Wired Reporter Buys Votes on Digg

Posted on March 1, 2007

Wired reporter Annalee Newitz has written an interesting story about buying votes on Digg with User/Submitter. Newitz says that buying votes helped her get a blog with pictures of crowds on Digg's front page. She created the blog just for this Digg experiment. If this blog had been more extensive and had more crowd photographs it may have been the kind of story that Boing Boing eventually picks up.

Newitz posted the story on Digg with the headline, "Why Are People Fascinated By Photographs of Crowds?" But no one cared and after 4.5 hours Newitz's story just sat there with only the one initial digg. So Newitz turned to User/Submitter, one of those pay for Digg votes services that isn't supposed to work.

Four and a half hours later, I was the only person who had dugg my story. That's when I hired a Digg-gaming service called User/Submitter, or U/S. This enterprise, run by one or more zealously anonymous individuals, advertises that it can help "submitters" get Digg stories noticed by paying "users" to digg them. There's a $20 sign-up fee and each digg costs $1, which gets split evenly between the service and the digger. U/S refunds money paid for any diggs the submitter doesn't get in a 48-hour period. I put down $450 for 430 diggs, but wound up getting refunded all but roughly $100 of that.
The U/S service worked well enough that non-payed Digg users started getting interested in the story and digging it. Newitz had 40 diggs on her story after 10 hours. Some clever Digg users didn't completely understand why there was so much interest in the story.
Ten hours after hiring U/S, I had 40 diggs. The vast majority of them had also dugg the Photoshop tutorial or the $35 offer. This was the moment when I reached a tipping point, and I began to get a lot of organic diggs and comments. The crowd on Digg is drawn to what's popular, and many of them second-guessed themselves when they checked out my blog and saw how crappy it was. Quomen commented, "None of those photographs really appeal to me. Am I defective? or just a loner."

Despite their doubts, Diggers kept digging my blog. There's a perverse incentive here: Diggers who vote early on stories that become wildly popular become more "reputable" in the Digg system. If you're trying to move up the Digg ranks, it's in your best interest to vote on anything that looks like it's gaining popularity. And my blog, with its flurry of paid votes, fit the pattern.

By the next morning the story had been award the "become popular" tag and had accumulated a total of 121 diggs. The story did become popular on Digg but eventually Digg users wised up and buried the story proving that crowds are both stupid and wise. They were dumb for digging the story in the first place because they thought it might be a cool story but they were eventually wise enough to bury it.
Ultimately, however, my story did get buried. If you search for it on Digg, you won't find it unless you check the box that says "also search for buried stories." This didn't happen because the Digg operators have brilliant algorithms, however -- it happened because many people in the Digg community recognized that my blog was stupid. Despite the fact that it was rapidly becoming popular, many commenters questioned my story's legitimacy. Digg's system works only so long as the crowds on Digg can be trusted.
Another interesting tidbit in Annalee Newitz's article is that she noticed a few other entries on Digg, including an advice article and a discount coupon, were getting dugg by the same people that were digging her blog about fascinating crowd photographs.

Michael Arrington at TechCrunch argues that Digg should sue Wired over this story. Wired owns Reddit, a Digg competitor. Frantic Industries also believes Wired is going too far against Digg. It may be a negative story about Digg by a journalist working for a company that owns a competitor but there doesn't appear to be anything inaccurate in Annalee Newitz's story. She also disclosed that Wired's parent company Conde Nast owns Reddit in her story. What would be unfair would be to tell Wired they can't report on one of the most popular Web 2.0 companies.

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