One of the most difficult things to manage about the millions of users on social bookmarking sites Digg, StumbleUpon and del.icio.us is the minority of users who try to "game" voting systems to propel their chosen content to the top of the popularity lists.
One company has decided to take that manipulation to the next level.
The L.A. Times reports that USocial, a site that lets advertisers buy votes on popular social bookmarking sites to catapult their links to high-visibility sections of the sites, is doing just that -- with a little help from a dozen employees.
In the case of Digg, by reaching its coveted front page, a site can be the recipient of thousands of visitors in a matter of minutes.
The Times reports that organizations including a Darfur foundation, the U.S. Marines, the Mormon Church and the Korean Department of Tourism are on board with the service.
The Times' Mark Milian reports:
Clients pay $105 to $200 to kick-start a Digg submission, ensuring 100 to 250 votes. Digg is by far the top target, attracting about 60% of purchases, uSocial says. StumbleUpon gets 35% and Propeller (the least trafficked but cheapest option) gets 5%.
"We just finished testing with Yahoo Buzz," said uSocial founder Leon Hill. "We've been getting amazing results with that -- better results than what people are getting with Digg."
That's probably because Yahoo sometimes promotes popular links on Buzz to Yahoo.com.
"As you can understand, there are a lot of people out there who aren't happy with what we're doing," Hill said in the article. "We're gaming Digg."
Defiant, Hill said in the article that he plans to continue to use Digg to plow in revenue for uSocial.
"I'm not in their [Digg's] country of operation, and the people that I'm employing are scattered across the world," Hill said. For these reasons, he believes Digg won't succeed in bringing a case against him. Hill calls the letter noting more than a "scare tactic."
On the other hand, Digg's head of marketing told the Times that "We may take additional action to ensure Digg remains a level playing field for all members of our 35 million community."
Ever susceptible to "gaming," Digg bans users who show traces of unusual activity, such as employing computer scripts to alter the website.
The software Hill developed for the company three months ago, however, has allowed him to continue operations, and Hill said in the article that he hasn't had a single account banned for misuse.