An Objective Look at the Changes at Digg

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About a week ago Digg made several important changes to the site, which have generated much commentary in the days that followed. The announcement that got the most attention, perhaps unreasonably so, was the Digg Team’s decision to remove the Top Diggers list from the site.

The people most directly affected by these changes are the Digg community, that used this list as a way to filter the superfluous content and directly access the good content, and the top contributors for whom the list was the only recognition on Additionally, the changes that are yet to come will even affect the content producers. Here’s a look at how the decision affects the three groups.

In the absence of any other form of recognition or compensation for their efforts, many of Digg’s most active users are primarily motivated by rankings on the Top Diggers list. With the list gone and no other form of recognition currently available, it’s easy to understand why the move has irked a lot of the top users.

The list served a great purpose of recognizing those who were working hard to make Digg a great site, as well as a way for new users to discover new content. Now, as the site has matured and we regularly get 5,000+ content submissions per day, we believe there are better ways…

This can easily be interpreted by the community as Digg saying, “We have reached critical mass, we don’t need your participation as much as we used to, and so we don’t feel obliged to give you any direct form of recognition. Furthermore, giving the top Diggers recognition was actually becoming more of a headache than the good it was doing.” The move makes the Calacanis offer more enticing than ever.

While they may not have managed the situation in the best possible way, I completely understand why Digg needed to make the move and think that it will ultimately be in the best interests of the community. As Kevin mentions, there are several ways that people that try to manipulate Digg:

  1. By using organized voting schemes.
  2. By trying to pay top Diggers to contribute and artificially promote content.

By removing the top Diggers list the Digg Team seems to be addressing the latter of the two issues.

Some of our top users – the people that have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours finding and digging the best stuff – are being blamed by some outlets as leading efforts to manipulate Digg.

Without a handy list of potential targets at hand, over time it will become a little more tedious for people wanting to abuse the system to find the people they would like to offer money to for content submission and promotion. By reducing the number of solicitations you ultimately reduce the degree to which the system is abused and consequently create an all around better experience for the entire community. Although Andrew thinks that these measures of security through obfuscation are short-sighted and will not work, preliminary results show that the change is working, at least for some of the top users (including myself).

The problem with removing the top contributers list is not so much the fact that the list is being removed, rather it’s the idea that the list is being removed before any suitable alternative is introduced to replace it. As Digg #1 Amit mentioned in an interview,

I am a bit frustrated that folks that spend a lot of time on Digg would not get a little bit of recognition. i think it’s the least Digg should do, and something I hope will be in the new roll out of a new list whenever that comes out.

Furthermore, Tony Hung hits the nail on the head when he says,

I do know that attaining a high rank takes a lot of time and effort. And when you’re not getting paid for your efforts (like those at Netscape *are*), you tend to try and look to other things for motivation. One of them is public recognition. While diggers have all kinds of motivation for doing what they do, without the most important means of recognizing diggers efforts at the very least (since they will never get paid), Kevin Rose is hamstringing the core constituency that Digg has been built upon.

Perhaps it would have been a better idea to wait until the substitutive technologies could have been introduced, which would give the top users recognition in some alternative way, before the existing system was removed. This way people will tangibly be able to see how the system has been improved by addition, rather than having to believe in the current purported improvement by subtraction. In the absence of any such new technologies, other people have found ways to get the list live again.

Moving on, while people have focused on what has been taken away, little has been said or speculated about what is to come.

We’re currently working on designing and refining the technologies required that will help enable our nearly 900,000 registered users to make real connections that we believe will greatly enhance the Digg experience.

The consequences of this move will ultimately depend on the new features that are introduced to replace the Top Diggers list. Here is an optimistic look at what will happen at Digg in the months to come, assuming that the site is successful in completely obscuring the identities of its top contributers, but also finds a way to recognize the people that make the site:

  1. Spam solicitations and attempts at system abuse will decrease somewhat and allow for a better experience for the Digg community.
  2. The new features introduced will allow users to network with other users more effectively based on an analysis of the users’ story submission and promotion habits. This feature will probably be akin to Netscape’s ‘potential friends feature’.
  3. By allowing people to network more effectively, content producers will get the luxury of their content becoming more visible to more targeted audiences, and consequently the content will have a more fair chance at being evaluated by the audience that it should be most interesting to. For example, content about a music artist’s newly released album becomes more visible to someone who usually submits and Diggs stories from the music section and is friends with people who are similarly interested in music-related news. This way every kind of content gets evaluated by those interested in the content, and (for example) any positive news about Microsoft will not be buried by the proponents of Open Source or Apple fanboys.

While it is possible to argue with the way Digg has handled things in terms of not synchronizing new features with the removal of old ones, and while you can question the success they will have by using ‘security by obfuscation’, the changes have been made with the community’s best interests at heart. [Steve Rubel]( is right when he says,

This is a critical moment in Digg’s short life. If they navigate it right, they will keep the community intact. One more slip, however, could open the door for a larger competitor to come in with a bigger carrot.

Netscape offered a carrot once before and managed to lure quite a few of the top 20.
**Update: Just so everyone knows I am a top digger (actively ranked 16) as well as a Netscape Navigator.

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