Repost & Reminder: The Rise and Fall of Digg.com, a lesson for Steemit

in #guilds4 years ago (edited)

This post was written by @cryptobarry 6 months ago. He didn't stick around. Perhaps he predicted the predicament we find ourselves in today.


TLDR:

The most important recurring problem throughout Digg’s existence was content manipulation by powerful users, or groups of users. This was considered unfair by the average user and led to frustrated people abandoning the site for greener pastures. Steemit also has a group of powerful users. We must encourage these ‘Whales’ that transparency and fairness should be their number one priority on Steemit and the mass of users beneath them must remain vigilant to keep them that way. They must be constantly reminded that fair play is in their best interest, and that they hold the keys to everyone’s shared success.


Many Steemians probably remember Digg.com. From 2004 to 2010, Digg was a popular link aggregator, a proto-Reddit, where users could up-vote their favorite news or articlelinks. At one point, the user base was almost 40million and the future looked bright. But something went terribly wrong. Digg went into a death spiral in just a few short months and its 200 million dollar valuation nosed dived to five hundred thousand dollars almost overnight. The company made some terrible choices, one of which was isolating its passionate user base, and when things went south, they doubled down causing one of the most spectacular internet implosions in the last 10 years. Here’s what happened.

Rise of a social media brand


What set Digg apart was that it gave users the ability to up-vote their favorite content by ‘Digging up’ or down vote or ‘Bury’ content they didn’t like. I know this doesn’t sound very special but ten years ago this was not a common user experience. Back then, most news sites fed content directly to viewers. Controversy came early during the rise of Digg, as early as 2005, when a top user was forced to resign after accusations that he was on the company payroll. Still, Digg continued to see explosive growth and by 2006 had millions of dedicated users but this was also when some of those users began to manipulate Digg to their benefit.


Sound familiar?


On June 26, 2006 Digg version 3 was launched, it had a few problems, but this is probably how most people remember the site. It was to remain in version 3 for over 4 years, and it is generally considered by former users as ‘the good years’ but the site continued to be plagued by controversy.

Flagging System

One of the first things implemented to the outcry of Digg users was the adding of a ‘report article’ feature on February 2, 2006. If enough logged in users ‘flagged’ an article as inaccurate, it would be removed from the queue. How many flags needed to bury a story was never divulged and it was immediately used in a way in which it wasn’t intended by some users.

Controversial viewpoints or articles that didn’t fit the top users’ social or political narratives, would immediately be flagged as inaccurate and disappear. This especially frustrated conservative and fringe users who would see their articles buried because they were unpopular with certain factions of the user base. It led to the alienation and many users abandoned the website for a little known website called Reddit. Reddit, a user generated link aggregator, would become the sanctuary for many disenfranchised Digg users over the next few years.


This would be fine if it were just minnows. Whales have a financial incentive to behave in ways that benefit the user base - if that keeps users engaged and the platform growing. Guilds... Do guilds (or I should clarify, delegated voters) suffer the same repurcussions if they never had to buy STEEM to upvote themselves to trending?


Digg Army Saga

On April 20, 2006, the founder of Digg banned dozens of top users for vote rigging. Many of these top users had created a voting bloc that would only up-vote each other’s content on mass, so that they would have a better chance at reaching the front page. The scandal broke when forevergeek.com user MACGYVER posted some screenshots that showed that the Top 100 Digg users controlled 56% of the front page content. It also implicated Kevin Rose, somewhat, because his up-vote was usually included in posts that The Digg Army also up-voted.

Whether he knew about this group or not, Rose responded by banning most of the offenders. This proto-brigading, a problem that seriously plagues Reddit today, pissed off thousands of users who abandoned Digg, once again, for Reddit. Digg version 3 is released a couple months later.


