How direct democracy cripples Digg

FROM ANDREW’S EXHAUSTED MIND — I’ve noticed recently around what the new Web 2.0 has come to call “social networking” sites that there is a considerable amount of group think taking place.

The most prominent example currently is the news site Digg. Digg works via a system of “voting” on stories in a pseudo-democratic fashion. If you find that you like a certain story, you would “Digg it”; whereas if you dislike a particular story, you would “Bury it.” Stories which satisfy a secret “Digg Algorithm” reach the front page. These front page stores would then receive hundreds of thousands of views that day, and see a significant amount traffic increase for a time to come.

Now, I’m not too interesting in deconstructing the specific inner-workings of Digg. I’m not even interesting in how some people try to game the system, which may or may not be a common occurrence. No, what I am going to explore is how the inherent nature and structure of the Digg system is flawed, and how this flaw effects the quality of news in which a person finds on the front page.

Digg’s system is very similar in method to a direct democracy, a form of government that the United States is erroneously accused of utilizing. The problem with this method is that voter apathy, or rather differing levels of activity in users will create disparities within the system, pushing stories which may not otherwise have seen the front page. If a small contingent of users band together around a common goal, it will become easy for them to push stories to the front.

A prime example of this behavior is the Ron Paul grassroots supporters. They get it, they understand the system, they know that all it takes is a little organization and you can pretty much get any story to the front page. Is this a bad occurrence? Not necessarily, however, it does show the flaw in a system which is primarily meant to be a news source. Depending on people’s personal preferences, certain stories will be buried and others will be flung to the top. There should be no personal preference in what gets reported, not a game in which whoever works the system best controls what is shown.

The volatility inherent in Digg’s system will lead to a system which is not well suited for what was intended to be a news aggregation site. While it does provide a site which is excellent for finding some comedic content, I’ve noticed that the quality has drastically decreased in the past few months as the site has grown in popularity. What possibly could be done to change this? Well, I’m not sure, but until then, I’ll be going elsewhere for my news.


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