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Web 2.0

Digg Removes Top Diggers List

By hagrin - Posted on 02 February 2007

Kevin Rose announced today that Digg will be removing their "Top Diggers" list in order to combat Digg gaming.

First, let's praise Digg and Kevin Rose for being open enough to admit that Digg gaming is a serious problem if only in perception. Admitting that there is a potential problem definitely deserves credit and talking about the issue in a public manner shows a level of corporate transparency that I appreciate (I wish more companies could follow suit *ahem* Google *ahem*). Although many will debate exactly what the impact of the decision will be, it's definitely a step in the right direction because ranking systems always end up creating a competitive atmosphere leading to mass submissions (creating signal to noise ratio issues), potential Digg gaming and the ability of the few to influence the masses.

However, there's a lot to be concerned about when Digg's founders state that they "strongly believe attempts to game Digg are ineffective". I'm sorry, but the evidence that Digg followers have gathered about friends Digging other people's stories 100% of the time, domains being unfairly banned through over submission, top diggers getting duplicates promoted when others have submitted the same story and other issues show that Digg can be successfully gamed. I have seen SEO forum posts where post creators ask for readers to exchange diggs for certain articles. For Digg to acknowledge the issue and then proclaim it a non-factor should definitely raise red flags to the attentive reader.

What are the impacts of this change?

First, whenever you remove a "competitive incentive", you'll see user contribution decline - not exactly a desired effect when dealing with a social news website. This effect probably will be negligible, but it will occur as people can't see their name on the Top Diggers list. Second, users will no longer be able to blindly add Top Diggers to their friends list and will probably be more encouraged to befriend those users that have similar beliefs and viewpoints. However, Top Diggers from before this move will still have their loyal following so long as they still contribute to Digg, they will be able to influence which stories receive Front Page prosperity. Third, there will be very little effect in terms of eliminating Digg gaming. Many Digg applications have been developed such as average user comment ratings so Digg page scraping is already occurring (Digg APIs are floating around that make it easy for the average programmer to provide this information). Therefore, it's forseeable that those intending to game Digg will be able to still identify volume submitters and potentially influence which stories they submit and digg. In addition, top diggers weren't necessarily the "gaming" problem source as it was more with the lower users and networks built through communities outside of Digg.

With all these things being said, it's still the right move by the Digg leadership. With social news sites where a single voice should be able to influence what readers see, taking out "competition" between users will definitely end up a step in the right direction. Digg will be able to find other ways to offer incentives to their power users in the future that will be more beneficial than publically displaying their Digg rank. I look forward to seeing how Digg rewards its power users (disclosure: I am not one of the power users) and the overall, long-run impact of this change.

Does Digg Belong in Google's Index?

By hagrin - Posted on 04 January 2007

I have to thank Search Engine Journal for posing one of the better questions so far of 2007 - does Digg belong in Google's index? (Actually, as you read the SEJ article, Allen Stern seems to have posed this question first.)

So, Does Digg belong in Google's search index?

First, a lot of people have weighed in on this topic since the initial people posed this subject and almost all of them are just plain wrong not because of where they sit on the issue, but more because the facts they used to support their arguments do not make sense or are completely false. What are some of the arguments for both sides and what are the misconceptions?

Pros

  • Helping Users Find Content - This would be the strongest argument for including Digg results within the Google index. Although many people seem to be incorrectly using the term "pagerank" (see here), the general idea is solid. Some pages on lesser authoritative sites (based on not only PR, but backlinks, keyword density, domain age, robots.txt exclusions, etc.) that hold the original content may get lost in the Google index and having the Digg result appear in the index improves the chance that the Google user will find the content he/she is looking to find. Generally, the rule states that you want to do anything that improves the user experience and helping users find the content they need should be the goal of any search engine.
  • Digg Mirroring - One of the greatest benefits of having the Digg version of a story appear in the search results is if a story disappears from the original site, very often the Digg comments will contain a link to a mirror of the original content keeping it alive past just the lifespan of the original website. However, would the average user know that? Obviously, no since most average users have never even clicked on the "Cached" link within the Google search results.
  • Don't Like It? Customize Google - Many people suggested using the -site: digg.com command with all your searches; however that's extremely inefficient unless you're using a Greasemonkey script. But why not just create your own Custom Search Engine and put Digg on your excluded sites list? The fix is easy and more people should really take advantage of the CSE offering from Google.

