Sunday, March 11, 2007

Digg and Netscape Struggle to Prevent Gaming and Other Shenanigans

I'm still sifting through the avalanche of e-mail that piles up during a month away from the laptop, but I must make mention of the most interesting article I read today, sent to me around a week ago from my partner and buddy over at Blogcritics, Phillip Winn.

It's a little experiment that Annalee Newitz of Wired pulled off: create crappy content and then buy your way onto Digg's front page with it. That Annalee was able to do this when purposefully creating low-grade content (a blog that's mission is to take pictures of crowds but offer no psychology of such or any commentary at all to explain it) tells us that Digg and all popular social news sites have a ways to go to lock out gamers and spammers.

It's a good problem for Digg in that it proves that companies (such as User/Submitter) see value in offering a service that gets submissions onto the treasured real estate of Digg's front page and that publishers are willing to pay to cheat to get that front page exposure. However, Digg will need to continue to become more sophisticated in sniffing out and squashing gaming and collusion.

From the publisher perspective, the negative ramification is that quality submissions can get squashed for appearing to be suspicious when in fact they may not be. Human interaction from site editors should be useful here, but that is also not always the case. Netscape editors, for instance, will at their discretion switch out story links on submissions to those that they feel are more original. In essence, they're trying to prevent "re-blogging," where a blogger will blatantly republish someone else's content or excerpt a story and add no real value to it. That's all fine and well, but I've witnessed numerous cases where unique takes on breaking news stories were dumped for a more "original" one. That practice is dangerous in that it will turn off eager news submitters and, for hardworking publishers, is generally non-cool.

Update: Jason Calacanis makes a great point in asking Digg to make bury/sink votes more transparent. Adding to that, I'd like for Netscape to be more communicative with publishers that are accused of re-blogging!


Jason McCabe Calacanis said...

The reblogging/deduping of the stack of stories at Netscape has always been done fairly. Not perfect of course, but much more perfect than letting the mob do it.

Blogcritics has a habit of re-blogging I noticed when I was at Netscape. Taking the hot news story and adding just a little value in order to get the spot on NEtscape without doing anything other than putting their opinion on top of a rehashed news story. I think that's what you're talking about. We got complaints about you guys doing that all the time when I was there and we did redirect to the original story.

I think you guys got better on not "spamming" after the banning.

Staff said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jason.

It's actually an important debate, I think: what constitutes "adding value" to a social news aggregator. Let's say a well known celebrity dies (morbid, but this is the kind of story that always generates lots and lots of net buzz). No one "owns" this story, with the rare exception of when a news source has a scoop. Even so, many hundreds of valued news and opinion sources (including Blogcritics) will cover the story and add their own unique take.

From the social news side, it's undoubtedly a complicated equation -- which stories do you leave alone versus which stories do you take an active hand in changing/editing/deleting -- but I would argue that it's in the social news site's best interests to work closely with valued publishers on these issues.

Certainly in the case of Blogcritics I believe that every story (or nearly so) adds value, but I'm always keen to hear other opinions.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the myth of the perpetual motion machine... Just build a social site and let the infinite wisdom of users (really, reliance on regression to the mean) take care of things. Right.

Eventually all the "social" sites will have to have editors more closely involved since -- even without obvious gaming -- interest groups/kooks will impose their idiosyncratic filters and twist the quality of content to their ends. That's certainly what is happening at Digg.

[insert Jaron Lanier's "Digital Maoism" essay here]

Welcome back, Eric.

Staff said...

I've written several posts about how I feel Netscape is innovative and out front in the social news space, going so far as calling it "the future of news." The future of news is a balance between the crowd and a discerning, fair, smart, and opinionated editorial team. A difficult balance? Hellz yeah!

Digg is a successful community but I think it's beginning to show its weaknesses and limitations. The social news space is still startlingly young and all comers will face huge challenges in best serving both its audience and publishers thirsty for exposure.

Staff said...

And thanks, Sprague!

Anonymous said...

Netscape is completely arbitrary in what they redirect and what they don't. What I noticed with a story that I had that had done well was as soon as it became popular it gained "attention" by the Netscape editors and they "redirected."

The explanation for the redirect was that they suspected fake user accounts. But the truth was it was entirely organic and they admitted to their mistake but refused to redirect back to my site. Which in essence is total BS.

In reality, people don't go to news aggregators for original news sources - that's what wire services are for. They go there for value-added news that they can't get from the wire sources.

Netscape, Digg and the like need to get a clue or they will cease to be of value. Editing and preventing spamming is fine, heavy-handedness really pisses people off.

Staff said...

That Netscape will redirect a story without first asking the submitter's permission or even letting the submitter know is not the best way to serve both publishers and heavy Netscape users. Like you say, Dawn, it's an easy way to piss people off.

Mr. Calacanis has expressed his 80/19/1 theory on social media sites (which I love): 80% of an audience just wants to sit back and consume information, 19% will participate in some way (leaving comments, etc.), and 1% will be your hardcore heavy users, the backbone of the site. Each component must be made happy in order to be successful.