@ned, @donkeypong, @steemship, @sweetsssj, @hanshotfirst, @the-alien, @gavvet, @jrcornel, @blocktrades, @ats-david, @clayop, I know that this name dropping shit is a bitch but I really want to ask you all personally to take a step back and really look at what YOU are doing or NOT doing rather than pointing fingers every direction that points away. This name dropping list could be a lot longer so I'm sorry to those tagged if you feel personally attacked by this post. Some of you may deflect the notion that you're part of some guild or group, but if you have "friends" who auto-upvote each other and you have no qualms about putting the same people on the trending page every day, be that yourself or your friend, well... here's what we can look forward to.


User rebellion against more vote rigging

The Digg army scandal didn’t even have time to cool, that users on mass rebelled against the new ‘Friends’ feature and further vote rigging. Users railed against the friends system because it created powerful blocks of top users and made it very hard for new users to gain any traction on the site. It also enabled spammers to add thousands of friends frustrating users further. The Digg team promised change to the algorithm to make the system fairer to new users and various tools to fight spam but none of this was ever materialized. On April 20, 2006, another top user named P9, caught up in the scandal, resigned and again, many users abandoned Digg for Reddit.


All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again...

Scandals continued to haunt Digg over the years. On October 3, 2008 a small group of top Digg users were again banned for failing to follow the TOS by using scripts to manipulate content. These kinds of issues continued to plague the website and the shit finally hit the fan with release of Digg version 4.

The Downfall

On August 25, Digg released version 4 of their website. The new version was completely broken and filled with bugs and glitches. While the Digg team, including CEO Kevin Rose, doubled down on their new site wide upgrades, more voting manipulation by power users was exposed. Again, the power users were caught controlling content that reached the top by up-voting each other’s submissions. This coupled with the glitch filled mess that was version 4 led to a massive user revolt.

Users organized a ‘Quit Digg day’ on August 30, 2010 and flooded the site with links from Reddit.com. I remember this day well, for the next two weeks the Digg front page was filled with nothing but links to Reddit. This event led to a mass exodus of Digg users to Reddit, a platform people felt was fairer, and one of its main selling points was its ‘anything goes attitude in regards to content.

Things began to fall apart quickly. On September 1 Kevin rose stepped down as CEO to be replaced by Matt Williams. On October 27, Digg laid off 37% of its high turnover staff and less than 4 months later on March 17, 2011 Kevin Rose leaves the company he founded. Just over one year later Digg is sold to Betaworks for a deep discount of $500,000. The company, who at one time was courted by Facebook, had lost 95% of its valuation in a matter of months.

Why Digg Failed

The most important recurring problem throughout Digg’s existence was content manipulation by powerful users, or groups of users. This was considered unfair by the average user and led to frustrated people abandoning the site for greener pastures. Steemit also has a group of powerful users. We must encourage these ‘Whales’ that transparency and fairness should be their number one priority on Steemit and the mass of users beneath them must remain vigilant to keep them that way. They must be constantly reminded that fair play is in their best interest, and that they hold the keys to everyone’s shared success.


Thank you @cryptobarry for trying. Unfortunately we didn't listen.

Can anybody tell me ... How do we stop this cycle?

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There are at least three relevant differences:

  1. digg was closed source, steem & steemit are open source. Thus, algorithms like digg's flagging algorithm cannot be secret here.
  2. Anyone can invest their way to the top with steem. Digg's insiders were a closed group.
  3. Digg's data was hidden, steem's is public - on the blockchain.

As they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant. It's only a matter of time until someone takes advantage of steem's open nature to publish and visualize cliques, quasi-cliques, and other characteristics of the steem voting graph. That sort of openness is not available in a closed environment like digg, and it will eventually limit abusive voting.

People need to start thinking of this platform in terms of months, years, and decades instead of perpetually panicking over the drama of the day. It's not even a year old yet.

Update:
(4) Steemit's users are also investors, which gives them incentive to stick around and fix things instead of jumping ship to another platform (at least for as long as no other platform is doing the same thing). Digg's users were not financially invested in their platform.

Technologies change but not humans. We have the same behaviors. The structure of steemit allows these behaviors and it is unlikely that a mathematical curve can bring about changes. It will be difficult to get rid of collusion, bots, etc.
The thirst for power and money always finds a way to circumvent the rules.

