Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Double-Digger: Scourge or Savior?

(Taking a break from movies and TV today to write about one of my favorite sites, Digg. All Digg usernames have been blacked out, but obviously they can be found if you look. I blacked them out because I'm not trying to call out any particular user, but just commenting on a general trend)

How many times has this happened to you: You're cruising through the web at work or at home and you find an incredible story/blogpost. This story has everything! An interesting, attention-grabbing title, some great investigative journalism, and insightful commentary into the topic that the post is based on.

Being the great human being that you are and wanting to share this story with the world, you head on over to digg.com and submit the story, only to see the following page:

(just an example, not an actual story I dugg, or would digg)

Someone has already submitted it! This can be frustrating, but it happens all the time, and rightfully so; Digg has some great users with a keen eye for interesting content. This is indisputable. What's frustrating is when promising stories get crappy titles and descriptions, thus dooming them to the storage rooms of Digg's servers forever.

This is what happened to my friend the other day, who tried to digg this great story about Fox's newest, hottest version of Ann Coulter (or "Ann Coulter 2.0"). The original link to the story can be found here:


This was a blistering, well-written piece about Rachel Marsden's twisted and troubled past, and how conservative Fox has overlooked it in favor of her, well, looks. When he tried to digg this, he got this message:

No offense to the poster, but this is a pretty awful story title with a terrible description that doesn't really give a good impression of what the story is about or how high the story's quality is. In fact, the title could actually turn people off to the story who would otherwise be interested in what this piece has to say. Needless to say, it didn't make the front page.

But the crimes don't even have to be that egregious. One of the most popular stories on cnn.com today is this one:


This morning, this made the top headlines at cnn.com with the title, "How Google Has Revolutionized Dating." This is a great title for a Digg story and the article was fairly interesting, exploring how being able to google your date has changed the dating scene. When I tried to Digg it, I found this:

To be fair, the person had used CNN's own title for the story. But when I see "Googling Your Date" as a story title, it doesn't really make me want to click and apparently many Digg users agree. The AP story that the cnn link is based on might still make front page (Update 1: The story has made front page, but under a different title and from a different website. See link here), but I think it's unlikely that the exact link I've shown above will make it. Given this, could the title and description have changed the outcome of these stories? We'll never know for sure, but it's a real enough possibility that it deserves some discussion.

So what can you do if you encounter this situation, where you have a great story you want to share that's been given short shrift, potentially due to its title or description? There are two obvious workarounds that I'll describe, but before I get into them, just know that I'm just describing these methods and not necessarily endorsing either one:

1) Submit a link from another source, like a blog ABOUT the story, or another news source - Not too complicated but this can be dangerous: re-posting a story onto your blog and then Digging it can lead to blogspam buries.

2) Submit a link using an RSS Feed - Often RSS feed links are different than the ones you find on the originating webpage. For example, this link goes to the same Rachel Marsden story as above, but would not count as an automatic duplicate submission on Digg:


Have stories made the front page using this method? Definitely. But should they have?

I'm of the opinion that if a story is important, if it's fascinating, if it's funny, if it's attention-grabbing, it should be given a second chance if someone didn't do it justice the first time around. In the end, it might make Digg a little bit more bloated, but it will allow Digg to keep fulfilling its mission: Delivering interesting, insightful, and user-driven content to all of our computer screens.

Perhaps a more significant question is, should Digg do anything to rectify this "problem" of duplicate submissions of the same exact story? Alternatively, could there be a way to allow people to digg a story again (after 48 hours, or something) to give it another chance? Or would total anarchy ensue? (It probably would). Many people have suggested ways to block duplicate submissions and Digg users are very good about burying, or simply not digging, duplicate stories. But I'm of the opinion that some duplicate submissions might be acceptable, and in fact, encouraged in some cases, depending on the story.

What do you think? Is there a better solution?