    Cons

  • Other Indices Do Not Exist within Google SERPs - Probably the most compelling argument for why Digg shouldn't be included in the Google search results is that other indicies, like Yahoo!'s search results do not appear in the Google index. This is obvious because search indices don't have "value added" or original content - they contain the page's title and a short description. Of course you're saying - but is Digg an index? Many will argue that yes, Digg is nothing more than an informative/popular index of links. Although there are no hard numbers to confirm this, it would appear that most Digg stories are submitted with the title and the description 100% copied from the original, linked site. Even if we could prove the previous statement, many would say that the comments associated to the Digg submission provides the original content to differentiate itself from other indices. However, the prevailing opinion of the Digg commenting system is so low that many, including myself, consider it broken, highly useless and completely inferior to similar sites like Slashdot.
  • I'm Tired of Clicking - Another popular argument seems to hold that the user experience is diminished because to actually reach the desired content the user is looking for by having to click on the Google search result and then the title on the Digg page. In addition, users unfamiliar with the Digg interface may not understand that the content actually exists after one more "hop". Although the Digg interface is similar to the Google interface (a blue link followed by a short description), I would like to see the functionality improved to something like Reddit's RSS feed where the direct link takes you to the original story and there is a "More" option to read through Reddit comments - something I almost never do.
  • Original Content < Digg Scraped Content? - As a webmaster, I see something inherently wrong with what amounts to no more than a user powered scraper site ranking higher in Google SERPs than the original content. However, it's important that this is not a deficiency of Digg, but more a "feature" of Google's search indexing algo.
  • Duplicate Content - Let's say that the original content URL and the Digg link both appear within the Top 10 results for a search term. How is duplicate content enhancing the user experience? Answer - it's not. There's little difference between this scenario and those generated by spam blogs.

    Misconceptions

  • Digg is more informative than most sites - The Digg fanboys will be all over this point, but the fact remains that many of the stories submitted to Digg are either blog spam, incorrect or written by authors looking to profit through their site. The reason why Digg attracts a high percentage of these types of sites is because of Digg's power - its massive, fanatical user base, the backlinks a promoted story will receive and the other benefits that relate to increasing your site's popularity. However, just because something is popular doesn't mean that it should be considered an "authoritative source" for certain topics. This isn't a problem specific to Digg, but to much of the Internet and its users - no one is sure exactly who they should trust.

    Conclusion
    So, if you've been reading carefully, you've noticed that I haven't taken a side. Where do I stand on the issue? Simple - create and use Google's Custom Search Engine option. Now, Google has to do a better job of promoting this highly valuable tool to "Joe Internet" because many of the usability issues deal with the average user and the CSE option isn't known by more than 1% of the Internet population I would gather (percentage not based on any facts, just perception). How could it be made more mainstream? If you've ever used a site like Match.com to look for hot steamy love, you can filter out your searches by eliminating certain people from continually showing up in search results with a simple click of an X. Google could implement something similar and save those preferences based on a user the same way they save search history, CSE optimizations, etc. Therefore, whether or not you agree or disagree with Digg's inclusion, you should know that you can put your own solution into action and determine Digg's influence in your Google searches.

  • Web 2.0 Design Guide

    By hagrin - Posted on 22 December 2006

    Although I believe that each website should have its own individualistic design and feel, having well-written guides for inspiration and to see what the rest of the industry seems to find attractive (on the whole) can often be useful. One of the best Web 2.0 design guides that I have read in a long time was produced by the owners of Web Design from Scratch.

    What makes this design guide better than all the rest is its in-depthness, layout, information given, topics covered and clear presentation. First, the entire article, which is very detailed, is presented on a single page. This can't be understated since there has been an increase in websites attempting to increase advertising revenue and clickthroughs by taking a guide/review and splitting it up into several pages so more ads and pageviews can be counted. Next, a clear and simple Table of Contents exists at the top of the article for navigational ease again adding to the terrific presentation.

