Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Gaming Digg

The enormously popular Digg site is encountering some growing pains. The fast-growing technology news site allows users to submit links to stories and to vote on stories submitted by themselves or others. Those articles with enough "diggs" (votes) are promoted to the "front page."

This democratic approach to article submission and promotion quickly catapulted Digg to the forefront of technology news sites -- surpassing Slashdot in mere months -- and even attracting mainstream attention from the likes of CNN and the New York Times. Suffice it to say that Digg has been on one heck of a roll lately.

But with that growth has come an attendant concern that the site is tilted. In a recent front page article entitled, "Digg the Rigged?," one writer speculated that a small cadre of users has "gamed" the system. This group -- the top 30 users as ranked by Digg -- frequently vote as a bloc (and even vote in the same order). And with this power, a clique of highly ranked users has gained a remarkable level of control over the site.

Founder Kevin Rose -- one of the gang of 30 -- has circulated word that the algorithm used to promoted stories to the front page may be altered. One method would be to discount the votes of users who frequently vote in synchronized fashion. That is, if the gang of 30 continued to vote on the same stories, their votes would end up counting less and less. Stories that attract divergent voters would presumably score higher when weighed for promotion.

Blogger Bokardo points out that this may be the wrong approach. He notes that there are several features of Digg that contribute to the "piling on" phenomenon:

* Ranking users: introduce rankings and you introduce competition
* Friends feature: allowing users to immediately grok whether their community has voted on a story can accentuate the problem
* Exposing who votes: ditto for allowing users to see who has voted in which stories (there's something to be said for anonymity in voting)
* Ease of voting: voting is effortless - forcing a user to expend more effort to vote on a story might contribute greatly to the quality of each vote
* The bookmark effect: people frequently use votes to "bookmark" stories to read later (I guess I'm not the only one who does this); this effectively is an invalid vote, especially if one determines later that the story isn't worth digging

The net effect, according to Bokardo, is that there is "no independence in voting" on Digg. Without anonymity and forcing a circumspect influence by "friends", he argues that the voting system is inherently skewed toward gaming. In this case, transparency might truly hurt the system.

By the way, I haven't dugg Bokardo's story yet. But I might later.

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