Personalization and the future of Digg

A recommendation model could quell competition for Digg's front page

DiggI recently talked to Joe Stump, CTO of SimpleGeo, about a number of topics related to location and databases. In the course of the interview, we also got around to discussing Digg. Previous to launching SimpleGeo, Stump was the lead architect at Digg, and he has a lot of insight into where the site is heading. We’ll be running the rest of the interview soon, but what Stump told me about Digg got me thinking.

We’ve all heard about citizen journalism. Digg, in principle, is citizen editing. One of the primary jobs of an editor is to decide what’s important, and what’s dross. Digg uses crowdsourcing to determine what rises above the noise to move onto the topic and main front pages. Being “dugg” can make or break a geek-related news story.

But the general consensus these days is that Digg has been gamed into uselessness. Gangs of Digg assassins work to vote stories down that deal with topics they dislike. Mac folks slam Windows stories. Windows guys sink Linux stories. Cabals of content creators try to work together to vote each other’s work up onto the front page. It’s like a guerrilla war fighting to control the front page of your local newspaper.

According to Stump, Digg is aware of this and plans to address it in an upcoming rework of the site. “Digg has always aggressively pursued ways of evening the field and avoiding those turf warfares,” Stump said. “I think the next iteration is going to do a lot to answer that problem, because really you need to build consensus.”

What Stump believes is going to happen is that Digg is going to move to more of a recommendation model than a universal up/down voting system:

I think the way that Digg is going to answer it, and the way that the internal thoughts were when I was there, is that rather than allowing a small group to yank a story from the bigger group, that we give people better tools so they don’t even see those stories to begin with. If all you’re going to do is bury Palin stories or Obama stories, maybe the answer isn’t to figure out that you’re a Palin or an Obama hater and to not count your buries, but maybe the better answer is to give you a tool where you can say, ‘Screw that Obama guy. I don’t want to see anything about him.’ Or, ‘Screw Palin. I don’t want to see anything about her.’ I think that at some point in the future, you’ll probably see where those negative votes carry a much more personal connotation as opposed to a group connotation.

Delivering more personalized news will probably be great for Digg users. But without a single front page to vie for, it will also blunt the power Digg has to make or break stories.

“That’s fed a lot of the problems that Digg’s had up to this point,” said Stump. “If there’s not one unified front page, and everybody’s front page is different based on their behavior and their interests and their niche categories, it removes a lot of the incentive to get something on the front page. Because you really don’t know whose front page you’re on once you get promoted.”

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