Henry Jenkins describes collective intelligence as “the ability of virtual communities to leverage the combined expertise of their members”, which accurately describes the collective spirit demonstrated by the users of the many online communities in existence today. In fact, “crowdsourcing”, “collective intelligence” and “the wisdom of the crowds” (a term originally coined by James Surowiecki in his influential book titled the same) are probably the buzzwords that most accurately describe the nature of Web 2.0 as it stands today. The theory behind all these terms is deceptively simple: large groups of “unwashed” people are in general smarter, wiser and better at solving problems than an “elite club” of experts.
Officially touted as a user-driven, collective content discovery tool, the website Digg aims at harnessing the collective intelligence of it’s user base to gather, filter and analyse content so the very best of the best can rise the top. The premise is that by bringing together literally millions of people to do the massive work of finding, submitting, categorising, reviewing, discussing and featuring news items, blog entries, articles, images and just about every bit of conceivable information that is to be discovered on the vast perpetual data flow of the World Wide Web, Digg would eventually surface the most interesting, most wanted and most relevant content—”the best stuff”, as voted by their online community.
Originally the brainchild of Kevin Rose, an American Internet entrepreneur and former TechTv co-host, Digg was first launched in December 2004 after an initial investment of $1000. From it’s humble beginnings it rapidly rose to an enormous success, becoming in a flash one of the most prominent and influential social bookmarking sites of the Internet, it’s user base growing exponentially, hitting the 2.7 million individual user account mark as soon as in 2008, according to JCG.org’s estimates.
The basic function of Digg is quite easy to grasp: after having logged in, the user is presented with the moment’s most popular stories on the front page. It is possible to browse stories, filter content, create customised categories, add comments to a particularly interesting story, “follow” each others activity (similar to Twitter) but most importantly, to “Bury” (down-vote) or “Digg” content (up-vote, very similar to Facebook‘s “Like” concept). In the beginning, this novel concept of voting content up or down was what set Digg apart from existing online social bookmarking offerings, a concept that prompted the creating of countless similar social networking sites with content submission and voting systems.
From the perspective of the user, Digg is an excellent tool to find content worth spending time reading, especially when taking user definable categories into account which enable the user to effectively create customised feeds that closely match their interests. In the heyday of the service being featured on the front page used to be every blogger’s dream and effectively the best way to increase traffic in an explosive way. It didn’t take long that the term “The Digg Effect” was coined (also known as the phrase “dugg to death”), which refers to the situation when the traffic generated by a particularly popular front page story overloads the website’s server, causing it to collapse under the large number of simultaneous users and thus becoming unavailable for period of time.
Potential legal and ethical issues
People often mistakenly believe that the content that rises to the top on Digg is indeed representative of what the majority of their user base thinks is important, but as it has been recently pointed out, in most cases this couldn’t be further from the truth. According to some recent statistical analysis, more than 20% of the content featured on the front page of Digg comes from a surprisingly small group of only about 20 users. Clearly, there seems to a discrepancy between the way Digg attempt to market themselves (self-organizing folksonomy, democracy of opinion, crowdsourcing) and the way their system actually works (“wisdom” derived from a homogenous monoculture, a microscopic “elite” group of privileged individuals). Truth to be told, Digg is well aware of this fact and even makes this information publicly available on their top users’ statistics page. It should be also noted that this problem is in no way particular to Digg only; other popular social bookmarking sites such as Reddit or Delicious (or as a matter of fact, even Wikipedia) exhibit exactly the same type of skewed user contribution statistics.
As with all Web 2.0 sites whose success is solely dependent on the input of the people using the service to generate valuable content, the recent massive flock of users from social bookmarking sites to more ‘hip’ services such as Twitter and Facebook begs the inevitable question: are social bookmarking sites here to stay, or are their days already numbered, continuing their slow fade into irrelevancy? According to recent research results, bloggers are getting social media traffic from Facebook and Twitter mainly. As of January 2009, Twitter already had twice as many young users aged 25 to 34 as Digg. The reasons why users move to new services are highly complex and not always rooted solely in the usefulness of a particular piece of technology, but also—and, one could argue, even more so—in societal and fashion trends. At present, no one could tell for sure in what state social bookmarking sites will be in a year from now. Whether Digg and similar sites could regain their former glory, that is yet to seen.
Discover and Share Content on Digg
How Digg Works
Wikipedia – Kevin Rose
Harvesting the Collective Intelligence of Social Networks
Top 100 Digg Users Control 56% of Digg’s HomePage Content
Digg loses popularity contest to Reddit
Digg, Reddit, Netscape: The Wisdom of Crowds or Mob Rule?
Twitter Overtakes Digg in Popularity
Can Digg Apologize Its Way Back to Popularity?
Are Social Bookmarking Sites Dying?