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The Digg Paradigm: Community Spirit vs. Active Promotion

Everyone knows by now that having an article hit the front page of a popular social bookmarking site is an instant traffic boon that can't be ignored. Even sites with normally good traffic see their stats skyrocket when something they've produced hits the front page of sites like Digg, Redditt, or Slashdot. The repercussions can be both many and long term, with a certain percentage of that traffic bookmarking the site, subscribing to an RSS feed, or just simply remembering the URL and telling a friend about it. Advertising rate card prices go up, requests for back links start coming in, and the most immediate and overwhelming one of all, the traffic itself.

I recently read a story on a local, Chicago-area software developer’s blog on the power of Digg and how it affected their traffic stats. It reported a 250% increase in traffic on the day one of its articles on web design hit the front page of Digg. This is for a site that averages 10,000 hits a day. What caught my attention was not the article itself (on how to submit to Digg) but the debate that sprung up in the comments section. It's a conversation I've seen in many places before, with passionate arguments on both sides. The central question being Is it wrong to actively promote your own content on social bookmarking sites?

Well, let's first take a peek at the Terms of Use and see what that has to say.

By way of example, and not as a limitation, you agree not to use the Services:
9. with the intention of artificially inflating or altering the 'digg count', blog count, comments, or any other Digg service, including by way of creating separate user accounts for the purpose of artificially altering Digg's services; giving or receiving money or other remuneration in exchange for votes; or participating in any other organized effort that in any way artificially alters the results of Digg's services;

10. to advertise to, or solicit, any user to buy or sell any products or services. It is also a violation of these rules to use any information obtained from the Services in order to contact, advertise to, solicit, or sell to any user without their prior explicit consent;

Article 9 references an "organized effort that in any way artificially alters the results," which seems to directly contradict the "shout" function that people regularly use to ask others to "Digg" stories they have submitted. Is asking the person in the cubicle next to yours to digg a story you submitted an "artificial" effort to alter results? It is no more contrived than asking several thousand people you don't know to do so, which is encouraged on the site itself. Paying people to digg is a violation, but simply asking them to do it doesn't appear to be wrong. We're O.K. here.

Article 10 is obviously meant to deal with spammers. Don't submit links to sales pages. They just aren't cool. It won't speed up the process of conversion anyway. You can have the greatest product/service known to man and nobody will ever buy it if the first thing they see is a huge "Buy Now!" button. This is why Click Through Rate (CTR) is so important. If you lead a horse to water and shove its head into the lake, you're just going to drown it.

The legal issues are much easier to wade through than the moral questions raised by submitting your own content. There are some in the Digg community who feel that actively seeking diggs for your own content is somehow morally reprehensible. They feel it violates the "community spirit" of the site. Also, regardless of how interesting or topical the content, the fact that you produced it creates—in their minds—a conflict of interest too big to ignore. On the surface, these seem like valid points, but a little more scrutiny of the community reveals all is not as it may seem.

There is rumored to be an active cabal of users who "bury" stories that don't conform to their personal or ideological beliefs. Known collectively as "Bury Brigades" or "The Digg Mafia," these users are said to mark content submitted from well known media outlets or other trusted sources as spam or irrelevant because they don't like the message that content contains. There have been people who claim to prove this by hacking the site and showing the records of certain users who make it a habit of burying stories on a regular basis.

Knowing this, it is an inescapable conclusion that promoting your own content on social bookmarking sites is no more morally corrupt than the malevolent efforts of those who are actively working to make sure nobody ever sees it. The community spirit angle goes right out the window with the knowledge of "Bury Brigades" trolling the site and serving as self-appointed editors. Submitting your content and simply relying on the quality of it to take it to the home page is both naive and a waste of time. There are so many factors involved in making it to the first page of any bookmarking site that simply hoping and praying won't produce results.

Having said all this, have you prepared your servers and bandwidth capabilities to handle all the traffic you’ll get if you succeed? After all, it would be a crying shame to get on the first page of a site only to have your own site go down because you didn't prepare for all the traffic. Don't overcome all these obstacles only to end up as part of the "Bury Yourself Brigade!"

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