June 28, 2006
(this post was last updated 12:30am on July 6, ‘06)
This article presents the case against the ‘wisdom of crowds’ and explains the background for how the Wikipedia 3.0: The End of Google? article reached 2 million people in 4 days [according to Alexa.com]
This article explains and demonstrates a conceptual flaw in digg’s service model that causes biased (or rigged) as well as lowest-common-denominator hype to be generated, causing a dumbing down of society (as a crowd).
The experimental evidence and logic supplied here apply equally to other Web 2.0 social bookmarking services such as del.icio.us, and netscape beta.Since digg is an open system where anyone can submit anything, user behavior has to be carefully monitored to make sure that people do not abuse the system. But given that the number of stories submitted each second is much larger than what Digg’s own staff can monitor, digg has given the power to the users to decide what is good content and what is bad (e.g. spam, miscategorized content, lame stuff, etc.)
This “wisdom of crowds” model, which forms the basis for digg, has a basic and major flaw at its foundation, not to mention at least one process and technology related issue in digg’s implementation of the model.
Let’s look at the simple process and technology issue first before we explore the much bigger problem at the heart of the “wisdom of crowds” model.
If enough users report a post from a given site as spam then that site’s URL will be banned from digg, even if the site’s owner had no idea someone was submitting links from his site to digg. The fact is that digg cannot tell for sure whether the person submitting the post is the site’s owner or someone else, so there URL banning policy (or algorithm if it’s automated) must make the assumption that the site’s owner is the one submitting the post. But what if someone starts submitting posts from another person’s blog and placing them under the wrong digg categories just to get that person’s blog banned by digg?
This issue can be eliminated by improvements to the process and technology. [You may skipp the rest of this paragraph if you can take my word for it.] For example, instead of banning a given site’s URL right away upon receiving X number of spam reports for posts from that site, the digg admins would put the site’s URL under a temporary ban and attempt to contact the site’s owner and possibly have the site owner click on a link in an email they’d send him/her to capture his/her IP address and compare it to that used by the spammer. If the IP addresses don’t match then they would ban the IP address of the spam submitter, and not the site’s URL. This obviously assumes that digg is able to automatically ban all known public proxy addresses (including known Tor addresses etc) at any given time, to force the users to use their actual IP addresses.
The bigger problem, however, and what I believe to be the deadliest flaw in the digg model is the concept of the wisdom of crowds.
Crowds are not wise. Crowds are great as part of a statistical process to determine the perceived numerical value of something that can be quantified. A crowd, in other words, is a decent calculator of subjective quantity, but still just a calculator. You can show a crowd of 200 people a jar filled with jelly beans and ask each how many jelly beans are in the jar. Then you can take the average and that would be the closest value to the actual number of jelly beans.
However, if you were to ask a crowd of 200 million to evaluate taste or beauty or whatever subjective quality, e.g. coolness, the averaging process that helps in the case of counting jelly beans (where members of the crowd use reasoning and don’t let others affect their judgment) doesn’t happen in this scenario. What happens instead is that the crowd members (assuming they communicate with each other such that they would affect each others qualitative judgment, or assuming they already share something in common) would converge toward the lowest-common-denominator opinion. The reason for that is because whereas reasoning is used in the case of estimating measurable values, psychology is used in the case of judging quality.
Thus, in the case of evaluating the subjective quality of a post submitted to digg, the crowd has no wisdom: it will always choose the lowest common denominator, whatever that happens to be.
To understand a crowd’s lack of rationality and wisdom, as a phenomenon, consider the following.
I had written a post (see link at the end of this article) about the Semantic Web, domain specific knowledge ontologies and Google as seen from a Google-centric view. I went on about how Google, using Semantic Web and an AI-driven inference engine, would eventually develop into an omnipresent intelligence (a global mind) and how that would have far reaching implications etc. The post was titled “Reality as a Service (RaaS): The Case for GWorld.” I submitted it to digg and I believe I got a few diggs and one good comment on it. That’s all. I probably got 500 hits in total on that post, and mostly because I used the word “Gworld” in the title.
More than a week after that, I took the same post, the same idea of combining the Semantic Web, domain-specific knowledge ontologies and an AI-driven inference engine but this time I pitted Wikipedia (as the most likely developer of knowledge ontologies) against Google, and posted it with the sensational but quite plausible title “Wikipedia 3.0: The End of Google.” The crowd went wild.
I got over 33,000 hits in the first 24 hours. And as of the latest count about 1600 diggs.
