TAG: Digg

Digg’s Design Dilemma Redux

Digg continues to improve their interface to counteract gaming. How they have evolved the site over the last year provides good design insight for anybody working on social web apps.


Back in Sep 2006, the social news site Digg was coming under massive scrutiny because of claims of gaming the system by a group of 30 or so Top Diggers. In my post Digg’s Design Dilemma I argued that the members of Digg were not to blame…the design of the site was.

Now when I say “blame” I don’t mean they deserved punishment. I mean that the design was enabling the behavior, in some cases it was even promoting it. The diggers were simply doing what their environment allowed them to do.

Since then, Digg has made some subtle interface tweaks that help to curtail gaming activity. These changes were made over time. (I’m only just now writing them up) They highlight some of the challenges of having a growing user base with active participants.

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How does Strategy affect Design?

Luke Wroblewski shares a discussion on the ambiguous role of the designer:

Client: “Performance metrics, market landscape, product strategy? You don’t sound much like a designer. Shouldn’t we be discussing color options and page templates?”

Designer: “Design is the physical, or in this case digital, manifestation of your product strategy. Of course we could define your customers’ experience with ‘paint by number’. But I think you’d agree we should figure out what you want to say to your customers and why before we dive into how we’re going to say it.”

There are two ways to view Design here.

If you view it as creating interfaces to content, then you might stop short of talking about strategy. Instead, you would focus on how to display what you’ve got. Typography, grids, information hierarchy, big buttons, huge fonts, navigation bars, etc.

The other view that Luke alludes to is one that I believe we are moving toward, necessarily: having the designers in the strategy discussion alongside the “business strategy” people talking about the “what” as well as the “how”. (btw: this is the “strategy” part of the Bokardo Design: Interface design & strategy for social web applications). I would be doing both myself and my clients a disservice if I ignored how their business strategy can drive the design. A designer has done their job well when they have created an honest implementation of that business strategy.

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Real world gamed?

Techmeme creator Gabe Rivera in an interview at Wired:

“The way I view it, Techmeme is gamed continuously because the real world is gamed continuously: Gamed in the sense that bloggers have always traded links and various other gestures of attention, sometimes through unspoken agreements, sometimes not. This was going on before my sites arrived, though these kinds of things can affect Techmeme. It’s hard to say how much.”

(my emphasis added)

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Live by the Digg, Die by the Digg

On Wednesday, May 2, users of the site Digg.com, a social news site, did something remarkable in the history of the Social Web. What they did was seize editorial control of the site: what content appeared on the home page of Digg, for the first time, was truly decided by its users.

If you aren’t familiar with the details, here is a quick recap. ReadWriteWeb also had a nice timeline of events.

There are two ways you can look at this incident whereby Diggers overwhelmed the site by repeatedly (up to two per second) digging stories containing an HD-DVD crack code.

One is as described by Mike Arrington of Techcrunch: Digg Surrenders to Mob. Simply using the word “Mob” makes for great press. We gravitate to mobs because we know they’re messing with the Man. They’re anti-authority, they’re doing what they’re not supposed to, they’re pissed and fighting for their rights. We think of the French or Russian or American Revolution, and we like it.

But maybe, just maybe, mobs aren’t that bad. Terry Heaton had an insightful observation: “What I find most fascinating here is the automatic assumption that chaos is evil. This is a purely modernist perspective, but life itself proves it to be false.” He argues that the so-called Mob was more like the site at its finest…that a Mob is nothing more than democracy at high speed. I tend to agree with this.

The other way to look at the situation is as I described it: Digg Surrenders to Community. The difference is in those two words: Mob and Community. Now, I wasn’t being as calculated as Mike was being, I’m sure, but when realizing the stark contrast afterward it occurred to me that you either acknowledge the voice of the people on Digg as a group, or you do not. You either view them as a passionate Community, or you view them as a anarchic Mob.

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Digg Surrenders to Community

The Digg community taking down it’s own site.

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How Aggregate Displays Change User Behavior

A fascinating study demonstrates how simply displaying aggregate data like Top 10 lists heavily influences the way people make decisions on social web sites.

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Designing Relationships

Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Doc Searls, in the must-read Building an Relationship Economy:

‘”All markets work at three levels”, he said. “Transactions, conversations and relationships”. Eric is an atheist. Sayo is a Christian. With those two triangulating so similarly on the same subject, I began to figure there was something more to this relationship business.’

Doc starts this excellent piece by wondering what we can learn about economy from open-source practices. A lot, it seems. When we look at something like the incredible creation of Linux, what does that tell us about what we value and why and how we get stuff done?

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Is there an Example of a Scalable Taxonomy?

Kevin Gamble (via Dave Weinberger):

“Is there any living, breathing example of a taxonomic approach working (scaling) to keep-up with the hyper-efficiency we see in peer-production systems? I’m being quite serious here. Can you point me to a working model?.”

Why is this an important question?

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New York Times Goes Social

From the Seattle PI: “The New York Times unveiled a new service today that allows readers to quickly post stories that they find on the newspaper’s Web site to Digg, Facebook and Newsvine. It marks the first time that the country’s third-largest newspaper has added a news-sharing tool to its Web site, allowing readers to […]

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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 […]

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