    Most importantly is the content provided. The presentation concepts for the nebulous term of Web 2.0 are captured pretty concisely and backed up with examples that don't all just look the same. Icons, gradients, fonts, color schemes and other Web 2.0 "concepts" are not only explained, but the reader is also given a few contrasting examples to see different ways that a technique can be implemented. Definitely check this guide out to spur some design ideas.

    Digg Comment System Improvements for v4

    By hagrin - Posted on 19 August 2006

    Call me "obsessed much" and I would agree with you. My interest in Digg isn't to bash it or degrade it, but to make Digg the most valuable resource for technical information on the Internet due to its sophisticated ranking system, active user base and ability to pull in information from all over the Internet. However, especially since the release of Digg v3, I have become more and more irritated with the way Digg seems to be shaping itself and would like to point out the issues and point out some possible solutions/improvements. I would post this on somewhere other than my blog, but Digg doesn't really give their users a forum to discuss topics like these in-depth (we all hate blog spam). First, what I see "wrong" with Digg -

    The "What's Wrong" -
    1) Digg's comment meta moderation doesn't work -

    • All users have the same weighted voice - if a comment is posted at the beginning that "sounds" smart, uninformed users will think that post is factually correct and the comment will be "dugg" up. In fact, a correction could come later and the correction will not be dugg as high since it wasn't posted in a timely fashion in some instances. In several cases, the incorrect post is difficult to correct due to the number of positive diggs resulting from the placement of the comment, the fact that people mindlessly digg comments that already have a lot of diggs (i.e. "group think"), and that people who previously thought the comment was accurate cannot correct their vote.
    • First comments get moderated more - the moderation system is uneven for the order of posts to a story. Due to the huge volume of even first page stories, people rarely have time to read all the comments associated to a story and only the comments near the top of the page are moderated with any type of frequency. I call this phenomenon the "commenting flurry" that occurs when a post hits the front page.
    • Wasted diggs - what is the difference between +5 diggs or +125 diggs? Since people browse generally not to see negative posts or minimal negative posts (most browse at +0 or higher), positive diggs past a certain point are superfluous since they don't change user commenting weight or the reader's experience.
    • People get "dugg" up for asking "dumb" questions - you should not be dugg up for contributing a simplistic question to the conversation. In some cases, the question is dugg higher than the informative answer. For instance, someone may ask what a technical term means and receives more positive diggs than the actual, very informative answer which is inherently wrong. This phenomenon, plus other comment rating issues, makes browsing comments at a level higher than +0 diggs impossible without losing valuable content that exists within story-based comments.

    2) Digging to Read Later - The other day I saw a story hit the front page RSS feed that only had 100 diggs, no comments and the site was experiencing the "Digg" effect (when a site effectively gets DDoSd into submission and the story no longer loads). However, since the topic is interesting, users have started to use Digg as a "social bookmarking" application and effectively throwing off the ranking/weighting system that is at the belly of how Digg works (however, many argue that Digg is in fact a self-proclaimed bookmarking system; although, I would argue the bookmarking mindset directly interferes with how the rest of Digg works). Although a very useful and smart action from the user perspective, this bookmarking action actually throws off the integrity of the Digg ranking/weighting system. A great example of this can be found here. If a story is Dugg to the point of throwing 404 errors and hundreds of people want to bookmark an article based on title alone, what will prevent baseless, incorrect, sensational stories from hitting the front page if they have well-written, interest catching headlines?