In fact, my blog on that day (yesterday) beat the #1 blog on WordPress, which is that of ex Microsoft guy Scobleizer. And now I have an idea of how many hits he gets a day! He gets more than 10,000 and less than 25,000. I know because the first 16 hours I was getting hit by massive traffic I managed to get ahead of him with a total of 25,000 hits, but in the last 8 hours of the first 24 hours cycle (for which I’m reporting the stats here) he beat me back to the #1 spot, as I only had 9,000 hits. I stayed at #2 though.
Figure 1: June 25 Traffic, the first 16 hours of a 24 hour graph cycle. Traffic ~ 25,000 hits.
Figure 2: June 26 Traffic, the last 8 hours of a 24 hour graph cycle. Traffic ~ 8,000 hits.
A crowd, not to be confused with individuals (like myself, yourself), aside from being a decent calculator of subjective quantities (like counting jelly beans in a jar) is no smarter than a bull when it comes to judging the intellectual, artistic or philosophical appeal of something. Wave something red in front of it or make a lot of noise and it may notice you. Talk to it or make subtle gestures and you’ll fail to get its attention. Obviously you can have a tame bull or an angry one. An angry one is easier to upset.
A crowd is no more than a decent calculator of subjective quantities. It is a tool in that sense and only in that sense.
In the context of judging quality, like musical taste or coolness of something, a crowd is neither rational nor wise. It will only respond to the most basic and crude methods of attention grabbing. You can’t grab it’s attention with subtlety or rationality. You have to use psychology, like you would with a bull.
As you can see from the graphs of my blog traffic, I’ve proved it. I didn’t just understand it.
Social bookmarking systems, and tagging in general, amplifies the intensity of the crowd-as-a-bull behavior by attaching the highest numerical values to the most curde, most raw and the lowest common denominator. Now all the sudden, when a post gets 100 digs it reaches escape velocity and goes into orbit. The numerical value attached to posts a la “diggs” when it grows fast acts like a matador that is making audaciously big moves to attract the bull for the kill. People rush to see such posts as they rushed in tens of thousands to see the “Wikipedia 3.0 vs Google” post. Yet it’s basically the same post as the one I did on GWorld over a week ago that only got a few diggs.
There is no comparison between the wisdom and rationality of an individual and that of a crowd. The individual is infinitely wiser and more rational than the crowd.
So these social bookmarking systems need to be based on a more evolved model where individuals have as much say as the crowd.
Remember that many failed social ideologies were based on the the idea of favoring the so-called “wisdom of crowds” over individualism. The reason they failed is because collectivist behavior is dumb behavior and individual judgment is the only way forward.
We need more individuality in society not less.
Censored by digg
This post was censored by digg’s rating system.
However, in a software-enabled rating system, such as digg, reddit, del.icio.us, netscape, etc, there is no way to guarantee that manipulation of the system by its owner does not happen.
Please see the Update section below for the explanation and the evidence (in the form of a telling list of censored posts) behind why digg itself, and not just some of its fanatic users, may have been behind the censoring of this post.
Note: a fellow wordpress blogger published a post called Digg’s Ultimate Flow which links to this post. It has not been buried/censored yet (June 29, ‘06, 5:45pm EST). It’s not to be confused with this post. The reason it hasn’t been buried is because it presents no threat to digg. They can sense danger like an animal and I guess I’ve scared them enough to bury/censor my post. The other me-too post that I’ve just mentioned does not smell as scary. It’s really sad that digg and sites like it are feeding the crude animal-like, instinctive, zero-clarity behavior that is the ‘unwisdom’ of crowds.
The truth is that digg and other so-called “social” bookmarking sites do not give us power, they take it away from us.
Always. Think. Innovate. Do not follow.
But you may want to follow this link to share your view with other digg users for what it’s worth.
I’ve just noticed that this blog is ahead of Scobleizer again at #1. I’ve had 7,796 hits since 8:00pm EST, June 28, ‘06 (yesterday.) It’s 8:00pm EST now, on June 29, ‘06.
- Wikipedia 3.0: The End of Google?
- Unwisdom of Crowds
- Reality as a Service (RaaS): The Case for GWorld
- Digg This! 55,500 Hits in ~4 Days
Posted by Marc Fawzi
The following is a snapshot of digg’s BURIED/CENSORED post section as of 4:00am EST, June 29th, ‘06. This post was originally titled “Digg’s Biggest Flaw Discovered.” Note that anything that is perceived as anti-digg, be it a bug report or a serious analysis of digg’s weaknesses, is being censored.