This is the first time I've ever made it to the trending page... Not that I deserve it more than anybody else of course but shouldn't everybody feel like there's a chance to get up there...

I think that the comparison to Digg fails upon the fact that unlike a server-regulated moderation power, anyone (with the money) can operate a whale sized account, and probably a very large number of users who have done adequately to moderately well as authors here have been stacking up their accumulated steem power.

I'm pretty sure that there is far more dolphins and orcas on Steem now than there was 6 months ago. There should be more - and will be. I ploughed a bunch of cash into my account and I have nearly doubled my influence. I don't know where this 'Steemit doesn't listen to us' prattle comes from. I hate to say it but it seems really infantile to me, and I see good and relevant posts come from @dantheman and others like @sneak and if you are in the right place in the chat you see stuff as well.

About the only thing I'd say is, since they built rocketchat, they should use it and ditch Slack. It's not elitism, simply people just don't see the big wigs often in chat. Even there my experience differs from whoever these whiney people are, when @ned pops in and hangs around, I was solicited for a skype chat with him way back, and at steemfest, Ned, Sneak and others were hobnobbing around like social butterflies, as they should being the guys who build this thing.

I just have to say again, that I see no comparison between Steem and any old school central server with a moderator hierachy and super-natural powers to rewrite history. I have watched several other discussion forums arise and eventually improde for one reason or another. In many cases it is caused by management. Steemit.com might have the veneer of management but they can't write whatever they want to the blockchain (aside from text) and have it be validated and certified. It's a whole world apart from this.

In my opinion some people just aren't happy unless they are stirring up shit.

Meanwhile, I return to a rare bout of casual curation as my favoured curator-wiz seems to be having a hiatus and my votes are going spare.

I should learn my lesson about getting involved in this kind of discussion, it's nearly more of a waste of time than talking to trolls - and the mythomaniacs and FUDsters that want to make it seem like there's a secret agenda that you are not in on and that it aims to take all your toys away from you. yawn

It's not a waste of time I promise you. We need more volume to voices like yours or the trolls end up sounding like consensus. I genuinely appreciate this comment a LOT!

In my opinion the people who talk up this kind of nonsense have a personality disorder called 'mythomania'. You know, the irony is that quite a few of them were slinging mud at TDV for his global-scale 'doom porn' yet in the next post they are talking up the doom of Steem because made up reasons.

Like you I have met personally most of the steemit.com developers, and such suspicion did not arise in me when I talked to them and watched the way they were socialising.

We are not living in the age of centralisation anymore. Steem to me marks the watershed of decentralised governance and these stupid people can do nothing but try to smear Steem with the completely irrelevant behaviour of closed camerillas of developers of a centralised website.

They may control @steemit and its very big steem power, but they are using it, I presume as judiciously as possible, to fund development. The bonanza that was the Ethereum pre-mine makes @steemit seem like a piss, and look how well Ethereum's little baby DAO went...

Nothing like this is happening here.

Anyway, this is why we have a voting system and flags, becauses of trolls, spammers, and the gaggle of all the other types of sociopathic morons hanging around looking for some way to get their kicks upsetting people. It's not a schoolyard and we all are in here voluntarily. I don't take into account these people whatsoever in my calculations of where I think Steem is going which is why I am and will always be powering up as much as I can. I believe in Steem or at least I believe Steem is going in the right direction.

chill out on the hard forks, focus on the issues and hold a conversation, for months if it has to be like that. I'm one to expect steemit to rise, still I wouldn't want that with the current trends. The problems need real solutions and no amount of rushed fixes can cover the gaping holes.

It's all up to us, everybody here is a whale, some are bigger children.

If we work together we can get back to dreaming of a bright future on a trendy new age platform with lots of great content, people and interactions.

