Thursday, January 4, 2007

Digg and Wikipedia: Further Adventures in Gate-Opening

The latest stop in my world-wide-web tour of new media without gatekeepers brings me to . . . Digg.com - where readers not editors decide what is in the headlines, what makes the front page - because there are no editors.

First, the basics: You, anyone, can become a user or participant on Digg, as easily as you can on MySpace, gmail, Yahoo, and the rest. Once you have an account on Digg, you can submit a story - that is, list on Digg an already existing story, from some online venue, any online venue, a blog, a newspaper online, whatever, as long as it has a URL. (But not MySpace - at least not today - as I'll explain below.) Most of the stories are about some aspect of news - entertainment, business, tech, etc - and Digg also has listings for videos and podcasts.

But listing is just the beginning, and by no means the most revolutionary aspect of Digg. Because once listed, a story can be "dugg" by any other members of Digg - who also have the option of "burying" a story (which also can be just ignored, too). The more net diggs a story has, the higher it gets in the rankings. And the highest ranked stories make the front page, where they can be seen and ranked by everyone who logs on to Digg.

Newly entered stories get put in a high profile upcoming category, where they'll sink or swim - get buried or get too few diggs to make the front page, which of course happens to most stories.

Users also can comment on stories, and these comments can themselves be dugg or buried (but buried comments are still viewable - requiring just a click to come back from the grave).

Now, if this system seems Wikipedian to you, I'd agree. What Wiki is to encyclopedias, Digg is to news media - in both cases, the reader has replaced the expert editor. The aggregate of humanity, rather than the professional few, are calling the shots. There are some differences. Wiki is even more open to the unidentified masses - anyone can edit on Wikipedia, you don't need an account. And, of course, befitting an encyclopedia, the best articles live forever in equi-accessibility on Wiki - which also doesn't put new articles up for a vote, unless someone sees a problem with them. On Digg, articles sooner or later fall in the listings, out of sight and out of mind of most readers.

But the similarities are impressive, considering that Digg and Wiki are, after all, two very different systems. Digg, like Wiki, is constantly embroiled in the struggle between Light and Darkness - between vandals and builders - that is also the daily tableau on Wikipedia. A Digg vandal, for example, would be someone who puts up links to the same bogus article, with cleverly different URLs. Or a vandal with a couple of hundred friends on Digg can make a lame article very popular. People who want to "game" the system have lots of opportunities.

And, just as Wikipedians can sometimes remove worthwhile articles in an attempt to keep the encyclopedia up to often blurry standards (such as "neutral point of view"), Digg can keep certain items out of its system, whatever their quality. I just noticed today, for example, that MySpace blogs - any URL with the blog.myspace.com prefix - is not allowed listing, because some entry or entries with that prefix were "reported" (meaning, accused of being part of some gaming or vandalism).

But as I do with Wikipedia, I think the pros far outweigh the cons on Digg, precisely because the system gets imput from everyone, not just the pros. In the old media system, Walter Cronkite used to end his CBS Evening Newscast with the words "and that's the way it was..." But the truth is, that kind of news cast did and still does reflect the way that a tiny group of editors think you should think that it was ... That would have been a lot to admit, at the end of a newscast.

The New York Times still says you're getting "all the news that's fit to print" when you read the paper. But the truth is you're getting all the news that a small group of editors deemed fit to print. Doesn't parse very well, either.

Digg, whatever its flaws, is a valuable alternative to that kind of pretension.

Have a look for yourself - www.digg.com

Expanded podcast with some additional points: diGGin' Round
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