Wired has a dig at Digg (and training phocoenidae)

Fish on Friday's IT Blogwatch: in which Wired Magazine fires a shot across the bows of Digg. Not to mention why some call centers record your calls...

Annalee Newitz 'fesses up:

This week while you were napping at your desk ... I was building the world's stupidest blog. It had everything that the worst blogs have: it was built out of a template, it had a really dumb name ("My Pictures of Crowds"), an obsessive focus (pictures of crowds), non-original images taken from Flickr, and poorly-written, incoherent, illogical "commentary" on each image. Plus, lots of exclamation points!

Why did I do this? Because I wanted to see if I could get my moronic droolings to become "popular" as a story on Digg. And I did it -- by buying votes on Digg through excellent Digg gaming company User/Submitter. For $1 per digg, I got dozens of paid votes. Once the paid diggs had piled up, suddenly non-paid users of Digg started digging the story too. Eventually it got about 126 votes, and 29 comments. All the comments -- many of them positive -- were unpaid, as were at least half the diggs. This is proof that people will digg anything if the crowd thinks it's cool.

Jennifer Laycock explains:

[The] Wired article ... exposes the reality of buying ... "Diggs" that help send your web site toward a server crashing load ... Digg likes to claim that there's no way to game the system and that you can't buy your way in ... Digg is wrong.

The thing about Digg (or any other consumer generated content site) is that certain people rise to a position of power and certain people decide to take advantage of that power ... User generated content is a great thing, but as noted by Spiderman... with great power comes great responsibility. The next year or so will go a long way toward letting us know just how well that responsibility will be handled.

Michael Arrington is incensed:

Wired Magazine’s parent company, Condé Nast, owns Digg competitor Reddit ... Reddit was acquired in late October. By December, Wired had predicted the fall of Digg, saying “Digg Becomes the New Friendster” without disclosing that they were a sister company to a competitor. I wrote about this on Crunchnotes, saying it was inappropriate because of the (undisclosed) conflict of interest. Today Wired takes another, more elaborate shot at Digg ... Newitz does mention the conflict of interest, albeit in a parenthetical in the middle of the story (”Wired News is owned by CondéNet, which also owns Digg competitor reddit”).

But my bigger problem is that Wired isn’t simply reporting news about Digg. They’re making the news. And they’re going negative. In the first example, they make a prediction that Digg will fall, comparing it to Friendster. No news was reported - it was just an out of the blue roundhouse punch at Digg. In the second example the reporter actually creates the story she writes about, and willfully violated the Digg terms of use in the process.


Creating negative news about a competitor and then using the massive reach of Wired to promote that “news” is way over the line ... Digg Should Sue Wired.

Stanislav Sredl agrees:

Questions arise: why didn’t she pay the same company to do the same with Reddit? Is it moral (I’ll give you the answer right away: hell no) to scheme against a company which is a competitor for one of your services and then use your news publication to smear their reputation with the data you gathered?


As a journalist and editor, what troubles me most about this whole affair is the fact that Condé Nast is obviously prostituting a respectable publication which they own - Wired - to achieve their goals ... If I were an editor at Wired I’d say that these kinds of stories belong to blogs that write exclusively about social media, and not to a huge IT/science publication which aims at a much broader audience. I’d say that two stories about Digg on the same day (they’ve had a couple more last month) is way too much. Maybe the chief editor at Wired did say that, but he got special “instructions” from “above”, as it often happens in such cases.

It’s stories like these that, in a year or two, might make people say: Wired was great for a while, but then everything went downhill.

Mathew Ingram calls it, "Entrapment":

I would compare the story ... with the kind of “sting” that newspapers write when they sneak knives aboard a plane to show how lax security is. The only difference, of course, is that in most of those cases, the newspaper’s parent company doesn’t own a competing airline. Wired’s piece for me crosses a line. If the story had been about some neutral third party that hired User/Submitter, then that would be one thing. But Wired effectively perpetrated the sting itself, and that smells bad to me.

But Joe Duck doesn't:

I don’t agree, and frankly would love to see hundreds more of these “sting” operations which help everybody understand the challenges facing social media and hopefully will pressure sites to clean up the fraudulent stuff going on.


Everybody in this biz could use a transparency injection, but overall we need hundreds of times more investigative “sting operations” to show how problematic things have become with payola of various kinds, PPC, and other online scams like Ringtones. The best response for Digg is to do an insider investigation and root out the abuses and publish it themselves, not pretend it doesn’t go on as they and Mike appear to be suggesting.

Todd Cochrane already stopped trusting Digg:

Don't trust anything on Digg. I am not kidding, I have wondered for months how some stories make it to the top of Digg. I almost gag sometimes at how bad the articles are, or worse yet the story is a re-purposing of someone else's work. Digg needs to stop the fraudulent activity and enact a much more stringent level of user verification. No wonder the site quality has went down the tubes!

The anonymous Bloggers Blog blogger blogs:

Another interesting tidbit in Annalee Newitz's article is that she noticed a few other entries on Digg, including an advice article and a discount coupon, were getting dugg by the same people that were digging her blog about fascinating crowd photographs.

Li Evans urges everyone to cool their jets: [You're fired -Ed.]

I'm not a huge fan of Digg, but I realize its power ... every system has serious flaws, and when those systems are as popular as Digg has become, naturally a big red target is painted on it ... Digg still refuses to admit it has to deal with issues of gaming ... The truth of the matter is, we can bitch about Digg all day long, but, honestly what good does it do? Does it get us anywhere? No, it doesn't.
Tony Hung's well bemused: [Here's a box; clear your desk -Ed.]

Is Wired’s piece really news? I don’t think so. After all, there are two things which we already know:

1. Services like User/Submitter exist — where you can pay people to vote for you

2. Diggers are lemmings — after a critical threshold, Diggers will vote for a story simply because it's popular.

Andy Beal is sad:

I don’t know what’s more sad. The fact you can get onto the homepage of Digg for less than $200 or the company’s continued claims that it cannot be gamed.

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... Meanwhile, at the aquarium booking line

Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at blogwatch@richi.co.uk. Don't feed the trolls (OK, TDavid?).

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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