An actual proof of a major flaw at the foundation of digg’s quality-of-service model
Now even CNET wants its stories endorsed by Digg community
submitted by aj9702 1 day 17 hours ago (via http://news.com.com/Attack+cod…)
Check it out.. CNET which is number 72 on Alexa rankings wants its stories endorsed by the Digg community. They have a digg this link now to their more popular stories. This story links to the news that exploit code is out there for the RRAS exploit announced earlier this month
category: Tech Industry News
Dvorak: Understanding Digg and Its Utopian Idealism
submitted by kevinmtu 1 day 18 hours ago (via http://www.pcmag.com/article2/…)
Dvorak’s PC magazine article on the new version of Digg and its flaws, posing many interesting points.For example, “What would happen to the Digg site if the Bush-supporting minions in the red states, flocked to Digg and actively promoted stories, slammed things they didn’t like, and in the process drove away the libertarian users?”
category: Tech Industry News
Well, Digg version 3 got released today. It is really nice and has many great features. But everything has its flaws…. heres a list of pros and cons of the new Digg.com
category: Tech Industry News
I’ve found a bug in digg.com. A flaw in the way I ‘digg’ a comment, by clicking the thumbs up icon, allows me to mark up a comment multiple times.
category: Tech Industry News
Are oil companies astroturfing digg by downmodding the unfavorable comments in global warming discussions? We can’t know for sure that they ARE. However, we can be sure that they CAN.
Semantic Web, Web strandards, Trends, wisdom of crowds, tagging, Startup, mass psychology, Google, cult psychology, inference, inference engine, AI, ontology, Semanticweb, Web 2.0, Web 2.0, Web 3.0, Web 3.0, Google Base, artificial intelligence, AI, Wikipedia, Wikipedia 3.0, collective consciousness, digg, censorship
52 Comments »
- Pingback by Anonymous — June 28, 2006 @ 7:47 am
- Wow, it’s so refreshing to find an hontest and intelligent post about such an abysmal web “service,” these days. Marc, I must commend you on a job very well done here and thank you for giving me hope that there may be a few people left on the ‘net that aren’t completely full of shit (or just completely ignorant).
I posted my thoughts on the flaws inherent in Digg a while back and though not as eloquent as yours I think we both arrived at similar conclusions. The model I suggest from the outset is one I believe you allude to by the end of your post. I hate to drop links (especially my own), but it would be a lot easier than re-hashing all my thoughts in a comment, so feel free to check out my take on it if you like. I’m still chuckling here over the fact that you actually have the graphs and posts as hard evidence to show just how ridiculous things have gotten.
- Finally, someone like me!
Check out this comment from a Digg fan on the Digg comments:
“digg doesn’t proport to be “wise” news, just news that is popular. i reported as lame. isn’t that ironic? i hope this was your blog.”
That … explains everything. 🙂
What we really need is a Coup d’état 2.0!
- Good post and great food for throught. In the book, James Surowiecki distinguishes between Information Cascades – where everyone follows everyone else – and properly wise crowds – where everyone thinks independently but the “correct answer” is the median of all their responses. I think digg is arguably susceptible to information cascades – for many users, the only stories they see are already on the front page and thus only news that has already been promoted gets promoted further. This can create some quite bizarre valuations for stories.
- I think you should copyright “Semantic WidiggWeb 3.0″, write a business plan, launch a beta and start looking for seed money (:-)
Thanks for the excellent illustration of “we are the people” propaganda mechanisms
Comment by Bebop — June 28, 2006 @ 11:16 am
- Ah! Finally people that get the plot!
Where were you guys all along!?
- Great post – like you point out at the end, there are many parallels to the political world when you consider the love affair that some have with the “wisdom of the crowd”.
Also, you touch on this within the SPAM section but another key flaw to these often anonymous systems are that a deviant segement will always try to hijack the results. Often when I discuss these site with the people that fully buy into the “crowd will solve all” they just can’t grasp that there will always be an element that will use the system for the own ill will.
By the way, this post feels alot like a mission statement for a new company OR thesis for a research study.
- You make good arguments. I can tell you think this through quite a bit. However, I believe you overlook some of the finer aspects of the concept, correct me if I’m wrong.
Digg is a best effort website, it is not perfect by any means, obviously. The concept is that it is more democratic because the content is user-defined rather than editor-defined. However, even as of today, we are not yet sure that a democratic form of community is the end-all governing ideology we all believe it is. It has been found to be the most fair form of community, but fair is far from effective or efficient.
Any concept delivered to a user from a discriminating outside source must be ranked for usefullnes. This includes most of life, including morality, entertainment, news, and laws. Therefore the quality of what the user sees is defined by what the source defines as useful.
