By now, most everyone has heard about Digg, the popular social networking news site. Digg users vote for news stories, hoping to elevate their favorites to front page status. Given the large number of readers, and the web traffic generated by front page stories, there is enormous competition to get stories on the front page. All of which is precisely Digg’s Achilles heal: there is great incentive for users to cheat, or “game” the system.
In fact, a mini-industry has grown up around methods to manipulate Digg’s results, as users seek to direct Digg traffic to their favorite sites (or to sites in which they have a business interest). As a result, Digg is constantly tweaking the formulas governing how stories get elevated to the front page.
Recently, a novel form of Digg gaming came on the scene, in the form of a website called Spike the Vote!. This site created its own social network, with an organized one-hand-washes-the-other method for manipulating Digg. In short, the site structured voting blocks, where users agreed to vote for each other’s stories on Digg. The concept was systematically planned and orchestrated. I say “was” because Digg recently acquired the site. If Digg had a good solution to the problem, they would have implemented it and not acquired Spike the Vote!
As with many Wisdom of the Crowds-style sites, deliberate crowd manipulation remains a fundamental point of failure and risk for Digg. In the world of IT-related failures, the drivers of death and destruction almost always lie in the business model or project plan, rather than in the underlying technology.