Dugg To Death

This week is sort of Media-Week here at super-struc­ture, where I tell every­one about my per­son­al news fil­ters.

Yeah, and in teh begin­ning, there was Slash­dot, and it was good. News of tech­nol­o­gy flowed from the mouths of geeks and they were hap­py in their green light. Then came forth the trolls and the fan­boys and the hax0rs and they did mul­ti­ply. They spoke of St. Jobs and cas­ti­gat­ed the demon Gates. They ques­tioned the run­ning of Lin­ux on any­thing with elec­tric­i­ty and of the abil­i­ty to make toast. They quot­ed scrip­ture includ­ing “first post!” and “All your base are belong to us.” And so, the use­ful­ness of the /. did dimin­ish with time. Thus came the the WebT­wo­PointOh-ites from the land of TechTV to lead the flock to the new promised land: Digg. The site flour­ished with vast dai­ly links until the trolls and fan­boys did seek destroy it as well. Alas, a dark­ness did fall upon the screen…

For the over three months now, I’ve been using the Web2.0 dar­ling tech news site, Digg.com. I have to give it’s cre­ators cred­it for cre­at­ing one of the fastest news sites in the world, both in terms of growth speed as well as how quick­ly news dis­sem­i­nates through it. The most often com­par­i­son made with Digg is to that of Slash­dot, the much more ven­er­a­ble and mod­er­at­ed tech news site. I’ll spare you com­par­ing the two too much fur­ther, but a lit­tle back­ground is in order.

Same News, Different Address

Nom­i­nal­ly, they cov­er the same mate­r­i­al and any link that finds it’s way to the top of one is sure to make it to the oth­er with­in hours, if not min­utes. Jason Kot­tke, the blog­ger every­one loves to say they don’t read but real­ly do, wrote a great com­par­i­son on one of his arti­cles get­ting the after-effect of both Digg and Slash­dot post­ings: insane amounts of traf­fic. He goes into quite a bit of detail on what the Slashdot/Digg effect is like for both sites, but here’s a sum­ma­ry: The Digg Effect is a sharp and skin­ny spike in traf­fic while the Slash­dot Effect is a longer wave, with greater total traf­fic. He even fol­lowed up when that sto­ry got post­ed on Digg. His posts fol­low more about the vol­ume of the two sites, but he does dis­cuss briefly their use­ful­ness as news tools.

Where Slash­dot is like some exclu­sive geek club with rules and struc­ture, Digg is con­trolled by the mass­es and any­thing goes. If that sounds like Anar­chy, well, it’s pret­ty close. I decid­ed a long time ago that Slash­dot held lit­tle of my inter­est. I found the con­ver­sa­tions to be long and bor­ing at best and rude and spite­ful at worst. Fur­ther, usu­al­ly only a cou­ple of arti­cles a day seemed to be worth me click­ing on. When I start­ed using Digg reg­u­lar­ly, I found that the user-sub­mit­ted arti­cles had such mis­lead­ing titles and descrip­tions, I almost always had to click on them to get any idea of whether the arti­cle was worth my time or not. As a news fil­ter, it seemed to do me lit­tle good. As Jason Kot­tke describes it:

[Digg]‘s too much of an infor­ma­tion­al fire­hose. Blog­gers and Slash­dot sto­ry sub­mit­ters might like drink­ing from that hose, but there’s just too much flow (and not enough edit­ing) to make it an every­day, long-term source of infor­ma­tion.

Fire­hose is exact­ly right. I might as well just do a per­pet­u­al Google search on “Tech”, as I’d get near­ly as use­ful a fil­ter.

Audience Participation

Slash­dot is more sim­i­lar to a tech vari­ety show with some audi­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion. It’s a mul­ti-authored, dai­ly link list that allows vast amounts of con­ver­sa­tion with­in mod­er­at­ed, and more impor­tant­ly, thread­ed dis­cus­sions. Just in case it’s not entire­ly obvi­ous, let me explain: thread­ed dis­cus­sions, unlike this site or Digg.com, allow for sub-top­ics to stick togeth­er and have some hier­ar­chi­cal asso­ci­a­tion. In a stan­dard com­ment list, such as at Digg, all con­ver­sa­tions are just lumped in a room togeth­er with no way to tie them back togeth­er. Also, what Digg does­n’t have is mod­er­a­tion. User’s have the abil­i­ty score a com­ment and set a score thresh­old to com­ments they wish to view, but so few users take advan­tage of this as to ren­der it use­less. Even the crud­est flames (and oh boy, you have no idea until you’ve actu­al­ly read them) typ­i­cal­ly go com­plete­ly unmarked, and users who tru­ly try and pro­vide insight, addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion, or bet­ter links go equal­ly unno­ticed.