At Digg, the average user does not digg something up to the front page, they merely look and click. The users that actually drive articles to the front page are often very interested in the topic for which they searched. I believe that if you allow an moderate sized open group of interested individuals to deliver information to the masses, you get more effective information than if you have a closed pool of discriminators. The system that digg created can be “gamed” like almost any system on the web that allows interraction with users and has “political” clout (the ability to change people’s minds). Digg has much in common with the volunteer-democratic information system that is WikiMedia.
I believe that Wikipedia harnesses the knowledge of concerned and interested people, not necessarily the best informed or wisest. It only happens through the laws of nature that the most concerned and interested individuals also happen to be well informed and wise. It is the same dynamic that Digg et al utilize to drive link publication.
The end result of Digg is that you have a relatively small number of very interested individuals showing a selected amount of information to a mass of people. The mass of people then can determine on their own what is correct or not. It is herd-mentality, but to much less an extent than a single individual telling everyone what to think (which you get in traditional media).
Comment by John — June 28, 2006 @ 6:47 pm
- Perhaps a hybrid-digg-wiki tech news site should be established to grant individual agency while controlling red flag traffic trolling 🙂
- “I believe that if you allow an moderate sized open group of interested individuals to deliver information to the masses, you get more effective information than if you have a closed pool of discriminators.”
I definately agree with this. Allowing all casual internet news trollers to rate stories really does nothing but overpromote the stories that are already popular. An average user just sees the already popular stories and then diggs them. The whole point of digg and sites like it is to streamline news and give you only what you want to see so you don’t waste time reading things you don’t care about, so most people just skip over the low rated links.
It seems like it would be less flawed if there were a group of designated people who actually read all the stories giving each link a rating and then having everyone else give it a second rating. You’d have two ways of judging whether you want to read a link, what people who know what they’re talking about think of it, and what the general public thinks.
Comment by Aaron — June 28, 2006 @ 8:30 pm
- You know, I hadn’t even heard of digg until I read your blog. Very informative. Thank you.
- Now that is a funny graph! From a flat line to 25,000. Interestingly, Scoble had a similar spike when news broke he was leaving Microsoft – from an average of 10,000 to 90,000. This was doubtless influenced by, although not as dependent on, Digg et al.
Any system has positives and negatives, and which is which will be viewed differently depending on who is looking. One point regarding Digg’s weaknesses (which you highlight so eloquently) – what’s the alternative? Getting your site mentioned in the New York Times? What are the chances of that? I think forced to choose beween a world with Digg/Reddit/Slashdot/BoingBoing/Fark etc and a world without them, I would choose with. I prefer flawed mob mentality to wisdom being handed down from on high.
A second point: Digg is definitely flawed. Do something better. Digg came out of nowhere to gain the influence it has now. Their very existence proves they are not the end of the line. Reddit doesn’t have Digg’s influence (yet) but it is an alternative. If I was a betting man, I’d say 12 months from now there will be a site the does to Digg what Digg did to Slashdot. And the more of these content aggregator/social bookmarking/memedigger sites there are, the more egalitarian the results will be.
A third point: a one-off spike like the one you saw is almost meaningless if you can’t capitalise on it. I have seen so many sites pop up on WordPress’s listing then disappear without a trace. You have the insight and depth of writing to build some long term audience with the help of that one-off spurt of attention. I hate seeing wasted opportunities so I’m glad you look like capitalising on yours.
- And as an addendum, on today’s Digg front page is
Which is building off your post.
Dude, you are officially a meme.
- Very interesting – I just opened a digg account and was looking into what all the hype was about, this post answers my intrigue.
- Please see my latest Update at the bottom of the post. And click the link in there to the “censored area.”
Given that there is no way to know if digg is manipulating the system (which they can do very easily by creating fake users which allows them to bury or censor stories they don’t like with the click of a button) I contend that they must be engaged in unethical undemocratic censorship (i.e. rigging the system.)
So a Web 2.0 entrepreneur who is dictatorial at heart can easily disguise himself as a democratic Web 2.0 service! Wooohooo! Welcome to the new age of Web-enabled democtaric dictatorship.
It will suck if that is the case, and given that there is no way to tell if they’re rigging the system I can see a high probability for abuse of power (after all they’re human.)
Digg needs to be re-thought as something other than a bad idea wrapped in deception and glazed with fanatacism.
If Google’s mantra is Do No Evil, Digg’s must be Do Be Evil.
