Open Letter to Kevin Rose

This week, Digg made a big change to their promotion algorithm. At first glance, it appears that their change has heavily handicapped the top users. Submissions by people in the top 30 took upwards of 100 diggs to be promoted this week, whereas other users’ submissions were promoted at previous, usual levels (around 30 – 40 diggs). Unfortunately, digg has yet to explain what they changed and how it makes digg better, so it has left a lot of their most loyal contributors feeling hung out to dry.

I have spoken with numerous top diggers this week who feel hesitant to submit good content they find to digg for fear of damaging that content’s chances at getting seen by people. Others have set up camp at other social news sites like Newsvine or Netscape, where one person’s vote is still guaranteed to be equal to another.

I think Muhammad Saleem (msaleem) and Mark Johnson (aidenag) did the best job of summing up the top diggers’ feelings at the moment with this open letter they wrote to Kevin Rose. I have republished it below with their permission.

Dear Kevin,

Please do not take this as an attack on Digg, the Digg team, or yourself. It is not our intention to ‘bash’ Digg, rather this is a plea to return Digg to the site we all contributed to and learned to love, as well as an expression of our genuine concern.

Online media has seen some very exciting developments in the past few years, and Digg has been at the forefront of the online media’s shift towards socially driven news. Digg has always kept on the cutting edge by coming out with new features that not only facilitate social bookmarking but also make it more appealing. Ultimately, however, what drives Digg is the community that uses it. At last count, Digg had 500,000 community members. It is the community that submits content to Digg, promotes the content to the front-page, and gets rid of the superfluous content. If it weren’t for the community, Digg would not be the reservoir that it is, of breaking news and unique or interesting stories.

Why then, we wonder, does Digg continue to snub its most prolific community members, rather than reward or even encourage them? With the latest change in Digg’s promotion algorithm, it seems that the message you are sending to the site’s most active users is that its time for them to quit.

By creating an algorithm that punishes top users, and rewards new users you are creating several problems for Digg.

  1. You are discouraging the active or successful users from contributing, since it becomes progressively harder for their stories to reach the front-page. If the more front-page stories you get, the harder it is to get more on the front-page, how do you expect to motivate people to keep on contributing?
  2. You are preventing the most breaking and cutting edge news, contributed by the top users, from reaching the front-page in a timely manner. This creates two possible problems, either Digg will lose its competitive advantage for having all the breaking news first (since people will have already read the news elsewhere, while the top contributor’s story sits in the queue), or a new user will post a duplicate story, that because of the algorithm will make it to the front-page faster. Thus encouraging new users to submit duplicates.
  3. You are creating a disincentive for people to hunt for cool stories. By allowing certain users to reach the front-page more easily, you create incentives for them to look for mediocre stories, because they know that odds are that the story will get to the front-page anyway.

I hope you see how this change will alienate any user who devotes more than just a few minutes a day contributing, and eventually lead to a major decline in the timeliness and quality of the content on Digg.

Digg was a revolutionary concept because it put power in the hands of the people. Where you not the first to say that you want to empower the people and democratize the flow of information? It seems that you have failed to grasp some of the most important elements of Democracy:

  1. One person one vote
  2. Transparency

The following comment is very telling. Ryan isn’t the only user that feels that way. Every single user that we have talked to so far, is unhappy with the latest developments at Digg:

Obviously 10-20 people leaving isn’t going to sink Digg. However the general attitude that the Digg staff is exhibiting towards their userbase doesn’t exactly encourage me to participate anymore. My username there is elebrio and I got deleted without even a message from the staff. I emailed them and they reinstated me immediately but the general disregard for any users when their community is inherently user-driven bothers me. It seems like we are merely a necessary evil in their eyes.

Finally, great communities have great leaders. It appears that you have been neglecting your duties as the leader most Diggers consider you to be. The fact that you have 400,000+ profile views is indicative of the fact that the community looks up to you. How can you expect people to be good Diggers and among other things, not submit duplicate stories when time and again you have done the same?