2010 is shaping up to be a terrible year for Digg, the once poster child of the Web 2.0 crowd. The much-delayed redesign (Digg v4) triggered a user revolt and drove away several dedicated users, key executives like Chas Edwards and Matt Williams are leaving the company, and now the site is facing allegations of gaming its own voting system to benefit its publishing partners.
Clever sleuthing by a Digg user has revealed the occurrence of large scale manipulation of Digg’s ranking system over the past couple of weeks. Immediately after Digg’s mystery tour of its algorithm, several users (159 of them, to be exact) signed up with usernames like a1, a3, a5, d1, d2, d3, dd1, dd2, dd3, diggerz10, diggerz11, diggerz12, s1, s2 and s4. All of these users then went on to digg upcoming stories in large numbers, more specifically, upcoming stories from Digg’s publishing partners like TechCrunch, Huffington Post and YouTube. In fact, these fake accounts almost single handedly pushed dozens of stories to Digg’s front page.
Impact of Suspicious Accounts on Digg (full stats)
While the evidence at hand is compelling, and it’s clear that some sort of an unfair practice clearly took place, there are plenty of unanswered questions. The biggest question for me is, why? Why would Digg need to game the system, when they can easily (and more securely) achieve similar results by tweaking its algorithm? Even if Digg felt the need to game the system, it’s hard to digest that they would be so crude about. They had to be aware of the risks involved. Digg has yet to issue an official response, but they definitely have some explaining to do.
Even before this controversy broke, things were looking somber for Digg. Earlier today, its CEO acknowledged that Digg was bleeding money and let go 37% of its staff (25 employees) in an attempt to reach profitability by 2011. Announcing the layoffs, Digg’s CEO Matt Williams wrote,
“It’s been an incredibly tough decision. I wish it weren’t necessary. However, I know it’s the right choice for Digg’s future success as a business. I’m personally committed to help find new opportunities for everyone affected by the transition. Digg’s Board members have also offered to help find placements within their portfolio companies.”
Digg was once the hottest Web 2.0 website in the block. Getting dugg meant instant fame, as Digg had the potential to send hundreds and thousands of users within just a few hours. However, of late, Digg has lost most of its charm. Reddit has emerged as a strong competitor with better social features, and a more welcoming (and mature) community. Digg’s deterioration started even before the catastrophic redesign. However, if users now start losing faith in Digg’s impartiality, this might just be it for the website that changed the way many of us consume news.
Update: Digg has finally responded. According to the official explanation, the accounts identified are indeed fake accounts that were being used by the Digg team to test potential shortcomings of the algorithm.