    The Possible Solutions -
    Generally, it's good practice that when you point out a problem that you offer a solution. So, here's the best ideas I came up with over the last month or so while raiding the train to and from work every morning -

    1) Users need the ability to create their own authoritative universe - Yikes, that was a mouthful. This idea is an extension of the "Friends and Foes" idea from *gasp* Slashdot *gasp*. However, where Slashdot gets it wrong due to their awful interface and failure to take the idea to the next step, I propose a more dynamic way of altering the way comments are displayed to the user. The idea generally revolves around the following logic:

    • User A diggs up or down a comment and/or story of User B's (Edit: As one commenter (ok, the only one) has pointed out, this solution isn't really meant for stories as much as it is the commenting system.)
    • Based on those diggs, future comments or stories posted by User B would appear promoted or demoted (i.e. weighted) to User A creating a custom "Digg experience" that evolves as the user contributes to Digg
    • This would eliminate the need for users to "ban" problem users and preserve threaded replies to previously banned users (currently, if you ban a user, you will also "lose" the comments made in threaded reply to that banned user)

    What problems does this solve? Well, digging up or down posts that have already been firmly entrenched (i.e. have +/- 20 diggs already) are still worthwhile to input your opinion which solves the "wasted diggs" problem. In addition, this could potentially solve the incorrectly dugg up and dumb questions problems as you continually mod up or down other users and your "own universe" on Digg evolves to provide you with the most efficient output possible. Obviously, this would be a feature that you could turn on and off as you may want to see highly rated posts by everyone else, but this feature provides users like myself the ability to shape Digg and create de facto "authoritative sources".

    2) Make Further Use of the Friends Feature - As a corollary to the above, if you make someone a friend, a user will not need to go through the process of digging up User B's comments and would just need to make them a friend to weight them positively.

    3) Require Users to Click on the Article Link - Before being allowed to Digg an article, force users to have to click on the article link before being able to digg its content. This should at least prevent the "mindless" digg where users digg stories that they haven't at least tried to read (the page could have 404'd but that's near impossible to track). The drawback to this solution would be that this could "destroy" the bookmarking aspect of Digg, but I would argue that it would be a worthwhile feature to separate outside of actually digging an article.

    4) Provide Users a Bookmarking Option Separate from Digging a Story - Since many users love Digg for the bookmarking functionality it provides (and solutions should not remove useful features, but improve them), Digg should think about providing a stand alone bookmarking feature that exists outside of digging an article. This would keep the integrity of the weighting/digging system in tact while still allowing users to "tag" an article if they cannot read a story at work or the article's web server is under the Digg Effect.

    Hopefully, some of these ideas can pickup momentum and maybe we'll see them implemented for v4. However, I'm worried that one of the best tools I have for keeping up with technological news and information is steadily becoming cluttered and noisy and I have found myself looking for a more efficient alternative. Again, I apologize for the blog spam; however, without a better alternative, this seemed like the best method to get those ideas out there.

    The Increasing Irrelevance of Digg.com

    By hagrin - Posted on 05 August 2006

    I'm not usually one to bash a website that completely dominates anything I have ever done, but I feel the need to vent since I feel as if I have lost one of the better tools I had.

    Digg.com, a social community, recently expanded its range of approved topics from strictly a technical site to a fully functional, talk about basically everything site. While the tech part was so highly successful that "digg" is becoming a recognized verb (much as "google" was recognized recentl by Websters), the recent additions of new categories (especially the political section) has increased the noise to signal ratio and the effects have been disasterous.

    For those who need bullets, the new categories have caused the following problems:

    • The main RSS feed is now useless - with almost 200 stories making it to the front page every day (according to the rss/index.xml feed), the sheer amount of stories makes reading all that content basically unreadable. There's too much noise and too often, I find myself almost missing high quality content because it is sandwiched around left or right wing political propoganda.
    • Increasing Duplicate Content - I have also noticed a major trend where front page stories are actually hitting other sites well before they hit Digg. One such site, Reddit, I have noticed that most of the better political discussions will later be cross-posted to Digg. While many will reply with "But I don't read Reddit", the problem is I, and many others, do and the duplicates cause another source of noise. Don't think dupes are a problem? Just search most Digg and Slashdot comments - you're bound to see the Dupe Patrol hard at work.
    • Millions of Visitors, but Rarely Thousands of Diggs - Although you can't expect everyone to sign up for a free service and contribute content, the disparity between the number of site visitors versus users who actually contribute to Digg is growing daily. In fact, as offers have popped up from Netscape trying to steal the top Digg contributors, one has to wonder what would happen if you took away the major contributors from Digg and exactly how the community would fill in the gaps. Also, even though stories should promote to the front page based on what the "masses" prefer reading or find valuable, very rarely do stores get over a few thousand Diggs meaning that the actual sample size might be much lower than most think. With the new categories, Digg has seen more users, but the amount of comments and actual user cntribution doesn't seem to grown at the same rate.

