The Secret Group-Digging Conspiracy

Apparently there is uproar about the “discovery” that people are getting their friends and cow-orkers to Digg their stories. Whoah, stop the press!

Even worse (!), Weblogs Inc, owner of Netscape, an alleged Digg-clone no less, has been accused of using this exact tactic to boost their own stories!

Even even worse (!!), there are secret cabal email lists with the aim to share links and get certain Diggers submissions pushed to the front page.

Oh my days what is the world coming to, people gaming Digg in an organised fashion. OMG, WTF, YMMV etc.

Urm, apparently this is new to some people. Really.

Personally, perhaps it’s just how my brain is wired up, but I connected the dots between “Digg popular = traffic”, “lots of friends = lots of diggs” pretty much right away. But is it worth the backlash doing it so blatantly? I know kids with 1000 friends on MySpace, how easy would it be for them to do?

It turns out the shock isn’t so much that people are doing this, which is a given in such a system, but that people are doing it to subvert the “editorial content” of Digg. The theory goes that it’s ok for people to do this to get spam out there and popular, but when people do it for political reasons then it really gets sleazy. I can see that. Seems when you step over the line from greed to a political agenda, that is when it gets nasty.

I think people are forgetting something though, Digg just suggests “stuff” you might want to go look at. The comments give you another level of filter “obvious spam” is a popular comment. So for someone to take a Digg seriously they are going to have to also game the comments too. A little bit extra work. But you know what? If you are not interested “Austrian Economics” it will take a heck of a lot more than “It’s really good, no really!” 200x to change your mind. Seems to me all they are succeeding in is taking over the front page and painting a big red target on the site and the digg user accounts for future filtering.

What do you think? Do you do this? Would you? Heh, are you going to now that I have alerted you to it? Share your thoughts in the comments …

15 thoughts on “The Secret Group-Digging Conspiracy

  1. I blog with and I just accepted an opportunity to review a digg article about ‘’

    I wasn’t exactly paid to digg, even though I did of my own volition.

    I suspect that if someone or some company had the money, they could pay people to go digg. I don’t think this particular item is going to make it to the front page or anything (had 15 diggs last I saw) but I thought it was an interesting example of life in our day and age.

    I will withhold my own moral outrage of myself at this time.

  2. Hey Chris,

    Thanks for weighing in on the issue.

    Sure — I can appreciate things from Digg’s point of view. Of course I wouldn’t want someone, or a group of someone’s, subverting the spirit of Digg — which is *supposed* to be a user-moderated, audience-as-editor, new version of “the news”. Of course, it is meant to harness the “wisdom of crowds”, promoting stories that The People view as important. I wouldn’t want anyone “gaming” the system to promote stories that weren’t in the *spirit* of this new medium.

    Quite frankly, I like this ideal as well.

    The problem is that Digg gives the appearance of handing over all reins to the users (from their FAQ):

    Digg gives moderation control back to the community. Should you run across any stories with bad links, off-topic content, or duplicate entries, please report them using the “Bury Story” feature.

    If the Aliwood issue is correct, then in fact, Digg exercises editorial control over their system, and in fact, the entire premise of Digg is undermined.

    It is, in fact, NOT governed by the vox populi, although they may *start* digging stories — but rather by a small editorial board.

    The troubling thing is that there is already a system in place to deal with “SPAM”, and that is the “bury” button. It is available for everyone to use.

    Digg won’t let the community police itself — as it originally was billed to do — but instead exercises ultimate control over what content makes it out to the top.

    Of course, its their website, and they can do what they like — but don’t give user’s the impression that it is ENTIRELY driven by its users, because it looks like its not.

    And if that’s the case, then, as I said, it may undermine what Digg is really about.

    How is a small editorial cadre censoring posts they feel are “damaging” to Digg any different — without any hint of transparency (we can’t see what they are deleting or how, because after there’s no record) — than the censorship that exists in places in the world today?

    I won’t belabour the point any further, but I think that given the attention Digg as has recieved in the mainstream press as of late (see the cover of BusinessWeek) — I think that this issue is worthy of more debate.

    Not less.

  3. I can see both sides to this Tony, as I am sure you can. From the user perspective, it sucks, but Digg *is* a business and they have that to worry about. If Digg goes under the users will give them a moments thought then move on whereas the founders have a lot more mess to contend with. OK it probably wouldn’t in of itself be the end of Digg and their reaction of removing everything is probably .. more than necessary .. they probably wanted to nip it in the bud and pretend it never happened.

  4. Here is one in a series of posts I did on the topic. Apologies if I get modded out (ironic, because the topic is on censorship)

    As an addendum, I’ve tried contacting at least two web2.0 luminaries with some of these insights, Digg itself, the top100 digger who may have gotten the whole ball rolling, and Alison *herself* (through Facebook — there are only 3 of them in the USAF), but I’ve been hit by a deafening wall of silence.

