Yes Virginia, there is SPAM on Digg

When social design works, you get SPAM. When it works well, the community helps get rid of it. Cnet’s Elinor Mills, in a piece describing Digg rigging on a wide scale, writes: “dubious Internet marketers are planting stories, paying people to promote items, and otherwise trying to manipulate rankings on Digg and other so-called social-media […]

When social design works, you get SPAM. When it works well, the community helps get rid of it.

Cnet’s Elinor Mills, in a piece describing Digg rigging on a wide scale, writes:

“dubious Internet marketers are planting stories, paying people to promote items, and otherwise trying to manipulate rankings on Digg and other so-called social-media sites like Reddit and Delicious to drum up more links to their Web sites and thus more business, experts say.”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, at this point. (see Brian Clarke’s writeup) Digg’s gaming issues have been widely known for many months now. In Digg’s Design Dilemma, I pointed out that the design of the site had a lot to do with the gaming going on there. But, I should add, it also had a lot to do with the growth of the site…so there’s no clear answer about what to do.

It’s becoming clear that any successful site sees its share of gaming. Even Del.icio.us, who refused to comment on the Mills story, has seen gaming. And this is the way that media has worked for a long time. Who controls the media controls the story. That’s why we’re seeing so much SPAM/gaming…we should expect it in any successful social site.

Real money changing hands

It’s getting to the point where real money is changing hands to game Digg. Mills writes:

“Companies charge as much as $15,000 to get content up on Digg, said Neil Patel, chief technology officer at the Internet marketing firm ACS. If a story becomes popular on Digg and generates links back to a marketer’s Web site, that site may rise in search engine results and will not have to spend money on search advertising, he said.”

I think the observation is interesting, the inference shaky. There are people who think that all they need to do is to game Digg for their advertising? Is there any example of a company who survives on Digg gaming alone? I doubt it.

(Update…Neil Patel, quoted in the story, blogs about how Mills has inaccurate info)

In addition, Mills quotes Barry Parr, who makes a controversial comment, to say the least:

“Digg and others are working hard to deal with this kind of abuse,” Jupiter Research analyst Barry Parr wrote on his blog this week. “But until it is eliminated, the credibility of social-news sites will be in question.”

Credibility in Question?

Hmmm…let’s compare this to another abusive environment where we might have questions about credibility. I wonder if the lobbying in Washington is hurting the credibility of the U.S. government. Until lobbying by Big Oil and Big Pharma and Big Insurance goes away, the credibility of our government will be in question. Ha! It may be true, but that doesn’t mean it will be going away any time soon, or that over time it lessens…at this point most people simply accept evil interests as part of the deal. I think maybe we should accept that SPAM will be an ongoing problem for social sites…after all, they’re social sites.

So, let’s agree right now. The credibility of social news sites will always be in question, OK? And, for that matter, so it should be for non-social news sites!

Nobody said that putting the “social” in play on web sites would mean an end to corrupt behavior. In fact, the opposite may be true. As we model real-life behavior better and better online, as we open up communication channels and people increasingly live their social lives online, we’re going to model every part of those lives…the good and the bad.

What to do about it?

But what can we do about it? I think the answer comes from the community of the site. At some point you cannot rely on algorithms to do your SPAM harvesting for you, you have to rely on the wisdom of real people, because SPAMmers are really smart. Hopefully, crowds are smarter.

To this end both Digg and Reddit claim to have strong communities that self-police. They help drive out SPAM when they recognize it as such, burying stories that don’t seem right. Digg CEO Jay Adelson says:

“There is technical information that only we could know that flags us when someone is attempting to manipulate (stories and rankings)…By merging the algorithms and the people I believe we have a foolproof system.”

“Foolproof”?…I wonder what he means by that…

Published: December 5th, 2006

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