Web2.Doh - Trusting the user too much

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As the web 2.0 hype continues to become ever more frothy, it becomes more and more obvious that abusing the
inherent ‘social goodness’ is not really that difficult.

To take a step back, the big trust in social sites is that most users are
good, and the few that are bad, the good users can easily police them. Not
exactly the same, but even Larry Page from
Google
believed that most users are good. iBegin’s philosophy (point #2)
clearly spells out that users are trusted to deal with the minority that
are spammers. And (getting to the point now), Digg operates under the premise that if a
story is spam/inaccurate/etc, users will mark it before it gets promoted.
And if it does get promoted and people report it, a little text message
will be added notifying users that the article may very well be wrong.

Now, the abuse of the beforementioned power has come to rear twice on Digg.

The first one was about the abuses in the political section. Nothing makes people
angry like politics do. So instead of forming mobs and torching heathens,
it was decided to bury all opposing views. Left wingers buried the right
wingers. Right wingers buried the left wingers. Both ganged up on the
libertarian and green party stories. Who had marked what lame? Were they
organized? No way of knowing.

The second incident is the one still being felt today – accusations that the Digg ‘elite’ effectively controlled the
site
, followed by Kevin’s
promise of change
(but lets not forget his e
arlier promise of making the burial process more transparent
– still
waiting on that), and finally peaking with the top user on
Digg saying goodbye
.

Digg is interesting because it is the largest of the ‘ranked’ users. Sites
like MySpace and Delicious are also very large (or larger) but do not have
the same problem – they do not rely on users to report ‘spam’ (at least in
the same way). But a lot of the new-fangled ‘web 2.0’ sites do rely on
their users. And unfortunately, most of these sites trust the user
implicitly.

So where is this article headed?

Lets take a look at P9 (the top Digg user). While I unfortunately do not
have a link handy on me, once he was accused as ‘gaming’ the system, what
had happened to political stories happened to him. Instead of removing
stories that were at ideological ends with their beliefs, people simply
reported anything P9 submitted. It did not matter what the content of that
article was – as long as P9 was the submitter, it was marked off as
lame/inaccurate/etc, and the article ceased to exist. It got bad enough
that both Kev
in
and Jay (the two leaders at Digg) were forced to respond, asking
people not to do that (a tacit admission that they were unable to stop it).

So while P9 announced a public resignation, he was basically killed off by
his fellow diggers. He had an inverted Midas touch – anything he
dugg/submitted was instantly bombed with spam reports, and the story
dissolved and ceased to exist. Irony at its best – people who had accused
him of gaming the system were doing the exact same thing.

So this was ugly, but an isolated issue … right? But lets use our
imagination. Lets say Person X doesn’t like Digg. It may be because he has
a site like Digg (and no, I don’t mean Jason Calacanis). He may simply not
like Kevin. Or he may be demented, like Jason Fortuny. So
he thinks to himself – how can I mess up Digg? Pretty easy. Get 100
different IPs (not that hard, even if all 100 have different C classes).
Register them on Digg. Have them randomly digg 5 stories a day. Then scrape
the top 100 users on Digg, and add them randomly across the 100 fake users.
Simmer for a week or 3, and then *bam* – start reporting any story dugg by
the top 100 users as inaccurate.

KA-BOOM

Thats the sound of havoc. Instantly the biggest Digg addicts are neutered.
What was a reward in fame and recognition is now an exercise in
frustration. Anything they touch becomes tainted and useless. Repeat ad
nauseum for as many weeks and as many users as you want. After all, RSS
feeds make it easy :)

Now before I get accused of wanting to wreck Digg (why would I? They send
us great traffic), Digg is simply the easiest example. Imagine other web
2.0 sites once they reach enough users. Shopping sites? Would it be
surprising if suddenly the iPod gets knocked off as favorite MP3 player
only to be replaced with a Zen? Or a tourist site – whoops, forget about
the Empire State Building, check out the snazzy Chrysler Building (these
are of course only hypothetical situations).

This is a major issue that web 2.0 sites need to plan and look into.
Trusting users is a good thing. But implicitly trusting users is no good.
If Digg has moderators that approve a story before it goes live on the
front page, shouldn’t they have moderators checking spam reports? Social
sites give so much power and emphasis on users yet a handful still have the
power to wreck these sites. Until these issues are properly addressed,
social sites will continue to be gamed.

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