    Against the context of millions of VC dollars, the reputation of being the “Next Big Thing” and an entirely new model of news media riding on their shoulders, I can see why they would want to erase all evidence of one person inadvertently subverting their whole media delivery process.

    I would *love* to get to the bottom of it, but I’m not sure where else to look.


  5. Tony,
    That is something I’d like to know more about. I wouldn’t mind a personal link if it shared more of the story. I can’t believe I missed this…

    Oh, and even though I am certainly a lover of Digg (and one who really like KRose et al), I can see the scorn in which they hold Calacanis. I listened to the podcast with Jay (CEO), Kevin and Micheal Arrington and they alluded to a paltry offer for Digg that Calacanis proposed. There was definitely tension and annoyance toward Calacanis and follow that up with the unforgiveable Netscape redesign and you can see why this story got legs.

    Side Note: Speaking of Netscape, it always amazed me that the users got mad enough to hack Netscape’s front page… XSS hacks are not unknown to most programmers so it was probably easy enough for Digg users, but why waste the effort on just another Digg clone? There are dozens of them out there that I know of (probably many more that I haven’t seen) and none will even dent Digg’s popularity.

  6. People gaming Digg isn’t News.

    What is, is what Digg does with it.

    I’m not sure if people were following in the middle or end of last week, but there was a girl who’s profile’s name was “Aliwood”.

    She ended up “gaming” Digg in a way that I think no one has done before, because 60% of her posts (3/5 or maybe even 4/5) hit the front page in just a few hours.

    We’re not talking, like 20-30 diggs — we’re talking over 1000.

    What’s the story, you ask?
    Well, it turns out she was asked by her class to participate and submit to Digg. She asked a top100 digger to help her out, who promptly posted the whole issue and dugg the article himself.

    Sure enough, people ended up digging her stories because of who she was and the issues around her digging, rather than the newsworthiness of the stories themselves.

    Without sounding too self-promotional I’ve written about this a bit at my own blog. Don’t know if I’m allowed to drop a personal link here.

    But, the “conspiracy” thing is this:
    Digg deleted her profile AND her posts AND all of the comments therein. There’s no further public record on the matter.

    Searching for “Aliwood” won’t find any of her posts either.
    My diggs on the matter have been buried as well.

    To my knowledge its the first time Digg had deleted someone’s profile whose posts had hit it big time, whose stories were less than newsworthy, who may have been subverting Digg’s *own rules*.

    The issue, I think, is not that what she was doing was or wasn’t “SPAM” (it may have been), but that Digg won’t allow the community to police itself — which is the whole point of Digg.

    Because everything was deleted, it gives the appearance that Kevin Rose et al. didn’t like what was going on and exercised some editorial control — something that isn’t supposed to exist at all.

    If Digg’s community didn’t like her or her posts, they could have “buried” her stories … but they didn’t. They promoted it instead.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post.
    Just wanted to bring some attention to what I humbly think is a bigger controversy.


  7. >>Its been around since the first person sent something across a network and yelled across the lab, “did you see that!”

    Dude, it’s just life. People have been gaming everything since the first hairy guy stumbled out of the cave and figured out there were other hairy guys and gals.

    Social media is just a poor representation of real life that gets a bit closer to reality each and every day.

  8. Hey! Only ten diggs … Come on … some more conspiracy please 🙂

    PS: And don’t forget to Digg this! It was hard enough to build that link 🙂

  9. People are gaming Digg just like people are gaming the internet. Its been around since the first person sent something across a network and yelled across the lab, “did you see that!”

    Its just part of the noise that everyone has to sift through whenever they go to any website.

    Hmmm, where else have we seen this? Let’s see, SEO, Adsense, Adwords, Overture, Google Search – the engine that stole away Yahoo!’s customers, Google News – People including \. game Google news all the time.

    Pop up ads

    Paid Search results

    Yahoo Shopping, Froogle, companies paying to have their products listed at the top.

    Ebay getting gamed? Is it gaming the system when a middle aged mother of 4 sells 100 different happy meal toys for 100 positive ratings?

    No surprises here. The internet is a hotbed of Gaming and it will continue to get gamed for many years to come. As soon as it stops getting gamed, it will probably be the beginning of the end of this incarnation of the internet. Then the real internet 2.0 or whatever technology replaces the exchange of ideas, communication, and thought might really come to exist.

  10. I understand that the system is being worked and I am not shocked by it at all– but does that mean we should exploit it in the same manner? Do you really want people exploiting your projects and ideas? If not why would you do it to someone else– its just another kind of spamming.

  11. I get what you are saying, but if you take a serious look at this story, behind the scenes it was really a get Calacanis play…I mean 14 people submitting similar stuff is hardly a story, I know blackhatters who are doing 3 to 4 times that number of submissions, indeed Digg gets gamed by all and sundry (a word though: we have a company policy that we don’t).The real story is Calacanis vs the fake hippies over at Digg who say they’re all about community but are raping the free submissions of others for personal profit.

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