The war at Digg, and what it means in a social political sense

I’ll admit, I’m biased in writing this, but I’ll share my observations anyways. I joined Reddit about 4 years ago when Digg unveiled V3 and a great wave of dissatisfied members fled to find other social bookmarking and discussion sites. Now it seems V4 has been released and, well… the process of abandonment has truly become something epic as Reddit stands ready to reap the rewards. So massive is this new exodus that even Time Magazine is weighing in:

Digg users weren’t taking this lying down. Many changed their profile images into anti-Digg messages, and some declared today “Abandon Digg Day.” But the best revenge? Teaming up with the enemy. So many enraged Digg fans jumped ship and headed to competitor Reddit that the latter’s moderators posted a Reddit 101 guide for new users. And as icing on the betrayal cake, one intrepid Digg-hater set up an automatic feed on Digg of Reddit posts. With the help of fellow users “up-voting” these posts, the front page of Digg is filled with Reddit links.

Reddit’s loving the attention. It’s reaping the benefits of this snafu — and it even tweaked its logo to look more like Digg’s. Now it’s up to Digg to get its users to come back.

On the surface, it’s pretty clear that this was an over-calculated leap by Digg, led by Kevin Rose, to transform their site into something more useful and amazing in one fell swoop… which is a fatal move. Now, I’m not going to be one of those people who bad-mouths the programmers or designers… in fact I think what both Digg and Reddit do is an amazing feat of programming skill (PHP, Python, HTML, Javascript and CSS… Hello Joe Stump, greetings). What I will say is that clearly the leadership at one is aware of the virtues of incremental change, and that vast sweeping updates to design and interaction only serve to alienate (no pun intended) their online citizens.

To understand why this is important in a political sense, we have to look at the sheer size of these communities (which are comparable to the size of many nations) and see that there exists a body politic at work. By radically changing how it’s voting (election system) works, Digg has inadvertently (or intentionally, who can be sure?) angered their citizens by stacking the ballots in favor of a few well-heeled website friends (lobbyists) and compounded the problems that arose with superusers by making them even more influential. Dumping what was left of democratic equality in favor of a powerful aristocracy of users and websites was clearly a mistake.

This wouldn’t have been so bad, if Kevin Rose had the sense to introduce his vision incrementally in small steps, but like many egotistical despots who control a country’s direction on whim… he prefers the jaw-dropping approach of sweeping new rules and propaganda to the incremental fits and spurts most people are willing to accept (even in a wrong direction). My prediction is that Reddit will no doubt keep a substantial percentage of the Digg refugees, simply because it wasn’t an invasion (as predicted by many), but a collapse from within. Learn from this lesson my friends, it happens more often in social politics than you’d think.

Additional awesomeness: This was all foretold in comic form, please view panel 1, panel 2.

UPDATE: I had to turn off recaptcha mailhide because flickr has the @ sign in their URL and it was breaking the links. My apologies, the comic links should work without stupid plugin interference now.

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