Is Digg Broken?

Digg is a community-based website that allows its registered users to submit stories or articles that they feel might be of interest to others. Once submitted, the story appears as a link to the original source as well as a short description of the content. Other registered Digg users can then evaluate the content and either “Digg” or “Bury” the story depending on if they find it interesting or not. The theory is that those stories that get “Dugg” a lot will end up on the front page, while those that do not will vanish into obscurity.

The idea of having users rank content is a good one, but unfortunately Digg does not seem to work this way, which brings me to the point of this article. Digg is broken. Deliberately or not, it is failing to function in three very important ways:

1) Digg is censorship:
The way Digg figures out which story to promote to the front page is not based as much on how many people have “Dugg” it as it is on which particular user “Dugg” the story to begin with. If you are a user that is very active within the Digg community and have “Dugg” a large number of stories that end up being popular, the stories you “Digg” are far more likely to end up on the front page than stories that get “Dugg” by new users with no reputation.

Why is this a problem? Because when you go to Digg, you are only seeing links that a relatively small, elite group of Digg users want you to see. The vast majority of stories that get “Dugg” end up being relegated to obscurity because they were “Dugg” by average, everyday users and not the Digg elite.

2) Digg users are nasty:
When a story gets “Dugg” users have the ability to comment on it. Not only are these comments usually of little to no actual value, but they are often cruel and nasty as well. For a case in point look here.

The “Dugg” story reads:
When a California woman recently gave birth to a healthy baby just two days after learning she was pregnant, the sudden change to her life was challenging enough. What April Branum definitely didn’t need was a deluge of nasty Internet comments.
Nasty Digg user “Antifreese11″ commments:
wow legal action for voicing our opinions. what the fu** is America coming too. And really, they are trying to get us to sympathize with a fat slob who didn’t realize she was pregnant for 9 months? What kind of piece of sh** article is this. This is the most ridiculous thing i have read all week.

I’m the first to defend free speech, but the nasty comments that are so pervasive in Digg does not build community; it destroys it! What I don’t think these mean-spirited commenters realize is that such harsh words actually serve to silence people, taking away their voice that is protected by the first amendment. They don’t comment because they don’t want to deal with the angry, childish comments spewed fourth by many Digg users.

3) Digg readers generate traffic that is of minimal use to web publishers:
Having a story show up on the front page of Digg can generate an amazing amount of traffic to the author’s website. As a rule, this is a wonderful thing for any web publisher, but not so with Digg. The reason for this has to do with the way many sites earn money. Web publishers often make use of advertising on their site such as Google’s Adsense or Yahoo’s YPN. These ad services present visitors with contextual ads that they can click on should one of them seem useful. Each time a visitor clicks on an ad, the owner of the website earns some money for the referral.

Digg users almost NEVER click on ads!

I am in a position to have the actual statistics for three individual sites that use advertising and have had stories appear on the front page of Digg.

CTR stands for “Click Through Ratio” and is a measure of what percentage of visitors click through on an ad.
ECPM is a measure of an ad’s effective earnings per thousand impressions.


Example #1
Average CTR and ECPM:         CTR = 3.03%         ECPM = $2.57
CTR and ECMP on Digg day:     CTR = 0.79%         ECPM = $1.10

Example #2
Average CTR and ECPM:         CTR = 2.93%         ECPM = $1.35
CTR and ECMP on Digg day:     CTR = 0.86%         ECPM = $0.67

Example #3
Average CTR and ECPM:         CTR = 4.12%         ECPM = $3.80
CTR and ECMP on Digg day:     CTR = 0.28%         ECPM = $0.47

Which ads are shown to visitors and how Google or Yahoo decides which sites get the best paying ads to present is proprietary technology, but there seems to be a correlation with higher paying ads being presented on sites that have a high CTR. When a story gets “Dugg” the overall traffic goes WAY up, but the CTR goes WAY down, meaning Adsense or YPN most likely conclude the ads that are being presented are not targeting correctly. The theory goes that they then change out the higher paying ads that are being presented for lower paying ones so they can try to get them targeting well again. This is disastrous for the web publisher because the ads often don’t start performing well again for several days, even after the Digg traffic dies down.

To be fair, however, it is important to note that traffic is traffic and anytime a large number of people read a story the author is much more likely to receive incoming links, resulting in the all-important increase to Google rank. Still, one has to consider if gaining a few incoming links is worth the other headaches that come with being “Dugg”. Many people, for instance, experience major problems with their hosting provider when they receive all the traffic that Digg generates.

Digg is not pure evil, and despite all its problems, the service does seem to offer some value to its readers. I do have to call into question, however, the wisdom of web publishers making an effort to get onto Digg’s front page. I would conclude by strongly encouraging the architects of Digg to think long and hard about their strategic goals. The internet works best when it is used as a leveler to give everyone a voice on an even playing field. Digg’s tendency to reward its elite users, while silencing those who are less active runs counter to this principle and indicates serious moral problems with its design.

4 thoughts on “Is Digg Broken?

  1. Pingback: « NOUMENON :: Art, Ideas, Culture & Capricious Opinion

  2. To be fair, however, it is important to note that traffic is traffic and anytime a large number of people read a story the author is much more likely to receive incoming links, resulting in the all-important increase to Google rank. Still, one has to consider if gaining a few incoming links is worth the other headaches that come with being ‘Dugg’.

    In general I agree. However, I think you underestimate the number of links. I was on the front page of digg and I recieved thousands of links back which has resulted in tons of residual traffic.

    In addition, the article that was dugg, consequently was ranked high on stumbleupon. Stumbleupon users stay twice as long on my site and and look at 3 times as many pages.

  3. Hi

    I am working on a site which try to solve many of the problems with digg.com.
    You can find it on http://crowdnews.eu.

    The main problem with digg is the voting system.
    When only top voted stories get on the front page it has
    to be a subject that many can relate to,
    which result in stories with a low information content.

    Crowdnews solves this by using sharing instead of voting.
    Every have a personal news page on which they can subscribe to other users and when those users share stories they will appear on the personal news page.

    Join me on CrowdNews

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