- I agree with you totally. I actually hope that I never get a story “Dugg” by anyone. The reason being that I think it gives you a false representation of readership, and certainly long term watchers. I want people to come to my blog to read what I have written and I hope that it is written well. I do not want to be just “judged” by the crowd factor. In addition I don’t think that hits mean or rather denote quality. As you have pointed out – change the name, say if differently and it is judged differently. Crowd mentality. I have written a similar post along the ideas I have just mentioned. Have a look I would be interested in your comments: http://roostersrail.wordpress.com/2006/06/22/obligatory-non-conformism/
Just because someone has had 100000 hits does not mean that it was worth reading, it would seem that popularity rides over quality & content at times.
Thanks for the analysis I enjoyed the read.
- Great post, I liked the way you dissected digg. I myself said that digg is no longer that relevant. I think users will still use digg, while others will use other aggregation systems.
I used to go on digg more than once a day. Now, I think I go every few days, even then. There are a lot of boring things that make it to the front page and even if I wanted to bury them all, I just don’t care that much about digg to do them that service.
Mob mentality is rarely a good thing. It has been proven that mob mentality actually lowers the effective reasoning levels. Same thing goes with digg.
- You are absolutely right. But Digg would never admit that because first of all its a cashcow for its owners (have you seen that they now have FIFTEEN employees?), and the users are also fanatic.
I think Digg will see a bust at some point soon. They absolute amount of hype behind what they do and the continued rejecting of evolving and improving the site (breaking the site into already existing categories isn’t a part of that) will drag them down. Not to mention the ridiculous amounts of money they throw around. I still can’t believe that they have 15 employees. Reddit is run by a team of 2 out of their apartment.
Comment by AL — June 29, 2006 @ 8:30 am
- You got called a troll by Valleywag, Marc. That’s huge.
With all I see about Digg in the news lately, Al, I suspect that at least 10 of those employees are necessary to deflect attention from people who are actually working.
- Yeah I saw that…
What really impressed me, Andy, is when Markus left a comment under the “From Mediocre to Visionary” post… He’s a cult hero!
Markus is the guy from plentyoffish
- Great analysis. I rarely read the Digg comments. Digg is just a way to tons of sites into a few that may have an interesting story to tell.
If you wear size small t-shirts, then the phrase “Never Underestimate the Power of Stupid People in Large Groups” doesn’t fit. But “Digg” fits and conveys the same message.
- Suppose digg has a secret editorial bias. Depending on how obvious it is, sooner or later, readers will detect it and complain about it on Digg and elsewhere, and eventually go elsewhere. Unless competition were suppressed, the situation will tend to produce whatever readers select for, whether they get to vote with their fingers or their eyeballs.
Speaking of reader selection bias: maybe a digg should be weighted differently based on how many diggs there are already, when the digg occurred and ultimately the reputation of the digger. It might be possible this way to reduce the importance of votes by readers with nothing better to do or readers who were simple amplifying the established trends. Of course maybe Digg does something like that already….
Comment by Pictographer — June 29, 2006 @ 11:13 am
- I agree with your comment on user bias and I was talking about that exact same idea in another post on Standardized Tagging when I mentioned “user-behavior-based weighing factors.”
As far as users being able to tell when the system is being rigged. I disagree.
It’s possible to fool the users by having fake user accounts that bury/censor posts but not necessarily make any comments…. How could you tell a machine from human if the users are allowed to bury without demonstrating that they’re not machines?
- I don’t see the big deal about digg. I’ve only stumbled across it a few times thanks to Google and never had any urge to stick around. You only need to read the comments and petty bickering on there to work out what it’s all about in about 3 minutes.
The rest of us couldn’t care less what happens on there. The internet’s a big enough place to find plenty of other stuff to read.
- I claim the readers can detect bias, not its source (e.g. rigging).
The quality of the content trumps the selection process for most users. All publications or forums have biases. How could it ever be otherwise? The key question is, “Can readers find the good stuff?” Whether that good stuff be news, entertainment, information, opinions, etc..
If the digg staff exercise secret editorial power, should we care?
When we do care, we need something transparent, distributed, and at least slightly expensive. Unless there is a cost associated with expression that is greater than the expected return of spamming, the spammers will come. Somehow the cost must translate into a person’s time or money. It could be community service, like moderation or answering newbie questions; it could be resources like cpu cycles or network bandwidth, or it could be cash.
Comment by Pictographer — June 29, 2006 @ 12:18 pm
- As a newbie to both the computing world and the blogging world but an old hand at reporting small town politics, I really appreciated the work that went into writing this article and also the confidence it gave me because I am a digg subscriber and had already reached the conclusion that mob mentality leads to – control in accord with the lowest common denominator. Allowing all casual internet news trollers such as myself to rate articles achieves nothing more than overpromoting the ones that are already popular and sidelining others that ought to have received attention.
