This post was authored by a guest author, my good friend and a great blogger Stan Schroeder.
When Digg formally unbanned twenty or so previously banned sites I kept a close eye on them, just to see how well they will do and will any of them be banned again.
As it turns out, those sites are – for all practical purposes – still banned. Digg Search for URL of any of these sites in the last 7 days will yield no results. But if you include buried stories, you’ll see that many stories from these sites were submitted, and subsequently buried before they could reach the front page.
Now, one could say that it’s to be expected: after all, these sites were banned for some reason, so some Digg users will be likely to bury them again. However, look closely to the results of these searches:
Absolutely all stories submitted from these domains are buried (by buried I don’t mean that a couple of users buried them, I mean that they’re gone from all the lists on Digg, and thus have had absolutely no exposure). Furthermore, many are buried at less than a couple of votes. Only two stories, submitted 6 days ago and having only one vote, weren’t buried (that’s 2 in at least 30), which gave me an interesting opportunity. I buried these stories myself (this won’t hurt anyone, since these are old stories with no chance of ever getting more exposure). One vote was all it took to make them buried.
Now, any experienced digger will surely tell you that this is very odd. First of all, it takes quite a few buries for a story to get buried completely. It’s hard to estimate this number but I’m positive that a story in the upcoming section can withstand 5 buries and still get to the front page of Digg (and this is a conservative estimate).
Secondly, the users who Digg through the upcoming stories section are rarely being negative; they’re looking for the good stuff, not stories to bury. Most of the buries (if a story is not obvious spam/racially insulting/porn/political extremism) will come when the story reaches the hot lists in the upcoming sections, or actually gets to the front page.
Thirdly, many of these stories have absolutely no reason whatsoever to be buried. A story about Google Blogger being unavailable, or a story about fast growing occupations for college educated workers might receive a couple of buries – as can every story on Digg, but are they really so bad that several users buried them while there were still at 1 or 2 points? I highly doubt it.
Hypothetical part starts here
So, what’s happening here? My guess (which might not be correct, since I have no insight into Digg’s algorithms) would be that Digg admins introduced some kind of bury-weight system for websites. Domains who were previously banned, or perhaps got many buries in the past, will get buried very easily – perhaps just one or two buries is enough.
If this is true, it’s an awful decision from Digg. Now any digger who holds a grudge against one of those sites can keep their stories from ever reaching Digg’s front page – and he/she can do it alone (or perhaps with a help of one or two friends). The potential for abuse is so big that I’m sure that many a digger will pick on these vulnerable sites just to see how his vote sinks their stories to oblivion.
Now, I’m not going into whether these sites deserve to be buried. But enabling selective abuse with no consequences is no way to treat a community (and websites that get posted on Digg are also a part of this community or ecosystem, if you will).
There are numerous other possibilities as to why this happens. Perhaps a story can get buried if Digg’s algorithms decide that a group is always voting on a story, as John Chow proposed? Initially I’ve dismissed this theory as ludicrous: it would go against the friends system on Digg, and it would mean that your friends should avoid digging your story, which makes no sense. I still don’t believe that John’s hypothesis is correct, but everything is possible as there’s clearly something odd happening here.
Finally, there’s the possibility that there’s a group of users actively burying stories from these previously banned websites. I find this very hard to believe, though. Some of these websites were off Digg for a long time. Most Diggers have already forgotten about some of them. Furthermore, what group of diggers is so active that they can monitor upcoming stories 24/7 and bury these stories with about 95% success?
Whatever the reason, I don’t like how the new system works. It’s obvious that some stories won’t get to the front page and it’s not going to based at all on their quality, but on a bunch of factors that only Digg admins can understand. I guess they have reasons for changing their algorithms in this way, but I also believe they should be looking at the bigger picture and focusing only on getting quality stories to the front page.