Social site Digg, once the shining example of what social media was supposed to be, saw its 2007 traffic go into a steady downward spiral. Sites such as Reddit, Propellor, Slashdot, Multiply, Vox, Sphinn, Tagsum, Mixx and hundreds of other social media competitors have chipped away at Digg's traffic.
But at the bottom of it all, the Digg "bury" button and the infamous 'bury brigades' remain a problem that apparently defies Digg's best efforts to correct.
On Tuesday, a bug in the social news site's Digg Spy tool gave one smart Digger the ability to peer into the inner workings of the community. Namely, David LeMieux found a way to highlight which users were burying stories on Digg, and why.
In about two hours, LeMieux gathered data on 1,708 buries, fueling growing concern about the benefit of Digg's bury tool and the possible influence of a network of self-appointed censors. The site has long suffered rumors of abuse by a group of users that buries Digg stories it finds ideologically unappealing. Bury Brigade has become the common name for this anonymous mob. (Wired News is owned by CondéNet, which also owns Digg competitor reddit.)
Digg's administrators have managed to maintain a level of secrecy around buries, so LeMieux's hacking could provide much-needed insight into what's happening inside the community and whether or not the Bury Brigade exists. But it seems even discussions about the bury effect have been closed off.
Google Search "bury brigade" and between 17-18 thousand references are listed; the overwhelming amount are negative. Some offer proof of the bury brigades in action. Others rail against the failure of 'Digg democracy' and the problem of a few users censoring what the rest of the Digg users will see on the front page.
Oh wait, this already happens; perhaps you have heard of Bury Brigades?
For those who haven’t, a Bury Brigade is a band of brigands that roams Digg.com leaving malicious (even vitriolic) comments and using Digg’s bury feature to eliminate submissions that express opinions they are philosophically opposed to. The bury feature that these brigands abuse was created to allow the Digg swarm to bury submissions that are spam, not to allow users to bury legitimate posts that they disagree with. If a story gets a sufficient number of buries, it is deleted from Digg’s upcoming stories. If this happens, the only way to find a buried story is to use an appropriate search string and check a little box that instructs the search to include “buried stories.” In short, buried stories are essentially invisible.
Cottage industry: If dissing Digg were a
stock, it would be "must buy"
stock, it would be "must buy"
Even the relatively few pro-Digg stories contained mentions of the bury button.
But the site isn't without its problems. One of the major ones is the ability of a small number of users to "bury" stories without accountability. Burying news is meant to help separate spam and inaccurate stories from the general morass of ordinary, viable stuff. But there's long been the suspicion that plenty of users use it to get rid of stories about things they don't like (eg political parties or corporates) - since burying a story is much more powerful than simply voting against it.
Touted as democracy in action, Digg was quickly victimized by Diggers who gamed the system and buried competing stories that were resubmitted. Ideological zealots helped ensure a pasteurized, bland quality by burying stories of competing philosophical viewpoints, or with which they didn't agree.
Like corruption in a democracy, vote-selling is a problem: one website offers 10 diggs for $10. It's not the only one. Prices vary with the site.
One the other hand, reports of Digg users automatically burying any stories containing "Microsoft" or "Sony" are not hard to find.
Whether it is the allegations of abuse or the siphoning off of users by competitors, something has taken a bite out of Digg traffic. After reaching #81 at Alexa in December of last year, 2007 has been one steady long march down.
The nadir came two weeks ago when Digg almost dropped from the Top 200 busiest sites. It's since recovered, but still sits below #120.
Digg recently worked on what it hoped to be fixes of complaints of slow page loads and bugs in submitting stories. It remains to be seen if they stopped the bleeding or were only band-aids. Most reviewers are not impressed and complaints that the "fixes" made the submission process even slower have popped up in the tech media.
But even after the site repairs were completed, the bury button remained.
Digg is highly secretive about its algorithm's inner workings, as well as details on how it handles customer complaints. After three attempts at reaching Digg about the bury brigade, one reader gave up.
Sad: Burybrigade.com succinctly sums up Digg's problems
Digg users revolted in May 2007 over the posting and subsequent deleting of stories containing the decryption code for the HD-DVD encryption code. At one point, Digg took so many stories down, the Digg front page was blank; a little later, the site was taken off-line.
The Digg Revolt of May 1, 2007
Rumors of Digg founder, Kevin Rose, taking money from manufacturers were rampant and Rose felt the need to address the issue directly on his blog at the site.
Digg seems unwilling or unable to address complaints and the number of articles detailing the site's problems and drawbacks continues to grow.
Will Digg unbury itself?
Will it ever remove the bury button?
Will Kevin Rose sell out while on top, as has been rumored, and leave the headaches for the new owners?
But if the social site can't fix its censorship problems and competitors continue to eat away at its traffic, a different question will be asked.
Death by 1000 Papercuts Front Page.