If we don't welcome in the botnet :D at least some AI can come out of the info here :D fragmented and lost probably tho :D

I would welcome your input on my plea to dan
https://steemit.com/steem/@j3dy/re-dantheman-steem-and-bitshares-cryptographic-security-update-20170225t123215538z

Resteemd and upvoted, read thoroughly.

Btw Skeptic or smth is already spamming the Minds for scam and censure platform whines and such. He's not the first "troll thrown out" because of neglect.

My proposal would solve pretty much all issues that steem faces, user retention, unfairness, bots domination, guild manipulation, user experience, curation rewards monopoly, scalability,self voting, lack of comment voting, etc...and you refer to it as a fraud? Did I miss something there or? A few weeks back you said it was a good idea..I'm confused.

What why, no its about a point from it on the whales being the moderators, that's why I'm saying it's "failing" it's not about the whole concept oh yeah I've said fraud :| well rants and all, :D I'm stumped ad pretty stupid sorry. Bad wording Have to fix it somehow, The ideas purposed there are good, they haven't been implemented.

Sorry once again, didn't mean your post but the concepts implemented by the whales. It's just the only post I can see clearly stating downvoting as a good thing and helpful to the community. In the case of a freely flowing platform where the upvote is worth ~.01 at least. But yes and sorry :|

What concepts?

Downvoting is a good and useful feature. The big disparity in power made this feature bad. If the post went from $9 to $7 no one would be bitching about it right. Pretty much all good and useful feature on steem have turned bad because of power disparity. This issue makes steem look like it's completely broken when in fact there is only one thing to be solved which is the huge influence disparity. That's why Im a bit frustrated when I see the devs creating comment pool as if its going to solve steem's problem, it's NOT. The fundamentals need to be solved to bring steem to the next level.

Ok you said it best. I would ask you to give your 2 cents when I make a new post on some updates. Nothing to do with your post, It would be about UI.

About what I said, I was clearly joking, sorry I'm still a human :D
I was thinking of editing, but I would leave it as it is, the comment was a smirk towards dan, with the end of the world, and the burn the witch among some analogies, the nod was towards you but the "hate" was towards the whales.

Whatever the case, they would be the guardians of the galaxy still, even if the field is a bit level.
Do you think the reward curve would level that or, since you should know better than me in that regard.

I'm not trashing your idea, sorry for speaking with my trollish voice from time to time :D
If you wish I can edit it, I wouldn't mind if you have a problem, but all my jokes are
":D so a horse walks in a bar, and he asks:
Do you have anything to drink?
Steem IT :D"

of course it's not funny, but It's funny to me so i leave it on, and then write offtopic :D
so yeah I was thinking of cutting out my personal rants, since they just add and smear the message, it gets harder to read, makes no sense and so on.

Are you willing to do a revisit on your post. I think the idea is great. Are you on chat btw, wanted to ask you as i said in the beginning about some UI ideas :)

Nice post. I wish I could answer the question at the end.

dont fall for attention whores

One of the many things I like about Steemit is that people do talk about perceived problems. The discussion can be scattered around among many posts, and it all can be concerning for new folks, but I've been impressed with how things ultimately do get addressed. Reminders like this post are really helpful for me at least, to put what's going on now into a bigger context. Thanks.

I watched digg grow and eventually fail, it was one of my husband's favorite sites. My husband sees similar patterns developing here on Steemit. I have no answers, but I don't like flagging, bots, and guilds, but can't say why with anything that makes sense. Maybe it's because these tools are easy to game? The best social sites I've help manage had community or topic managers that worked as a team to help members resolve disruptive behavior and technical issues. The best site I worked on had clearly defined rules regarding trolling and spamming, the 3 strikes you're out worked well too.

Community leaders could be a solution... But many could also see it as a problem.. For instance I would love to see some leadership and community efforts from the developers of the platform, but it seems they are determined to use algorithms to keep the community in line rather than inspire us to work together to help them achieve their goals. I see a lot of value in what they are building but something also needs to be done to keep us all on the same page. Lack of communication is getting us all tangled up in our own notions of what the developers should do. If we were more in tune with their thoughts and direction and updated more regularly then we have something we can choose to get behind or not.

