May 04, 2007
Digg’s Decision and Bad Advice

Not to go completely against the general flow of the blogosphere general consensus regarding Digg and the AACS issue, but the recommendation at Demand Satisfaction is unrealistic and unpractical.

Digg posted publicly about their decision at 1PM on the day of the ‘revolt’. Jay was clear on exactly why they made their decision. Digg censors all kinds of things from porn to torrent sites to hate speech routinely. There is no dialog about this. No transparency or ‘candid feedback’ on those types of posts is necessary.

By the evening the Digg users had turned into an unruly mob that overwhelmed Digg’s systems. In the larger scheme of things, the 09 number itself is no big deal and already revoked, but somehow it caught the attention of Digg’s users and the mob was not a pretty sight.

Faced with the complete loss of control of the site, Kevin, Jay, and the rest of Digg were faced with a simple decision:

Is the risk of a DMCA lawsuit worse than the risk of losing the Digg users (the essential element to their success) ?

Obviously they felt that the risk of lawsuit was lower and bowed to the wishes of the mob on this issue within 8 hours. It had nothing to do with the right or wrong of the DMCA/AACS issue and everything to do with Digg staying in business. Consider that if tonight, the Digg users decided they wanted to fill the front page with porn links, they could do that as well. What stops them from doing that? I don’t know exactly what, but it sure isn’t ‘transparency’ or ‘candid feedback’ on why porn is not allowed on Digg.

The suggestion at Demand Satisfaction that calm, reasoned debate would have worked is laughable. Reasoned debate and the interweb do not belong in the same sentence. Discussions on long running sites like Metafilter or Kuros5in are hardly make people feel they are part of “the decision”. Go read any MetaTalk thread and see the snarkfest it routinely descends into on the simplest decision like changing colors. The wing nuts over at Flickr that freaked out over the ‘Old Skool’ message are just another example of catering too much to a vocal minority and over-explaining your rationale.

The kind of warm and fuzzy thinking at Demand Satisfaction is nice in an academic sense, but anyone trying to run their business that way, by explaining every decision, is fooling themselves. You will never please everyone and often make the problem worse, the more you try to explain. Everything doesn’t need to be a discussion. You need to pick your discussions just as you pick your battles.

Yes, dialog with your users is an important tool for any web site or business for that matter, but it is not the only tool. Many people seems to think that giving the users control is the only tool you need. Those people are wrong. Do not forget the old saying, 'When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.'

Posted by michael at May 04, 2007 02:42 PM


To be clear, I never once used the term "calm, reasoned debate" in my post. What I did say is Digg should have been "completely transparent with users from the beginning."

In this particular case (rather than the hate speech moderation you mention) it is clear from the results they should have posted something before the deletion, not after, if they wanted to minimize the feeling of us vs. them which is what caused the backlash. Furthermore, it's not clear to me that they couldn't post a public record of their justified censorship the same way Wikipedia edits are viewable by all on a timeline. That would certainly go a long way to increase trust!

With a project we ran last year, Valleyschwag, we experienced these very issues with several thousand paying subscribers. I know first hand how a user revolt can start via insensitive policies. I also know how amazingly effective it can be to include customers on internal decision processes via transparency. Valleyschwag would ask for user input regularly via the blog, but we'd retain the final decision ourselves. This approach doesn't mean trying to please everyone, or giving users control as you imply. Quite the opposite--transparency is designed to increase users' trust in the company itself to make respectful decisions.

Not every organization has Digg-style community dynamics, and so the best approach for each case will vary. But the general lessons are relevant to all businesses. After all, customers have everything they need to make themselves collectively heard about any company. The question is, will companies engage those passions or try to smother them?

Posted by: Thor Muller [] on May 4, 2007 9:19 PM

Thinking about the reply to Michael's post, how much 'transparency' would be required to resolve an issue of a copyright violation notice?
Does 'passion' overrule all other issues? Can Kevin now use the 'passionate user' as his legal defense?

I have a copyright issue with Kevin that we resolved. Today, I question if Kevin's previous position on this matter will be changed one day by a response to a 'passionate' user.

In this same timeframe, Fark went through a re-design. The users there erupted in a furor that the re-design wasn't throughly 'transparent'. Drew and crew have been shredded by the users. Personally, I have come to believe that a 'thinning of the herd' is not a bad thing.

Digg now lacks the attraction for me that it did in an earlier time. Fark has also went from snarkey to mean spirited. If less transparency drives away those users that don't add anything but venom, I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

Posted by: mark [] on May 7, 2007 3:34 AM
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