Murphy's Law: To Fix Digg, You Must Break Digg Apart

TheMurph

To write about the death of Digg would be to step into a time machine, back to the late August launch of the fabled “Digg version 4” which singlehandedly managed to unwind nearly six years of continued growth and excitement in one, crappy swoop.

Here’s the real secret though: In Digg’s grand quest to somehow reinvent itself back to mainstream acceptance (a code phrase for “profitable traffic numbers”), the site’s various, changing overlords fail to recognize that the pin on the grenade has already been tossed to the floor. Amongst the geeks and the traffic-shapers (more on them later), Digg is irrelevant. Its power to toss tens of thousands of users to a give site or piece of content has been nerfed nearly as badly as its submission system.

Yet, we really only have ourselves to blame. We helped Kevin Rose create his monster and, in doing so, forever proved that you just can’t have direct democracy on the Web without some jackass(es) screwing it up. We broke Digg.

How? We got greedy.

What happened to Digg is the same thing that naturally occurs in any kind of digital popularity contest. There is simply no way for an average user to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. To achieve popularity—or successful submissions to sites like these—one needs to put forth more of a marketing effort for one’s activities than the actual act of finding interesting, quality content to share.

It runs contrary to the site’s democratic ideals when more time can be successfully spent amassing backdoor armies of friends that will mindlessly click on anything you send so long as you do the same for them. That’s has nothing to do with the idea that the best content on Digg just percolates to the top. It’s a game—so long as you hit the front page with an article that isn’t completely out of left field, you’re guaranteed eyeballs. Normal users don’t control Digg’s content; these shadowy voting blocs have already set the ship’s course.

Don’t believe me? Do you really think that any major technological publication doesn’t have (or, should I say, hasn’t had) a power digger working to populate content as a “neutral third-party?” The devil’s in the details, and few seem to notice—or care—that certain user accounts have a higher-than-expected percentage of submissions (both successful or otherwise) from a few specific domains. But that’s just one example.

This is why I give a brief chuckle to Digg’s attempts to revert back from its worse-than-expected “upgrade.” Fixing an open system like this isn’t a question of going backwards ; it’s one of limitations . Restrict popularized stories based on the number of total submissions from a domain in a given day—the more stories submitted from X domain in the queue, the fewer that are given a blessing to appear on the front page at any given time. Only the best content beans go in your daily Digg coffee.

Better still, only allow submitters to submit one piece of content per domain along a given time span—gone are the fake third-party PR accounts in favor of diverse, quality submissions. Or barring that, track a user’s submissions against his or her history. The percentage that a single site (or a few) makes up the totality of one’s submissions should directly contribute to penalties that limit front-page access for the favored domain. Simply put—it’s time for Digg to poop in the familiar content wells that little Jimmy Sockpuppet keeps drawing his water from. Go find somewhere new, Jimmy.

Pull up content within some kind of Digg frame or figure out some way such that the time on the page of a given Digg link can be measured. Eliminate the “bonus” one gets for contributing to the system by clicking 200 links within the span of 10 minutes and instead reward those who actually spend measurable time viewing or reading diverse types of content.

Do you get where I’m going with this? One must change Digg by opening its gates for a greater acceptance by the common user, and this happens by rewarding activates that fit the “norm” for general browsing instead of mindless clicking.

Removing the power of power users could transform Digg into a true digital democracy instead of just another RSS feed for Mashable. Or, god willing, it could be the first step in removing Digg democracy altogether—a perfect world would include the elimination of the feature whereby users can see who’s Dugg anything at all, or the creation of a new a system of site-neutral moderators that treat Diggs as recommendations for categorical news pages, not mandates.

But, knowing Digg, the real solution is Digg v3.5—combining all the wonderful v4 features that drove the site’s users to Reddit with all the v3 features that allow anyone with half a brain, an IM list of 60 people, and three free hours per day to push any content they want to the site’s front page.

I, for one, can’t wait.

Maximum PC's David Murphy would gladly go back to using Digg if it was fixed.  Would you?

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