- I whole heartedly agree with this post, but congrats on your Psuedo fame 😀 I was happy when my blog reached 43 hits yesterday. Youtube has some of the same problems, though I like the service in general.
- Aw man, I got so busy yesterday I didn’t have time to partake in the Coup d’état 2.0, lol. I only managed to get in one snarky remark in the discussion before I had to bail. I checked later and nobody even bothered to flame me! What do I have to do these days to get some idiot coming after me like I just paid his momma in pennies? It used to be so easy to entrap and toy with the suckers. 😉 Hehehe. Nifty, I got +7 diggs for my comment though, whatever the hell that translates to in terms of ANYTHING.
Anyhow, I just checked and you’ve got 90 diggs man. Way to fight the system! Of course in your category “How to Make Your AJAX Applications Accessible – 40 Tutorials and Articles” has 1105 diggs and all the page turns out to be is a sloppy link fest to all these different articles about AJAX accessibility problems, including very outdated ones and most of which just state that there needs to be accessibility solutions but aside from workarounds and such there’s no clear solutions. Somehow I think it might not have gotten quite as many diggs had he had titled it more accurately, “40+ links to outdated articles telling you what a stupid wanker you are for diving into the dhtml 2.0 fad with no parachute.” Hrm.
Speaking of which, did you stick your post in the programming section or otherwise? Digg’s Categories remain completely useless. Can someone please enlighten me as to what’s changed in the new Digg aside from moving things around a bit? Granted, I’m not a digg fanatic, but I didn’t see anything terribly innovative.
I’m telling you right now as I’ve probably mentioned before, the key is DiggScrobbler! Perhaps minus the gay name.
I don’t understand why all these community powered sites can’t go the extra distance to make them personalized by taste/preference powered by other users most statistically similar or marked as trusted… of course such a system needs to take into account dislikes as well as likes. I don’t read movie reviews, for example because, what do I care about what some idiot I don’t know thinks about the movie? There’s no context, no relationship there. I’d rather get ratings/reviews from likeminded people that tend to like and dislike the same stuff that I like and dislike. Is it a hard concept to fathom? Instead we rather have hReviews so we can have the same crappy reviews everywhere. Superb!
Bah, sorry for the rambling and the ranting Marc… it’s just when ya gotta go, you gotta go, ya know? 😉
Oh and FWIW there have been some stories in the past with pretty compelling evidence that one of the guys behind Digg was fixing some of the digging, so it’s not unthinkable… but that story was a while ago and I don’t recall where I read it.
- I’m sure the founder is rigging it to protect his prospects for a $100M+ exit valuation!
I did digg it initially under programming.
I’m making t-shirts (don’t ever believe me when I start the sentence with “I’m manking t-shirts”) that will say “For Great Justice, Remove Every Digg.”
Obviously, that would only help them.
- Truely a really great post, and an interesting look at an issue with the digg concept. I myself have definately noticed traces of this phenomena happening on a smaller scale with my own blog. The web community really is something thats up one minute, and down the next.
Great post, you have a great blog, i’ll be sure to stop by here more often 🙂
- Great follow-up discussion and comments. I find myself too occupied with writing and posting to consult the reddits and diggs as well as newsvine anymore. I like finding new content myself, sifting through technorati and WordPress top blogs. What is good about blogrolls is that most blogs have one and if you like a blog, you can find similar blogs or related blogs through their blogrolls.
Anyways, I think that’s it on digg.
- A reader on another blog asked:
Marc: Don’t you think this is the case with any system of information dissemination?
Comment by dr. gonzo — June 29, 2006 @ 5:30 am
My response was (fyi):
It’s the case with any software-enabled rating system, including electronic voting machines, but I am not implying that the latter kind of systems have been rigged. Those are operated with much stricter oversight.
As far as informattion dissemination systems, you can point to Google’s Chinese version as an example of rigged, biased content.
But digg and social bookmarking sites in general have leveraged, intentionally or inadvertently, the false notion of “wisdom of crowds.” That is what I’m attacking in specific, i.e. that such systems/models don’t lead to better judgment than that of an individual blogger or a newspaper/TV/radio editor. They lead to a much worse judgment mainly because they employ the false notion of “wisdom of crowds.”
Not saying that CNN or Fox News are not rigged, but I’m saying that a New York Times editor, Lorelle, yourself, myself can have opinions that are infinitely better in quality than the opinion of any random crowd. I should also make the distinction between a crowd of scientists and a random crowd. The crowd on digg is a random crowd. However, in general, even a crowd made of rocket scientists is bound to produce the lowest common denominator opinion for that crowd. Individual rocket scientists may have a far better opinion.