Now, the real­ly inno­v­a­tive fea­ture of Digg.com is the fact that user’s can give any sto­ry a “Thum­b’s Up” if the sto­ry is news-wor­thy (well, that’s how it’s sup­posed to work). You can then also report a sto­ry (spam, old news, just plain lame, etc.) to give it the “Thum­b’s Down.” I think hav­ing cat­e­gories for the “Thum­b’s Up” option would­n’t have been a bad fea­ture, either. That is, are you “dig­ging” the sto­ry because you agree, think it’s impor­tant infor­ma­tion, or think a handy link, etc. How­ev­er, that’s real­ly the least of my com­plaints against Digg.

A lot of peo­ple accuse the main­stream media of hav­ing a bias to this, that, or the oth­er. I think their main bias is towards mon­ey, and how to make more of it. Slash­dot has it’s own bias­es: very pro sci­ence and anti-Microsoft for starters. How­ev­er, Digg has the sen­sa­tion­al bug and a extreme­ly short atten­tion span to go with it. These two make for a dan­ger­ous and mob-like men­tal­i­ty. Take the Price-Rite-Pho­to sto­ry, which made Digg part of the sto­ry. Sim­i­lar sub­jects that have got­ten out of hand have been han­dled bet­ter, but it shows just how quick to react Digg users can be. Just ask Steve Mail­let, who got accused of steal­ing Dig­g’s code for a cou­ple of his own sites. I felt Mr. Mail­let had done noth­ing wrong, but try telling that to the rag­ing mass­es. This only degrades the use­ful­ness of Digg even fur­ther: the wis­dom of the crowd is watered down to the low­est com­mon denom­i­na­tor.

Tomor­row, I’ll show you a great new site that I think solves a lot of the issues that I have with these two news sites.

3 thoughts on “Dugg To Death”

  1. Man, I could take this top­ic and run for hours. Okay, min­utes. How­ev­er, I have some cook­ing to do so I won’t type long.

    I’ve always loved Slash­dot — I’ve loved it so long that I have a 5‑digit user ID. Not King Dork, but still not bad. I joined well before the year 2000.

    Late­ly, in the past year or year-and-a-half, I’ve felt the Slash­dot qual­i­ty decline. I’ve had to set my Com­ment Score thresh­old at 3, and some­times I even up it to 4. There are ENTIRELY too many ter­ri­ble use­less com­ments on that site. As a result I read less of the com­ments than I used to, but I still read the com­ments for a sto­ry in which I am inter­est­ed. Some­times when I see the head­line in my RSS aggre­ga­tor (more on that in a sec­ond) I’ll open the sto­ry just for the com­ments.

    Digg and I don’t go far back at all — maybe just a few weeks. I was imme­di­ate­ly attract­ed to it and then almost instant­ly repulsed. Every­thing I want­ed — com­ment mod­er­a­tion, thread­ed con­ver­sa­tions, “intel­li­gent” dis­cus­sion — NOT PRESENT. Okay, yeah, there is mod­er­a­tion but as you said no one tru­ly uses it. The fire­hose anal­o­gy is indeed apt — there’s a ton of inter­est­ing stuff out there but god for­bid you dare scroll down to the com­ments sec­tion. On Slash­dot there are entire­ly too many use­less com­ments. On Digg there is NOTHING BUT USELESS COMMENTS. EVER.

    How­ev­er, I nev­er vis­it either of these sites direct­ly. They both just pop up in my news­read­er as head­lines. If the head­line is inter­est­ing I’ll open the link, often times not car­ing if it’s Slash­dot or Digg (or Engad­get or TUAW or what­ev­er else dorky tech site is in my ‘Pseu­do-news’ group). Then once the site is loaded the appro­pri­ate action — read­ing com­ments or des­per­ate­ly ignor­ing them — is tak­en.

    I think I added noth­ing to this con­ver­sa­tion.

  2. Though I DID just have the stu­pid­ly awe­some idea that Digg users should not actu­al­ly be able to Digg a sto­ry until they have actu­al­ly clicked on the sto­ry link. That might help ‘head­line dig­ging’ or what­ev­er they call it.

  3. I think you could have eas­i­ly cre­at­ed your own post on this. You said it just as well as I did, if not bet­ter. I think that I might not have stressed this enough: Digg com­ments are 99.99% com­plete­ly a waste of time. Slash­dot at least seems to fol­low the 90% crap rule a lit­tle bet­ter.

    I use an RSS read­er as well, and I nev­er added Digg just because of the “Fire­hose” effect; I just did­n’t want to over­flow my whole read­er with crap head­lines I knew I’d only care about 1/100 of. I feel this helps my obses­sion with try­ing to raise the lev­el of dis­cus­sion on the inter­net in that it keeps me off of those sites as much as pos­si­ble.

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