A: I wrote an article about Digg once for Columbia Journalism Review. In it I explain how I got started. At first I used Digg spy to find new story ideas (back then it was easy to watch the Digg Spy — it wasn’t as chaotic as it is now).
And then – on my first submission I got to the front page. After that, I got hooked – for two reasons. First – as a journalist it’s nice to know that what you read is interesting to other people. The second reason, I got hooked because of the game aspect of Digg which is based on your social relationship with others in the Digg community. Back then you couldn’t tell who was your friend unless it was mutual. ie: If I put you down as a friend, you wouldn’t know it unless you went to my page and saw who I had friended. But, if were both friends, it would show two stars on our pages – showing that the friendship was mutual. So you were often hunting for mutual friendships. It was through this that I found that lots of diggers have specific niche fields of interest. I began to watch Roy Shestowitz, for example, to find out what was new in the open source world. I followed Aidenag to find out what was going on in the environment. I started using Digg as a news recommendation engine.
That has changed now that the community has gotten to be too large. I don’t use Digg to find new or breaking news. Instead, I find it’s a good place for odd or funny news, tutorials or random geeking out.
Q: How much time do you spend on Digg and other popular social media sites on a daily basis?
A: On Digg I try to submit 2 – 3 a day. I tend not to submit more than five, because I imagine that for some people that clogs up the upcoming queue. I personally don’t like people that submit 20 a day. That said (disclosure coming) I work for Propeller and a young news website called NewsTrust.net – where I spend more time. On Propeller I try to submit at least five stories a day. On NewsTrust I try to review 2 – 3 stories a day. The review process or NewsTrust.net is interesting because it requires critical thinking, so reviewing two or so stories there is similar to submitting 5-8 stories on Propeller.
Q: Along with a few other top users you played an instrumental part in the recent upheaval at Digg. Can you give us an overview of what happened in the run up to your collective decision to ‘revolt’?
A: Sure: The first thing I want to point out, and what was misconstrued time and again – this was not a “top digger versus little digger” situation. I know the algorithm change was the tipping point for the protest, but it was not the imputus. The real issues were about Digg’s inability to respond to emails that people sent in regards to banned accounts, auto-buried sites and secret editors. I don’t want to speak on behalf of everybody but as I see it all these aren’t a problem as long as Digg explains why they make these decisions. That was what bothered us. We had no way of knowing why certain sites or people were removed. All we wanted was a mode of communication.
It started as a Google Group to discuss if these issues. That turned into a blog post and an open letter to Jay and Kevin. My only regret is that there were two versions going around. The blog post was heavy handed, the open letter to Jay and Kevin was a bit more diplomatic. Unfortunately (and I take some of the blame for this) the two got confused when people would reference this letter to Kevin and Jay, making it sound like we were trying to revolt. In the open letter to Kevina and Jay we were asking for an explanation.
In the meantime we all gathered at The Drill Down and began chatting and eventually started a live podcast. It was during that podcast that we decided to take a small break from Digg until we heard back from Jay and Kevin.
Q: Eventually Jay Adelson and Kevin Rose made an appearance to take your questions, which is unprecedented. Do you see this as an admittance on their part that Digg is about the community and they have to step up to the plate and participate in their own creation?
A: Jay and Kevin showed up, which was great. The most important thing they said, which is really what we wanted – was that they will try and come up with an open means of communicating with the community in the future – so that we won’t have to stage this type of thing again every time a user is banned. I think Kevin and Jay always knew that the community is what powers Digg. I don’t think they’ve always done things in their power to show that they know this, but they do. I hope that after that event the other night it has been solified that running a community site includes keeping an open means of communication. That doesn’t mean giving out your phone number, it means responding to emails, setting up a forum. Something, anything that gives back – if somebody takes the time to send an email with a question, you should respond. The response doesn’t have to be what we were looking for, their response could be “these people deserved to be banned,” but at least then we would have a respond and would know that it was a valid move on their part.
A: Let’s hypothesise a little. Say Digg took their normal stance, locked down and held on tight. In that situation, would you be active at all on Digg today? If not, what would have brought you back?
Q: If Digg had locked down tight and never responded – I would not be active on Digg. And that’s not to say that the site is nothing without top diggers. The site has lots of users. But, without users (of all levels) the site is nothing. And if they can ignore the most active users (especially after complaints of banning users and secret editors) then I see nothing that would stop them from banning any user and ignoring all users – so I would simply put that point out to the community: Digg obviously won’t respond to us, why would they respond to you if you ever have a complaint, a technical bug or get banned.
The fact is, there are lots of other Digg-esque sites out there. None have the critical mass that Digg has, but they each have communities with specific feels and ethos. In truth, it would be Digg’s loss not to pay attention to the community (that goes for all level of Diggers, not just “top diggers”).
Q: Jay and Kevin both made clear that they have plans to open up dialog with the community. They mentioned a forum, a trouble ticket system and a regular town hall meeting. Do you think they’ll listen to the feedback they’ll get?
A: I hope so. That is stage two isn’t it. I’m fine taking them on faith that they want to listen and that up until now there just hasn’t been a system in place to go through all the noise. If there is some system in place, I don’t think they’d go through the trouble of implementing it and then not actually using it. I don’t think they are malicious in any way.
Q: One of the ways they could manage a 2-way conversation would be with a system similar to Google Webmaster Tools where users can login, register their domains and see any problems in a dashboard interface. What are your thoughts on a system like that?
A: I don’t know the Google webmaster tool that you are talking about specifically – but that sounds cool. I think the outside URLs is part of it. I know, for example, CopyBlogger claims to be one of the banned sites. It would be great if he could get a strong YES or NO answer – not just a “why would we do that?” response – which was what they said on the Drill Down (if memory serves). But for banned users – I don’t know if that would work.
Q: The new Digg algorithm seems to make it much more difficult for a story to make the frontpage with some requiring over 230 diggs. What do you think has changed in the algorithm? Is this social media site about being social any longer?
A: I actually am fine with the algorithm change. What Digg has always been about is the “wisdom of the crowds”. But now the crowd is a big larger than when we started – so the algorithm needs to be tweaked to take that into account. I actually think it’s a fine idea. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to account for each Digg users’ unique situation, but again – I’m fine giving it to them on faith. What I won’t give them is the lack of communication when these changes are going to occur and why.
Q: In the longterm I think Digg will put less and less emphasis on the frontpage and start recommending stories based on your Digg history. In my opinion this will probably kill Digg. Would you agree?
A: Not sure. I think there is something to the idea of recommending stories. That said – Digg is about the wisdom of the crowd. It is NOT about the wisdom of the algorithm to suggest news stories to me. I think there is space for that kind of shift. In fact, I know lots of people will welcome it, but in my mind that’s not what Digg has ever been about.</p>
Q: You are a vocal proponent on citizen journalism. Where do you see the future for this sector?
A: That’s a doozy! The space I work in is about pro-am journalism, where professionals and amateurs work together to do works of journalism together. The majority of projects that I have worked on can be found at http://www.newassignment.net/ – the idea here is actually to apply the wisdom of the crowds towards journalism. In that sense – I think Digg is part of that shift. Readers don’t just read the news – they help make and define the news. Social news sites like Digg, Propeller and NewsTrust.net make it easier to participate at a very basic level.
What is still hard is a system that will let people participate at a deeper and more meaningful level – what if people wanted to actually do interviews that had a chance at being published in a newspaper? Where can they do that? That’s what I am interested in – taking the same interaction that is found on social news sites – and finding a way to build on that to spur real innovation.