Are Mere Mortals Gaming Digg?

Digg users are asserting that AOL, specifically Weblogs Inc., is spamming Digg. And the community is none too pleased. The term “spamming” in this instance refers to a couple of dozen users that are systematically digging each other’s content. Is this really spam?

Yes

Let’s assume that it is, in fact, spam. This would mean that we all agree that it is not acceptable for a group of different human users to repeatedly digg the same stories in unison. How can we identify this behaviour? It seems to me that it would be hard to differentiate this from other “normal” digging of friends’ submissions. In fact it appears identical to me.

But let’s further assume that we have a way to definitively identify these group-spammers. How can we solve it?

  • One option would be to devalue the diggs of a story that came from a friend of the submitter. Unfortunately, doing this would take focus off of the quality of the submitted content, and add focus to the submitter. If Mr. Friendly Pants came along and befriended the top 30,000 users of Digg, then anything he submitted would be screwed out of a chance at the front page.
  • Another solution might be to ban all Weblogs Inc. content on Digg. But the problem with that is that in this situation, the content isn’t being labeled spam, but the submitter and supporting diggers are being labeled “spammers”. That’s a unique situation right there.
  • That brings us to a solution of simply banning the users who are found to be group-spamming. I would find this acceptable if we were able to unquestionably identify these people as group-spammers AND if it were in Digg’s Terms of Use, which it is not.
  • Perhaps the digg community could set up an anti-group-spammer ring of users who would systematically bury the stories of people who have been identified as group-spammers. This seems like the most justifiable solution to me, but unfortunately, like the first solution, this would take the focus off of the content and put it onto the users. Good content might very well end up slipping through the cracks.

And even if those solutions are put in place, there are ways around them. Imagine a revolving-door group-spamming system that coordinates a large group of people to randomly digg articles as they were submitted. Diggers could be notified by email when they are requested to digg something, and if they don’t digg it within an hour, someone else in the list is emailed. It would work like a charm and be incredibly hard to detect.

Imagine also setting up a 3rd party digg friend network to complement the above work-around. It would be extremely easy to do with a Jabber-based IM client and the RSS feeds located in each of our profiles. This would be an effective work-around to a situation where Digg devalues the diggs of friends of submitters.

No

Now let’s assume that this does not qualify as spam. Personally, I think it is entirely reasonable to ask a friend to digg something that you submit. Obviously Digg feels the same way because they provide all the tools you need to lobby for diggs from right within your content. If you ask your friends for diggs, that doesn’t mean they have to digg your submission. No one has a bunch of child labourers holed up in a shanty being forced to digg things against their will. Digg has always been spectacular at filtering out bad content.

I do not believe there is anything Digg can do to put a stop to this without degrading the quality of their content or the quality of its community. I doubt they even regard it as a problem. The important thing is: you will never see spam content on the front page of Digg. What is happening here is not spam. This is people contributing and participating democratically. Come on, guys; it is going to take more than a couple of dozen mere mortals to pull the wool over the eyes of the Digg community.