The Unfortunate Investment of Social Media (and its Consequences)
A week ago, I gave a relatively unbiased account of the “Digg revolt,” a response to Kevin Rose’s post that there were to be algorithmic changes to Digg that likely will impact only the top submitters. After seeing how it panned out, I have to say that I’m not impressed.
Here’s a screenshot of a story that became popular with a whopping 235 Diggs. It was taken the night of January 28, 2008 (approximately 11PM EST):
While Digg typically allowed stories to hit the front page within 80-120 votes (the latter being more rare than normal), it’s now requiring almost double the number.
In comparison, here’s another anomaly (for its time). This is a Digg submission from August 17th:
The problem is quite evident that the most dedicated and seasoned users are feeling the brunt of the impact. And so, it’s time that I acknowledge what people have been saying for a long time: I think Digg has jumped the shark.
Naturally, the savviest of Digg users are feeling this change the most. These are the users who are familiar with networking on Digg (finding friends with similar interests) and checking not only the front page of Digg but the Upcoming page as well (which is far more important). While Jay Adelson made a claim last week that this algorithmic change has an aim of more diversity in terms of who votes upon the stories, it’s virtually impossible for there to be more diversity on the Digg upcoming page when so few people visit it compared to Digg’s front page.
Unfortunately for Digg, the savviest users of the bunch have also been the most vocal about Digg thus far (save for the few blogs that cover everything web 2.0 related). If nobody talks, nobody remembers, and nobody sticks around. If the “top Diggers” move on, other people will take their place, but they won’t stick around because the algorithm will likely impact them negatively in due time. In a nutshell, while Digg has never quite embraced its biggest supporters (much to many users’ chagrin), it has now begun to alienate its biggest supporters.
It took an uproar to get a response — and that uproar had to happen offsite. I’ve sat in on meetings and discussions over the past several months that included dedicated Digg users who wanted to effectuate change within the service. Their emails and open letters to Digg have fallen on deaf ears. Blog posts have been written and buried once a user submitted it to Digg. It’s clear that anti-Digg sentiment is silenced, and is often suppressed. Using Digg as an instrument to get Digg’s attention has never clearly had an impact until last week’s “revolt,” and the only reason why it had an impact then was because it was done off Digg’s site (in this case, Ustream) and had plenty of press people standing behind it.
Lack of communication doesn’t taste good. The biggest concern many of the top Diggers have is that there’s no communication from Jay Adelson and Kevin Rose. That was somewhat addressed in last week’s chat with a goal to have “town hall” meetings and forums where Digg staff can interact with the users to make the experience more pleasurable. However, it’s been a long-standing issue that Digg has not acknowledged its users to satisfaction. Granted, I moderate forums myself and I understand that sometimes you need to make changes that are not going to make all users happy, but when that’s the case, I am fair enough to express my apologies that I cannot satisfy my users just to let them know that their opinions are still valued. This is not a regular practice on the social news giant, and unfortunately, that is probably the biggest thing causing its downfall.
As a side point, Google is a bigger beast and it has tens or hundreds of staff members visiting forums and moderating groups to ensure that the user experience is a good one. Spam engineer guy Matt Cutts has his own blog where he talks about his personal life and all things Google. Google is undoubtedly huge and they could simply shrug their members off like Digg does to its much smaller userbase, but instead they engage the community and that’s why Google is such a positive brand.
Moving back to the Digg “town hall,” with Digg in its position as a long-lasting social site that has only recently been responding to user concerns, it’s hard to say if I have confidence in the new forum. As one of the “revolt” leaders discussed with me earlier this week, unless it’s moderated full-time by someone close to the Digg happenings, it’s likely not going to be as successful as many envision it will be. With so many folks that are invested in the service, ignoring them for long periods of time and letting messages stack up will not be in the site’s best interest. Users are so involved and so extremely dedicated that they expect (perhaps unreasonably) that they’d get the same kind of respect that they give Digg. That hasn’t been much of a reality on Digg. Really, the biggest unfortunate investment of social media is that it’s often a thankless job. Sometimes, those users will even feel the heat. There’s not much going for you when you’re heavily invested.
Digg is not the government. Free speech can be stifled. If someone doesn’t like something, he’ll ignore (or bury) it or she’ll delete the email. There was only one occasion when the users were able to make a lasting impression on the social news site. It’s hard to say if that will happen again. But it makes another thing clear: unless Digg acknowledges that its users are valuable assets to the company’s growth, Digg is not going anywhere, because if it does, there will be new people on staff who will have to control the flow of the conversation in their favor. Just like Digg doesn’t like anti-Digg content reaching the front page in order to control its brand, if anyone buys Digg and there’s a negative article about said company reaching the front page, it won’t look very good for them.
I live twittered hour 23 and 24 of my last story submission to Digg. After declaring “Digg bankruptcy,” I got a message from a guy in India that the “most dedicated users” should never give up. He called himself an “unbiased observer.” There’s the problem. Unless you are heavily invested in the service, you can hardly relate. Most of us have given Digg a lot of chances — too many chances. Many of us, at this point, think that Digg has exceeded the amount of chances they’re allowed.
I’m open to communication, and I’d strongly encourage Jay and Kevin to step it up a notch on a regular basis and not only in time of emergency. Until I see Digg becoming more involved in user affairs, I feel that there’s no real future for Digg as a social news service and that their 15-minutes of fame has ended.