With the VOTU Podcast and projects within VOTU studios I hope we can build a community that respectfully communicates their views and grows closer from recognising the humans behind the keyboards, and once we establish that we can all realise or common goal and make that the fucus.

We're on the air in 3 hours http://discord.gg/tPeHAYw

Great analysis on Digg. Thanks for bring it in - resteemed.

I want to clarify my position that I opposite guild's self-voting and my voting power is not automatically used to upvote their posts (I check manually in the last 30 days). I have been aware of whale's self, collusive, or recursive voting can ruin fairness feeling of many other users.
Believe or not, the current situation is more alleviated than 6 months ago. I posted about whales voting twice, and at the first time several whales voted more than twice a day on average for one author (over 42 times in 21 days). In the next post, I discovered that the top curator voted up to 112 times in 3 weeks for an author.

Things are revolving but the center is there still. I am still struggling for better Steem for everyone (except abusers and scammers!). My personal plan is to delegate majority of my Steem Power to active contributing community members. Hopefully, other bigger whales join this move.

Holy flip, good job in reposting this. It is very prescient!

Thanks for bringing this up. Looking forward to more discussions.

Upvoted & Resteemed - We do not want Steem to end up like DIGG.

Also @beanz, take a look at my article today: https://steemit.com/kicking/@fyrstikken/kicking-little-old-lady-down-the-stairs

We need a cultural change in the top around here.

Thanks for posting this,it's a crucial discussion. THings need to change now,or steemit is dying.

Good article. Resteemed!

Very interesting history, I hope the steemit developers will learn from it and prevent a similar melt-down.

posting interesting, useful for life. @Beanz

mycket bra artikel thanks

Very interesting and very disturbing. Why should I, as a brand new user stay and commit my time to this platform. I keep reading things both here and other places that make appear that steemit is on its deathbed. Is it? Is there a non monitary reason for me to stay? So far I am seeing many halmarks of a comming collaps.

Personally I don't even invite my friends here because you're right... If not for the money, you stay for the community... And the community is tearing itself apart at the moment making it a stressful environment. I hope, if you consider yourself to be a positive person who can withstand the toxicity, that you will stay and help us pull this community back together... If you're interested we'll be hosting a podcast on discord later today at 11am PST http://discord.gg/tPeHAYw

We are building a community here with conversation, open-minded debate and of course some fun and entertainment! It's not all bad, a lot of the good happens off the platforms where we can better connect.

Keep scrolling, stay humble and upvote or resteem as much as possible. Imagine when my tokens are worth $1000 a piece. I can buy a home IRL. I can repair mistakes I have made. I once again believe in something greater than myself. I will white knuckle this mother fucker until it's last breathe.(apologise) Thank you for resurrecting my spirit. Stay Strong, Keep Going!

What does the yellow mean?

I have a question then, in your post 7th and 10th paragraphs are repeated ( a pretty clear writing mistake) besides is not an original post. However it has 154 upvotes ...is it not because your friends or people who use to vote you just upvoted you because of that? Don't get me wrong. I do not think that's bad. On the contrary, I think it is inevitable.. maybe the solution is a system that objectively differentiates a good post from a bad post. However, as I said, people who have many friends deserves to get more votes.
Greetins from Barcelona!

Greetings! Thanks for the comment.

I do get a lot of automated votes which isn't appealling to me as it doesn't represent people who actually gained value from my post...

Thanks for pointing out my mistake I will edit that. I do agree it is natural for friends to vote for each other. However, if this is to become a decentralised system (which it is of course) then friends upvoting friends isn't going to make this an attractive platform for the general public. Basically we've become like a "clique", where we almost know every active member of the community and to come in as a new person without friends puts you at a disadvantage even if your content or just your presence and engagement offers more value to the community. Upvoting your friends as a minnow is fine in my opinion, but if you are a whale or your part of a guild that uses delegated voting, well it costs you and the entire community to vote in an anti social or nepotistic way. With less chance of catching that "whale vote" like we all gambled for back in the summer, I see the game as rigged and I see that others see it that way. The price of steem won't rise until people feel like their vote could have significant impact and be worth it... competing against anti social whales makes it not worthwhile and so they are really shooting themselves in the foot here...