    So what now for Digg? Honestly, nothing. There is no way they will revert back to the old Digg which focused only on technical content. Techies do not click on ads and venturing into areas outside of tech news on Digg should increase the clicks per page impressions on their ads which should increase their revenue. Digg is building a very fanatical user base, but will they stay so zealous if other, more powerful, more transparent social information sharing sites come along?

    Internet Hype and its Value

    By hagrin - Posted on 05 August 2006

    I recently added Reddit as one of my RSS feeds and it finally paid off with an interesting article. Jakob Nielsen wrote an article, "Hyped Web Stories Are Irrelevant", which talks a lot about the Web 1.0 and the current Web 2.0 "bubbles" and how much of the discussion matter being discussed daily really plays no major role in the shaping of the Internet's future. He uses Google's share price, AOL's potential mergers and the power of bloggers versus mainstream media as examples of overhyped stories.

    This article really had me thinking about the merit of posting news like I currently do as opposed to just focusing on a service that will provide real benefit to the community. Since there are places like Digg, Slashdot and others, do readers really need another tech blog that offers only marginal insight into current tech stories being discussed around the web? What should the real purpose of Hagrin.com be in the long run?

    Tom (z6) and myself have been throwing around ideas for quite a while to expand the services of Hagrin.com and article like this really opens up my eyes as to the real value of the web - information through services. It's not enough to offer up information (i.e. like WikiPedia who is steadliy becoming the online encyclopedia of choice), but to provide a service that is wrapped around that information. Hagrin.com needs to shift its business model into this frame of thinking so any ideas or suggestions are welcome.

    Add Digg News to Your Website

    By hagrin - Posted on 05 August 2006

    The guys over at Digg have created an easy to use application that creates the code necessary for you to dynamically generate Digg content on your own site. This is a great feature for many sites that are looking to create some content for their site and drive certain stories otherwise unposted to their site. I applaud Digg for opening up their site and information like this especially during the days of content scraping which is the process of web crawlers taking your original content and stealing it by displaying that content as their own. I am incorporating Digg content on my site; however, I like to think that the quality of the articles posted here far exceed that at Digg which is constantly spammed with dupes and useless blogs.

    Del.icio.us as a Search Engine?

    By hagrin - Posted on 05 August 2006

    Cre8d Design has a great post concerning using social bookmarking sites as search engines. The concept is interesting because human intervention had previously been frowned upon because of the exploitation factor. However, the article clearly demonstrates through an example how some search results are extremely more relevant through del.icio.us than through super power Google. Also, the author talks about a link vs. a bookmark and the power associated to both. It's an interesting debate as to the power of each where (personally) I think the power of the bookmark really is more powerful than the link in terms of defining how useful a page is. Whether a link or a bookmark generates more traffic is probably subjective, but a bookmark (at least in my computer using habits) clearly marks a page I value higher than something I link to on this blog.

    Slashdot Dying Discussion

    By hagrin - Posted on 05 August 2006

    I usually don't get this fired up over a website, but a recent discussion about how Slashdot will fall in 2006 has really rubbed in a way that few stories do. I've posted a whole bunch of comments there and they are a good read for what a blogger actually posts on other sites.

    At the crux of the issue is whether or not Slashdot is dieing from conspiracy theories, bad editors, bad stories and submitter spam. However, with very simple changes that are almost seemless to the end user, Slashdot can address these issues with minor changes and actually using the moderator points assigned to posters the correct way.

    Looking for Available Domain Names?

    By hagrin - Posted on 05 August 2006

    InstantDomainSearch is the best application availabel for searching available domain names. The application checks for the .com and .net suffixes for avialability as you type - no entering in visual confirmations, no pressing buttons and basically no waiting for an HTTP POST (another great AJAX application). Great tool.