Update 2: First, some clarifications: Digg user crossmr has accused me of both 1) Changing my blog text (after my blog hit the front page of Digg) to say that I don't necessarily endorse the duplicate submission methods described above, and 2) Promoting blogspam. Both of these are untrue. I knew from the beginning that people who didn't understand my argument would accuse me of promoting blogspam, so from the start, I made sure to make explicit the fact that my describing those methods of duplicate submitting was not an endorsement of them.

As for blogspam, the thought that I would promote this is preposterous. Blog posts commenting on a story are fair game; Arstechnica.com shows up on Digg a dozen times a week and they are usually commenting on the latest tech developments. But reposting a story to your blog and just submitting it to Digg without any commentary or insight is a waste of everyone's time, including yours. Also, it's against Digg's rules.

There have been some great suggestions put forth as to what might help. Users like linkedlist and callinthelaw69 don't seem to mind the duplicate submissions that much, and I'm sure there are many that agree. User Entropyman spent some time thinking up a system whereby related stories would be linked on Digg. I would describe it here but since it's a bit involved, instead I'll just post a link to the dialogue here. Similarly, user msjacoby recommends a swarm system whereby related stories move through Digg together. And user joejoeknows brought up an interesting idea of making duplicate submissions automatically digg the story, with the possibility of voting for a summary change.

No idea if the powers that be will actually read this post or if they even care about this, but if they do read it, I think there's some good food for thought here. In any case, I know that many of these changes are easier said than done. I'm very grateful for Digg the way it is. Could it be made better from some of these suggested changes? They'll have to decide.

Thanks so much for reading and for all the great comments!


El.Kosmas said...

i think that a "related stories" feature could fix that (or not)

Jim said...

Ironically enough, I sent a bug report to digg on this exact same phenomenon, back on 3/23: http://crimson117.livejournal.com/78355.html

"A large part of getting a story which you care about dugg to the front page is having a well written title and blurb.

But what should you do if you go to submit a URL you think would interest diggers, only to find it's already been submitted, but with a really weak title / blurb? You can only submit a URL once. If you try to submit one that's already been submitted, it will simply take you to that article's digg page and allow you to digg it. So that URL is stuck with the weak title/blurb forever.

And if someone wanted to make sure that a certain article gets buried, couldn't they submit the URL but then intentionally add a really awful title and blurb, preventing anyone from submitting the URL again with a good title and blurb?"


Dennis said...

I've had that same issue. I submitted a story that was a duplicate because I thought the story deserved attention and the previous submission was dying because of a horrible title and description.

So I submitted my own version and low and behold it got to the front page.

Dan said...

Digg could have a "digg story, bury title" kind of feature, when duplicate stories are posted. The dupe titles could somehow be displayed alongside the article. That way diggers would ultimately "choose" the best title.

Richard said...

Your comment that "In fact, the title could actually turn people off to the story..." about midway through your article is a common problem. I know that users of DIGG are actually changing titles that are not bad in the original article and providing info that is non flattering to the article for the specific purpose of downplaying or puting a bad light on a topic. Either to increase its Diggs or to be just negative I don't know. The funny thing is that it happens a lot from the same people...

MG Siegler said...

I definitely agree -
some stories definitely fail to make a splash simply because their title sucks or is wordy

a lot of people on digg dont even bother to read the stories so the headline is all that matters to them, others simply won't read something unless the headline pulls them in

NullVariable said...

Maybe a wiki style editing feature could solve this issue, then you don't have a dupe. I'd also like to see a related links area where lets say someone submits their blog instead of the main story users could quickly and easily add the main story link instead of posting it to the comments.

Tom Craig said...

I suggested something close to the "related stories" feature to Digg last year. 1) It would help reduce the dupes, but 2), I think related stories could lend toward some sort of "credibility" rating of the story maybe based on some loose formula that takes into account the digger and the source.

raincoaster said...

The functionality for a "related stories" feature already exists (it's the Duplicate Post feature) so implimenting this wouldn't be that difficult.