The Problem With Digg: A Fantastic Concept With So-So Application

I’m totally in love with the website digg.com. I’ve been a user of the site for around six months and have been a reader of it for around a year. It could be argued that digg is a hipster version of an applicative website like Slashdot or the like. This is mostly because the site skims for the best techie articles, but with a “cool kid” perspective that focuses more on mass appeal stories as opposed to hardcore tech-centric sites. The new digg 3.0 which was launched relatively recently pushes the site even more in this direction. Included with tech categories are sections dedicated to entertainment and business news.

In theory, digg works wonderfully. The multitude of users suggest the most interesting topics, and in turn that same multitude promotes the “best” to the top page. However, this is just the theory. In application, it doesn’t always necessarily work this way. I’m going to outline the main problems associated with digg and submit them to the community surrounding the site. It is important to keep in mind that the views expressed are my own, but also reflect those shared by many in my demographic that use the site. That said, my demographic is a casual user of the site which is somewhat involved, but not to the point that many are.

So, here we go. If these problems could be solved, I believe that digg could truly launch into what it is capable of and really become a new phenomena that uses the power of the web to ultimate advantage.

Rude and Smarmy Commenters
Part of the appeal of digg is the ability to converse with the users of the site on any given topic. In essence, each created topic creates its own messageboard. Users can freely express their tastes and distastes daily on any multitude of topics. However, many users seem to feel the need to constantly promote their comments at the expense of others. This could partially be attributed to the digg commenting system, but this will be another point I’ll reach later on.

Discussion on many topics eventually results to a pissing contest which basically pits each categorized ideology against each other. This ultimately becomes “Who Can Own Someone Else The Most”. It’s tough for someone on digg who may not be familiar with the site, or who may have a genuine idea or question that might not be popular. There’s really no incentive to become part of an online community when that community consistently expresses its correspondence in an immature and rude manner.

Flawed Commenting System
The commenting system used by digg is similar to that of how the stories are promoted. Comments in discussions can be given a thumbs up or down by each user. Comments receiving a large number of negative connotations are “buried”, meaning they are not immediately visible to the public.

This sounds like a great idea, as we all know of the rampant population of trolls on messageboards. However, it just doesn’t work truly effectively. Comments that are at the top of conversation receive the majority of votes. Comments made later on are relatively ignored. This also gives incentive for users to try to “own” each other. Users tend to make overly-harsh and smarty-pants comments in hopes of gaining a higher rating. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for truly insightful comments to be buried. Comments which are made by users that aren’t part of diggs particular demographic are sometimes seen as contradictory to the whole and buried. Hopefully, the expansion of digg in the 3.0 update will solve this problem by bringing in a larger variety of users.

Fanboys
Now, this is a problem with any site like this. Not just digg. So I won’t linger too long with it. Whether it be a story about Apple, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, or a number of other popular companies, the fanboys will come out of the woodwork. A successful plot by corporations to turn consumers into free marketing tools come out in the form of digg users who have blindly placed their faith so much in these companies that they will fight to the death for their masters. Pointless arguments ensue and these companies receive free press and advertising in the form of a flame war. No one really wins except the corporate board room.

Injection of Opinion
Many users who submit stories seem to feel the need to give the story thier flair of opinion. Even if the article is as un-biased and as factual as possible , many users will feel no remorse in submitting thier two cents to the general public. This leaves the reader with a bad taste in thier mouth, as it is now obvious that the story is submitted as an agenda. It may be one of a fanboy, it may even be one of an individual in a paticular company or poltical group. Who is to say.

We can’t all be journalists on digg, but we can at least strive to maintain the same principals. Unless it is a commentary (such as this one), let the public decide. If you have something to say about it, that’s what the comments are for. Let the topic find its own way, there’s no need to direct it in the topic description

Lack of Variety In Sources
As recently expressed on the front page of digg, many stories simply come from the same handful of posters. Even if less popular posters have submitted the same story in advance, the story from the popular posters win out. Not saying that he would do such a thing, but if Kevin Rose (the founder of digg) was to submit a story about Paris Hilton breaking her ankle, it’d make front page news in mere minutes.

The idea of relying on sources is ideal, but if you want that, there’s the Associated Press. Digg is different, and the difference is in the multitude of users. Less interesting stories are pushed to the back pages simply because the users submitting them don’t have “street cred”.

Other Minor Problems
There are also other problems with digg that aren’t as rampant as those listed above. Many users submit stories that link to a blog, that link to a blog, that link to a story. Many submit stories that already have been. There’s also the “dupe police”. Or the crowd that says “it isn’t tech related”, or that “this was on digg months ago”. These problems aren’t as major, but are still buggers that aren’t any fun.

Solutions
Digg does a fairly well job of educating users of how to use the site properly. But if it were getting a grade, I’d give it a B-. A better explanation of how to effectively use the site would solve many of these problems such as dupe stories. Perhaps via a user friendly “How To” section, or something related.

Some of the more technical issues like the flawed commenting system might require some more discussion and a deeper look into how to solve them. Obviously, discussion is a large and required part of the site, but a way has to be found for it to not be a pissing contest each time.

My conclusion would be that most of problem with digg is the attitude of the top echelon of its users. Let’s face it, they’re a rude and potty mouthed bunch for the most part. And they want things their way. Remember, the first step is admitting that you have a problem.

But this is largely an article meant to point out the problems. I don’t have the answers, just guesses as to what the right direction might be.

 

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