A Little Paranoia is a Healthy Thing / Formerly on Just In

Posted on October 4, 2009

Originally published on “Just In: Joseph Dunphy’s Newsblog / Connecting to Digg” on February 16, 2008. The post begins:

“Yet another blog from he who could fill out the ones he already has a lot more? Perhaps, but like any good would-be engineer, I’m being cautious. Well nourished and in good spirits as I enjoy a plate of that fine brisket WordPress shares with new users who read the TOS

but at little wary, as I pass my mac and cheese serving over to the next user to the left. Is that bacon in those collards? Oh, well …

In my “Keep an eye on these sites” post on Monday Never Comes, I mentioned the annoying habit a number of sites had, Digg included – that of sticking “rel=nofollow” tags on the homepages links of its users. Digg still does that, but it doesn’t stick such links on the linkbacks given to those who blog its articles. Discovering this left me a little more inclined to use my membership their site, but I soon found another annoying habit of theirs. In order to “blog” an article on Digg, one has to give Digg the password for one’s blog. Not that I’m saying that Digg or one of its employees would put that password to bad use, but long before I had ever heard of the Internet, I had already seen supposedly respectable, trustworthy individuals in positions of far greater authority engage in conduct far more scandalous than a little hacking. No, I’m not going to name names, but we are talking “obstruction of justice” – as much comfort as may be found in the thought that a man must rise to the occasion when others depend on him, real life is far less comforting, and sensible men will prepare themselves for that reality.

I don’t believe that Digg or – more to the point – any rogue employee of Digg – will misuse the password for this blog, in fact I think that’s highly, highly unlikely, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t dream of filling out that form. HOWEVER, if somebody at Digg does do so, and this blog is vandalised or so misused in my name that WordPress has to delete it, all that I’m going to lose, arise from this introduction and maybe a few decorative touches to be added later, will be the excerpts uploaded by Digg and links to places where I discuss the articles excepted. Further, since I am not going to share that password with anybody but Digg, if it is misused by somebody at some company which is in possession of it, there will be little question left as to at which company that person works, meaning that the buck in this case would be likely to stop very quickly.

Were that to happen, I would be mildly … ummm … “physically loved” … but the offending party and his employer would be far more deeply so, and very little material original to me would be lost. Mainly, what would occur would be that Digg’s pagerank would be infinitesimally decreased, because all non-nofollowed links from my sites to theirs would suddenly be cut. While the reverse would be true as well, I wouldn’t be losing anything in this regard that Digg and its employees couldn’t take from me without possession of the password for this blog simply by deleting my account there, an action that wouldn’t pose the danger to Digg’s corporate reputation that a misuse of confidential information would, and wouldn’t raise the issue of possible federal prosecution – system intrusion is not viewed as gently as it used to be.

Really, then all I’m trusting Digg and its employees to do, as I hand them the password to this blog whose sole purpose is to be an interface between my sites and theirs, is to not choose to do harm to themselves without purpose. While anybody old enough to have a past knows that rationality or even sanity is not a given, to anticipate it in others certainly represents a far shorter leap of faith than does the presumption of good will, and doing things this way does, at least, limit the damage that a rogue company (or employee) can do, meaning that any damage caused by a misplacement of faith will be contained, at least to some extent.

I hope that WordPress is OK with this. I suspect that they are, as Digg does have a “WordPress” option under blogging, but if not, they have my e-mail address, and on the first word I see from them indicating that they are not happy with this use of their system, I will cease and desist without further argument and find a use for this space that they will be happier with, as soon as I can. As I’ve heard of no Digg related scandals, I suspect that there is no real danger, but I hope that any admin reading this will at least appreciate the fact that I gave the issue enough thought, that I made a point of structuring the incentives in such a way to minimize the risk.

That’s my thinking behind the creation of this interface. I’ll leave out the usual sincere hope that you’ll enjoy your stay, because this is more a place you’ll be passing through, maybe a lot should you become a regular reader and I become a more regular poster, which at some point in the near future, I expect I will.”

End of post. So went the thinking, when I found myself confronted with what I felt to be Digg’s highly unreasonable request for my password, as a condition for blogging one of their articles. Yesterday, on looking in on that blog and the one and only article I blogged used to used it to blog, on Digg, I found that the linkback to my blog, and to the blogs of the others who had blogged that same article, were missing. I never received any notices of the removal. Digg seemed happy to hold onto a link it was no longer reciprocating.

I might as well have not bothered setting up the newsblog; Digg ended up dealing with me, as it did with others, in bad faith. The remedy, at this point, is a simple one – I’m going to recycle the “newsblog”, changing its name (and its password, you can be sure), deleting all posts currently there as I put it to a new use, and replacing all links to Digg with links directly to content, when such links aren’t deleted altogether. I’ll still visit digg.com, because I gain some benefit from doing so – it’s a rich source of good quality links – but the fact that I have a membership there will become so irrelevant, that I doubt that I’ll ever log back in.

Which brings us to the basic problem with Digg – its staff has foolishly structured the incentives it gives to its users in such a way as to leave most of us with little, if any, good reason to want to remember that we are users. Where is the love for those who make the site work, to the benefit of the company and the rest of its users?

After what I just told you, you should be able to see why somebody might not want to blog any more articles on Digg.com, itself; this costs that site a source of its traffic. But think of the people who really make the site work, and why one might not want to be one of those people. Let’s say that one submits four different posts, and that they’re good posts, but somebody – a well connected somebody – gets his friends together, and buries all four of them. As I understand the TOS at Digg, one would lose one’s account, and find that there was no way of appealing this possibly malicious act of “community moderation” (read “mob rule”), no chance for somebody’s common sense to override the mindless application of a formula. The votes are in and one is gone, and that’s that.

This hasn’t happened to me, but I am told that it has happened to others and really, where is the surprise? If one choses to be active on a site where mob rule is a reality, and one doesn’t wish to become to next victim, one does well to have a mob of one’s own. Having assembled it, one had better keep it busy, if people are to remember that they’re part of it at all, and not go wandering off. Infighting within such a system, then, is no historical accident, but merely the inevitable outcome of the perverse incentives put in place by the system, which only act to reinforce the natural, petty human jealousies that have so often been seen on the Internet, for so long.

Is somebody submitting more interesting links than one, and worse still, seem a little more intelligent and articulate, stealing the attention that one knows should be coming one’s way? Then just gather a few friends together and have him silenced. Or maybe his political point of view is gaining adherents at the expense of one’s own, one feels, and the pages he is sharing are helping to accelerate that trend. One could respond to that by rethinking one’s thoughts, or articulating them better, or at least look for somebody who had – but why work that hard? Just bury him into oblivion, ending the problem and reaffirming one’s friendship – if one can call it that – with the other members of the floating lynch mob, with this triumph one has shared with them, at somebody else’s expense.

It’s a system built to be abused, and that’s a shame. I hope that Digg will rethink its choices, but I seriously doubt that this will occur. If you’ve been to the Ravine, you’ve probably seen some links to pages about a former Digg user called “Zaibatsu”, and the treatment he received. More about him, later, but I think you’ll find that it isn’t encouraging reading.

“In other words, Joseph – Digg, a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there?” As cliched and derivative as that sounds, yes, that’s the conclusion I’ve drawn, at least for the moment.


Posted in: Digg