Great story. Hope you're well @beanz... :)

What prevents unite? Together we are strong. Separately food. For some it's business and considerable income. Someone else.

Thank you for posting this. It is a very important lesson and unfortunately Steemit had its chance but didn't listen. Then they kept pretending they were going to be hiring for different positions and were "collecting resumes" instead of just hiring well respected content creators who had already broke their back for the platform.
The best thing that could happen is if a well funded group can take the lessons of why Steemit has failed and create a new platform addressing those concerns.
Basically if we could have a "Do over" scenario where from day one we didn't have these ultra powerful whales to try to impress. I would like to think that Steemit still has a chance to come out of this but in a lot of ways I don't feel that it does. They needed to take action back in July 2016 but @ned and @dantheman continued to power down and sent a very clear message to everyone. It power bombed the platform and disenfranchised the user base. For several months I have continued to power down. At certain points I have thought I was going to stop the power down and let the rest ride incase this sum-bitch can be turned around. At this point I almost feel that getting an additional $50 out is better than a $0 bid.

flagging on the grounds of disagreement...

You can stop this cycle by eliminating personal (I am on page 1!!!) and financial rewards from posts.

Sounds impossible?

Then stop trying to stop the cycle and start trying how to gracefully live with it.

If we don't find a solution somebody else will.

I didn't know about this post, thanks! Read most of it earlier but coming back to comment after a full read.

I can somewhat see myself being applied to this by some people. I'm not friends with whales to selectively upvote me, they upvote because they want to for the content, not the person. If I don't write stuff they like, then will they upvote the content? No. I don't always get an upvote. There are autobots, although less now. So my "15 minutes of fame" have possibly passed in term of being a "trender" hehe.

The problem with the analogy with Digg manipulations and Steemit for whales, is that aren't people on Steemit supposed to be upvoting what they like as well? Isn't that what some would possibly consider unfair, to vote on things they like, and since they have the SP, that pushes certain content up? If that's not the case, the implication seems to be that whales should vote for everything if they can't judge on their own what to upvote based on what they like? Or alternatively, that they can't upvote at all?

The current distribution of "free" Steem (via voting/ curation) isn't conducive of a healthy or sustainable economy -- if things keep going as they are, it seems to me that it MUST, eventually, collapse.

Why buy into a currency in which 95% of it funnels to roughly 5% of the active participants (this isn't an actual stat, just the apparent state of things on Steemit)?

So we don't buy and we feel pressure to immediately sell any Steem that we happen upon. Most everyone fears drowning in the massive waves of whale dilution, most of which goes into the pockets of a select few. It just feels rigged. Whether it really is or not doesn't really matter as far as the life of this project is concerned.

If we want this to succeed then we're going to do it by reaching consensus on what makes distribution "fair" and, therefore, Steem an attractive, at least potentially stable, currency. That could even mean that the best writers/ contributors won't always be "eligible" for top-trending type of payouts!

The system has to appeal to the mean (as in, average), before the "average type" will buy in. For starters, those type of videos on YouTube and those "blog-type" posts on Facebook and Reddit that get the most thumbs up/ up-votes are the kind of posts that should be dominating the front page of Steemit. As it stands, a few whales who're into a narrow set of, let's say, "niches", are determining where the bulk of the currency is getting distributed -- to about 5% of the participants (again, not a fact, but the apparent situation) -- and when they fail to keep the same ten users in the top 10 trending spots, the bots are there to pick it up for them.

This system is perfect for the select few whom appeal to the whale's seemingly narrow tastes -- or happen to be friends, relatives, or sock-puppets, but we can save that discussion for another time. The problem for the majority is that those tastes aren't anywhere near representative of the public opinion; hence, it looks/ feels rigged.