- I agree with John, that it is the question of people most interested in a specific topic rather than only a crowd building an opinion. Digg probably attracted the information overdosed net-denizens, discovering for the first time a source of power within this universe, power they may have felt lacking in all the ramifications of web-information jungle and an ability to bring more structure to this realm. I can well believe that there are people out their , like You and me, who take it very seriously. But inevitably the novelty of Digg may also have attracted the crowd, people looking for new stimuli, new trends and obsessively engaged in crowd-phenomena, but I suspect that will wear off in time, leaving us the “naturally” selected rest, and some of them, and here I endorse the opinion of Marc, may have vested interests.
So what do you have at the end? Professional Journalism against Digg.
But professional journalists, editors of magazines and other opinion-builders from the media need not get scared. If I respect the opinions of a critical author or a journalist from Atlantic Monthly, I would certainly pay more attention to his views rather than to pure trendy phenomenological sensation that come and go away as high amplitude frequencies and die without really changing any basic structural modalities, evident to a great extent at Digg. Same goes, when I intend to purchase a gadget, I would seek an opinion in dedicated news-agency, expert and a more comparative community of expert opinions to make a decision.
The customer loyalty built by such opinion-builders is an accumulated asset from years of publication, that Digg can not jeopardise.
And Wikipedia is a step ahead of DIGG. You have a button at the top for history. Very transparent, eh!
But the fear of a company or political party mixing in Digg as well as the fear of the evolution of a new big-brother is real, but in which sphere of existence is not real? The only remedy is a more varied. less-homogenous NET, and thank Heavens we still have so many mouths_____ here for example the Zdnet!
Cheers for a more egalitarian world
And don’t be afraid of the dictatorship of the crowd!
- A very interesting post – and some strange reactions from Digg.
It reminds me of the old phenomenon of being slashdotted.
I did learn something though – from now on I need to work on my headlines! I’ve rarely gotten more than a handful of Diggs for anything.
- It’s politics. Web 2.0, if there is such a thing, is about social networking. Whereas the ‘old’ web was about content controlled by a single entity, the owner of the site, the ‘new’ web let’s it’s users in control. It’s despotism vs democracy.
It’s an unsolved problem. Nobody wants dictatorship, whether they’re running a country or a website. Even the so-called ‘benevelent dictators’ lose the trust from their communities at some point. The other extreme, true democracy, is just inefficient and dumb as dictatorship is unfair. We all know how history ’solved’ this problem. It’s called bureaucracy and we know how well that works.
So, I welcome initiatives like wikipedia, digg and del.icio.us, and I even participate in the latter 2, because I like them as experiments, if nothing else. The web is this wonderful primordial soup that brings us new things and like most things primordial, it’s mostly crap. You can’t deny there’s much worse stuff on the web than the flawed system of digg.
Moreover, these flawed systems will either evolve or be replaced by ‘better’ systems, possibly incoporating fixes like the one you outlined (although your proposed method of spam-tag verification sounds an awful lot like bureaucracy to me).
I’m really glad you pointed out these weaknesses in these systems, for articles like yours form the nessecary complement to these ‘experiments’.
Maybe it’s time for a system with a little more structure and rules, based on the experience from the first wave of these social networks, but I wonder what the crowd at large would think of that..
- The ‘crowd at large’ CAN’T “think.”
It’ll have to be individuals who come up with the better solution.
- My last sentence was only meant to be ironic, implying what you spelled out and further implying that any ’solution’ by an individual necessarily needs acceptance by the ‘crowd at large’ in order to work.
- Digg is a generator of biased and lowest-common-denominator hype that uses the ‘unwisdom’ of crowds as the only editorial control.
It is spamming our culture with biased/lowest-common-denominator hype.
You’re talking about a different problem domain.
Approval by the crowd normally happens through ‘taste makers’
If you make the crowd the taste maker, which is what digg does, then you get biased and lowest-common-denominator opinions of acceptance or rejection.
That is not how modern society works. Digg is taking us backwards.
You may want to see my post on the Hunter Gatherer parallels with Web 2.0
- I find it ironic that people can’t understand the reflexive reactions of US govt insiders and neocons when they dismiss well laid out arguments against their policies and positions, yet we see the digg insiders and supporters doing the exact same thing when confronted with articles like yours and with individual digg comments/commenters who don’t follow the party line.
The ignorance of crowds is happening in real life and in the Web 2.0 world.
