some people like the online stripper in SL, sometimes get a little to caught up in the virtual world of SL or Digg or slash. Then the connection isn’t so much with a real breathing person, but with the new pseudo online community.

  2. Whilst the guy who posted at Digg is very upset and frustrated, I guess it comes with the territory. Eventually things change (I was a member of ciao before that changed BIG style) and I decided to pretty much not take part any more.

    Brettbum, do you really think people are looking for a ‘connection’ and not finding it? Given how new, relatively speaking, a lot of this stuff is I’m not surprised they are jumping around from the next big thing to the new next big thing.

    Things are changing so fast it’s almost impossible for anyone to chart. However, community is clearly a cornerstone, if not the cornerstone of the Web…

  3. I’d agree that browser tracking of everything browsed can definitely be exploited for very bad things.

    In the spirit of things, I’m referring to the voluntary submission of sites surfed and comments on why they are important. This is similar to hitting the digg or delicious button and sending it up to be tracked.

    Not everything with Trailfire is tracked, just what the user choosed to publish ‘publicly’ to the world as worthy of attention.
    (hopefully my response doesn’t sound argumentative as you make an excellent point

  4. The thing about browser tracking is the privacy issue and what could be done with the data for nasty purposes – just look at the AOL Data bru-hahah

  5. Those are some very good articles. I even read all the way through the digg chains and the comments on your articles.

    For what its worth, you did a good thing. Keep it up.

    I find myself bouncing from one community to the next a lot of times. I always seem to keep a grasp on the long tail of my connections in the groups I slowly wander away from. I suppose its partly the human condition to learn something useful from a group and move on to another where you might learn more and share what you have just learned.

    Nothing stops someone from going back and learning from the fresh members either.

    This may sound like a statement of the obvious, however it seems like people are accelerating through groups, hence the rise and slow tail spin of slash and now maybe the avalanche of Digg, and maybe even Myspace next. People are looking for connections and web communities provide some connection, but they are not completely fulfilling and so the search continues.

    In one of the comments I read, someone mentioned that it would benefit Digg, to remove the user name from the Digg submission to remove the ego from the equation.

    Another good idea was to simplify things down to a count of the most diggs. I like both ideas, however without a name, the postings can become all to anonymous and invite crazy and falsified posts.

    We talked about Firefox in a different chain a couple weeks back. I wonder if the Firefox people have looked at comparing the actual linear threads of surfing patterns.

    A visual representation of the threads that are surfed by users, might provide a more interesting culmination of what is useful news, and it might provide more interesting comments that bring out a persons altruistic views on that individual article or hyperlink. It would remove the back and forth dialogue of commentators, which would degrade the group moving towards and epiphany. However, this would at least clear out some of the annoying fanboy flames. hmmmmmm

  6. There is that old saying that a good community in real life can not have more than 3,000 members and that the age pyramid must be healthy (few old, many young).

  7. We actually reported this issue a few weeks ago on and we apparently hit a nerve b/c Digg’s PR firm called us to setup an interview. Yesterday we talked at length with Kevin and Jay regarding this issue and found some pretty interesting facts. We will be posting the entire interview on Friday.

  8. There is certainly a recognisable life cycle of communities that you see over and over. In fact there are a couple of communities I am a member of that recently are all going through the following symptoms in remarkably similar ways

    – moderators getting heavy-handed to stem perceived break-down of community “culture”
    – threads and comments regularly get hijacked with in-jokes and random fluffy silliness
    – self-referential navel-gazing “how can we make our community stay together” posts outnumber actual content posts
    – constant “it was better when there was x number of us, it’s not the same since this place got popular”
    – old guard getting disenfranchised and/or not recognised by founder (or in some cases over cosseted at the expense of newbs feeling unwelcome)

    You can probably recognise these things, right from BBS, Usenet, email lists, early forums right through to today it seems the same old things happen. Human beings have certain social behaviour hard wired into us, perhaps this shaking up is necessary for group cohesion and strength.

    After all, we can’t all be alphas and alphas always get replaced eventually …

    … there is a cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships, that this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.

    — Source

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