Digg’s Disincentive Highlights Social Design Issues Clearly

The changes that Digg made to its promotion algorithm are coming back to haunt them. Diggers are pushing back, and in doing so are highlighting the difficult challenges of social design. I chronicled Digg’s Design Dilemma back in September. At that point, after yet another claim of gaming had been made against them, Digg decided […]

The changes that Digg made to its promotion algorithm are coming back to haunt them. Diggers are pushing back, and in doing so are highlighting the difficult challenges of social design.

I chronicled Digg’s Design Dilemma back in September. At that point, after yet another claim of gaming had been made against them, Digg decided to alter its promotion algorithm to minimize the effect of the most popular Diggers…so that they didn’t have undue control over what was promoted to the home page. Digg had effectively changed the rules of its game.

Now, top Diggers are pushing back. Muhammad Saleem & Mark Johnson, two of Digg’s top users, wrote an open letter to the company complaining about the change. Here is their main argument:

“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.”

Here Muhammed and Mark make some very interesting points. They want to use Digg, but don’t feel like it is worth their time anymore. Notice the words they use: motivation, contributing, encouraging, disincentive…this is social design in its most raw form. And somewhat ironic because the users are the ones who are telling the designers how to motivate them.

So what’s the problem with the design? Not usability, not visuals, not interaction ambiguity. The issues are social ones, probably unpredictable in any straightforward way. This is as clear an indication as any that design is a different animal now that people live their social lives online.

Published: November 7th, 2006

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