- My first time reading this blog. Excellent post and analysis. Who are your philosophical influences?
I taste a Nietzschean flavor. The concerns are similar. Nietzsche’s writing is essntially a message to future individuals to beware of the (d)evolutionary averaging trend effected by the modern socialization of mass or popular culture. Yet his anit-collectivism was not merely conservative, but rather that of a futurist interested in making way (via powerful critique of morality) for the expansion of creative, evolutionary possibilities open to individuals.
- I haven’t read Nietsche but I think I have a vague idea of his philosophy.
I do not really get into philosophy, morality, ideology or religion.
I try to limit myself to experimenting, producing evidence and drawing conclusions, or using conclusions that have been made in the confines of formal theories. Obviously, I also make use of existing evidence, so it’s not all so rigorous and brain wrecking.
Anything outside of the methods above I consider as philosophy, ideology or religion, and I don’t really get into that on this blog or anywhere.
I believe that I’m agnostic with respect to everything except the logic I’ve outlined here.
I enjoy all kinds of ideas as long as they don’t expose pure idiological, philosophical or religious themes.
- […] As hypothesized in 1 and established in 2, a ‘crowd’ (not to be confused with a hierarchical organization) is not characterized by wisdom. […]
- […] It’s All About PoetryDigg 4.0: The End of Digg 3.0?The ‘Unwisdom’ of CrowdsOn The Co-Evolution of Man and Machine (Independence Day Special)The Geek VC Fund Project: 7/02 UpdateDigg This! 55,500 hits in ~4 DaysWeb 3.0 vs GoogleFor Great Justice, Take Off Every DiggWikipedia 3.0 and Google (Response to Comments)Wikipedia 3.0: The End of Google? […]
Pingback by Evolving Trends » Hierarchies, Crowds, Democracies and Dictatorships — July 6, 2006 @ 4:45 am
- […] For Great Justice, Take Off Every Digg […]
- Finally some people that get the plot!
- […] On top of that, we don’t get it. We all feel entitled to an opinion in this democratic age. Like the taxi driver, we do not realise that we cannot think. We all feel that our opinion on – for example – evolution is as valid as the next person, even if the next person is a geneticist or an anthropologist or a palaeontologist and we aren’t. In fairness, the failure is in our education system where people are encouraged to ‘think for themselves’ without being taught how to think critically or being given the basic tools of analysis. This is the downside of democracy. We dumb down to our lowest common denominator. I am not going to argue against democracy: as Amyarta Sen points out, it is the only demonstrable safeguard against famine for a start. […]
Pingback by Aphra Behn – danger of eclectic shock » Truth, stardust and comfort blankies — July 10, 2006 @ 1:58 am
- […] Bloggers: Este post explica la curiosa historia sobre como este articulo alcanzó 33,000 lectores solo en las primeras 24 horas desde su publicación, a través de digg. Este post explica cuál es el problema con digg y la Web 2.0 y como solucionarlo how to fix the problem. — Relacionado: […]
Pingback by Evolving Trends » Wikipedia 3.0: El fin de Google (traducción) — July 12, 2006 @ 4:09 pm
- […] This is a label given to the power users of digg. Since it has been shown and proven that 60% of the front page topics and posts are controlled by 0.03% of users, the term was accurate. The thing that most people don’t realize, is that some of the power users are either […]
Pingback by memoirs on a rainy day » Calacanis and the digg mafia or how monetizing the blogosphere is getting some reactions — July 20, 2006 @ 5:06 pm
- Agree with the comment on these tagging sites. It just confirms once again that there are by far more followers than leaders and independent thinkers and it is easy to fall into the trap of anonymously follow what’s defined as popular opinion expressed collectively by the crowd.
- […] This flawed approach leads to comparisons between Digg and New York Times. Does it mean that Digg is better than New York Times and we can really live without professional journalism? In the comparison there is no consideration for quality or origination of the content. Don’t get me wrong, I am a supporter of participation and I like sites like Slashdot and Digg. However they cannot do what New York Times does. Whereas the same number game also creates an air of doubt about the basic model of Digg. Digg is one of the best social bookmarking sites not because of the numbers but because it represents a unique idea and provides ease of operation and communication between users. Digg is a culture rather than a site, and hence it is so popular. […]
Pingback by iface thoughts » Blog Archive » Why Is The Web Quantitative? — August 30, 2006 @ 2:01 pm
- Wow. What can I say? You’ve opened up a whole universe for me like a global mind and I must investigate digg and Wikipedia 3.0 concepts fully. Thank you.
- […] For Great Justice, Take Off Every Digg […]