Deciphering Digg: Itchy Trigger Finger and the DiggBar

Posted by Michael Pinto on Apr 4, 2009 in Tech |

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Disclaimer: Reverse engineering the mechanisms of Digg is always a guessing game — and a hard one because Digg is always changing the rules of that game to stay one step ahead of spammers. So everything in this article is just my speculation — it’s not a “how-to get to the front page” methodology.

Digg LogoNot too long ago (around February) Digg cracked down on power users by limiting the number of diggs in a 24 hour period. Now this isn’t a science but after 150 or so diggs a user would be greeted by the warning “Whoa there cowboy! Itchy trigger finger? Digging fast is so lame. How about reading some stories instead?” Now notice that last line about “reading some stories instead” — it’s always been my theory that while Digg never prints a rulebook that they always give your humorous hints as to how to succeed on Digg in their interface design.

Itchy Trigger Finger warning on Digg

When Digg announced this crackdown they said that it only applied to about 1% of their users: However the majority of folks submitting high quality stories on a regular basis is only about 1% of all users. Most of these users started noticing something odd at this point — that story could hit the front page with very few diggs, i.e. it didn’t have to have the most diggs in its category.

A Digg Power UserNow power users have always known that your friends-to-non-friends ratio is important — but back in February I noticed many users shouting twitter and becoming even more specicious of the shout mechanism itself. Some diggers would in fact ask that I not shout their stories. And backing this up I would indeed notice that if multiple friends shouted my story that in fact it would always get auto-buried. While on the flip side stories that I didn’t push hard (or ask my friends to push) would suddenly fly to the front page at top speed.

Which brings me back to itchy trigger finger syndrome — my new theory is that not only does Digg count a digg, but they also factor in if people are in fact looking at the stories, i.e. How about reading some stories instead? That’s right! Digg doesn’t want you just to digg even if that’s the name of the website — they’re in fact seeing if you’re looking at the story itself.

The DiggBar: Notice the Views!

And my proof of this? Well before the DiggBar there was no mechanism to tell you as a submitter if people were actually looking at your story. But if you notice in the DiggBar they give pretty heavy prominence to how many views a page is getting. Yes diggs and comments are important, but their interface is confirming that views is part of that trinity. And thanks to that DiggBar we know have a confirmation that this is an important part of their formula.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Bad

The Bad: Blind Digging Helps Second Rate Content

So what’s interesting to me as a Digg fanboy is that this means that when you’re blindly digging a friends story, you may be in fact auto-burying it without realizing it. So when you think you’re supporting a story you could be hurting it if you aren’t looking at it. It also means that Digg is hip to the fact that people are shouting Digg stories on Twitter and Facebook — and that they want to see at the source if you’re in fact looking at the story which is a major factor in the game design of the DiggBar.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Ugly

The Ugly: Like Everyone Else, Digg Hates Spam Too…

What they’re trying to do with the DiggBar is to get back in the game with the mind space that they’ve lost to Twitter in terms of link sharing. DiggBar isn’t just a copy of StumbleUpon or a clone of tinyurl.com — it’s in fact a play to keep them in the game of being relevant. In the early days of the web there was a site called Cool Site of the Day and ever since there has been an ongoing race to own the mind space of users finding interesting content in a sea-of-crap.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Good

The Good: It’s All About Good Content…

Of course this all comes back to the unpublished golden rule of Digg and perhaps of the web itself: Compelling content will always win the day. So if you’re reblogging news from 24 hours ago you’re toast — or if you’re just embedding a YouTube video that won’t cut it. To a certain extent you can apply a formula (example: the infamous listicle — i.e. the top ten bla of bla) but at the end of the day good old fashioned creativity rules the day. Sadly this doesn’t mean that the creativity must be intelligent, but it must always be engaging.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Addendum: Stats Report at 14hrs 23min: I’m up to 122 diggs w 124 page views — the story is top ranked in Tech and “Hot”, although the all diggers ratio to friends is pretty bad: 122 to 73 which means that less than half the diggers here are non-friends (which is bad). Although if nothing else this proves that your all diggers-to-friends ratio is make or break! Although it’s interesting to note that auto-bury hasn’t kicked in either and we’re two hours into the “stale zone” — so if nothing else having a high page view rate may prevent auto-bury.

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