Digg — worthless, or just misunderstood?

by Mathew on December 11, 2006 · 8 comments

Maybe it’s just meant to be “Digg-bait” (as Nick Denton at Valleywag likes to call it), but Jason Clarke of Download Squad has a long post up about Digg and how it is destined for failure. As Jason mentions in the post, Download Squad is part of AOL, which owns the revamped Netscape — a site that was essentially modeled on Digg — so perhaps it’s an elaborate corporate hit-job. I thought Download Squad was all about cool software, but maybe I was wrong.

In any case, Jason’s criticisms are not really all that new. As far as I can tell, his two main points are: 1) Digg’s audience is full of mouth-breathers and low-foreheads who just pile on and flame each other, and digg down things they don’t agree with. And 2) Digg’s traffic, a kind of “flash crowd” that can shut down even the most robust hosting service in a matter of minutes, consists of window-shoppers who come quickly and leave quickly, and if they sign up for something they never actually use it.

wisdom of crowds.jpg

Jason says that the Digg community is “rotting from the inside out,” and that “the sheer level of superiority, sarcasm, and general negativity is overwhelming.” As with many other critics of the Digg model, or social media in general — including Nick Carr and Andrew Keen, as well as newcomers Andy Rutledge, who I’ve written about here, and Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal, who I’ve written about here — the argument is that the wisdom of crowds doesn’t exist.

The problem with the whole concept of taking advantage of the “wisdom of crowds” is that crowds have no wisdom. Microsoft Windows is an example of an operating system written using the wisdom of crowds… and don’t get me started on the majority of large open-source efforts.

As a commenter rightly points out, the Windows crack is a gigantic red herring. Any problems at Microsoft have little or nothing to do with the wisdom of crowds, and everything to do with corporate hierarchy and centralized decision-making. If anything, they could use a little more Digging. And as for the traffic problems, it’s true that Diggers flood in and then disappear, leading some to wonder how much value they actually bring with them. But couldn’t we say that about Web traffic from plenty of other sources too, like TechCrunch for example?

In conclusion, Jason says:

Social media sites are an unproven phenomenon… I predict that in the near future sites will start to attempt to block digg as a referrer, since getting a link from digg will simply cost them money. And over time I believe users will tire of the constant negativity that characterizes digg… unless digg can find a way to clean up their collective act.

Does Digg have flaws? Sure it does. And so do plenty of other social media sites. But I think Jason (for whatever reason) is being way too negative. What do you think?

Update:

More commentary at the CWS blog, with comments from Diggers.

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  • http://www.deepjiveinterests.com Tony

    Hey Mat,

    I think the article was dead on with its insights — but incorrect in that the weight of its own internal corruption will doom it. People will continue to carry on with Digg — I would say the majority of Diggers pay no attention to the comments, and only a tiny percentage even submit articles. People will often digg up articles based on the title alone without reading the articles. I suspecct they use Digg the way people use Techmeme … to scan interesting stuff which has the weight of thousands of registered users.

    Of course “interesting” is relative — but they have an incredible amount of inertia right now … for it to fail, people would have to stop going to Digg outright and posts about Digg’s corruption will do little to the current readership, particularly when its something none of them want to hear i

    For example, downloadsquad.com’s post was submitted … then buried.
    The prosecution rests, your honor ;)

  • http://content-writer.blogspot.com Carson

    Of course Digg stinks a little bit. How could it be otherwise? Why would anyone anticipate anything other than cliquishness and silliness? Digg is also valuable and informative, if you know how to approach it and enter it with an understanding of its weaknesses and the surrounding context.

    When you reminded Gomes that some books are lousy, too, it was an understatement. Most books are lousy. Even most of the books by really, really bright people are lousy. Most television shows are lousy. Most magazines are lousy. Digg is lousy. The majority of peer-reviewed academic journals are lousy, too.

    So, we have a choice. We can either give up and allow ourselves to wallow in our own (and only our own) little thoughts or we can accept the strong likelihood that most of what is produced is fairly rotten and work to develop a means to find needles of wisdom in the haystack.

    Sometimes, that wisdom comes from WSJ writers. Sometimes it comes from members of a mouth-breathing fraternity. Sometimes you stumble upon it elsewhere.

  • Mathew Ingram

    Thanks for that, Tony — the Digg Bury Squad strikes again :-)

    And you make a good point, Carson. We are all looking for filters, and some are better than others. For my part, I’m glad there are more emerging every day.

  • http://engtech.wordpress.com engtech

    Yup, it’s all about finding good filters. Is Digg a good filter? Not really. Is Digg a good source of traffic? Yes and no. I find that both Digg and Slashdot can bring in a swarm of commenters who are there for a flamewar more than anything else. The only time I didn’t get a bad taste from comments was that Great Firewall of Canada post. Maybe it’s me. :)

    The traffic is great, and blog links that come afterwards are great… but maybe it’s a good idea to turn comments off for the initial part of the flood. I find the later commenters are much more respectful than the initial wave.

  • Mathew Ingram

    Thanks for that, Engtech.

  • http://blogcritics.org Eric Berlin

    Digg has its issues and challenges, but from what I can see Mr. Clarke is poking around in the wrong places.

    I personally don’t care for the tone with digg comments some of the time, but does that mean that Digg doesn’t have value or is rotting from the inside? Hardly. I can happily enjoy digg’s content without bothering with the comments if I like, or use its best-of-breed tools to help filter out the din. And the notion that sites will block digg as a referrer is ridiculous. Some traffic is better than others, but traffic is still traffic — everybody loves it.

    In my view digg’s (and all social news sites’) biggest challenge is the value of diggs/votes themselves. Should all votes be equal, how do you encourage participation while discouraging gaming, etc.

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