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Digg is like a Manic-Depressive Girlfriend

Date/Time Permalink: 07/27/07 09:57:30 am
Category: General

Digg manic-depressive

And I say this with the authority of having had a couple of those in my early twenties... Many guys starting out fall into this trap. It's easy to do, because when you meet an as-yet-untreated manic-depressive who happens to be at the top of their cycle, they'll charm you like a fairy. They're energetic and glib and fun to be around. Two weeks later, you're wondering what happened to that person and who is this new angry and/or unhappy person you're seeing? And what on Earth did you do to deserve that?

In my professional capacity, I have had about too many clients who hyper-focus on Digg.com. They don't care what I write, draw, design, or do, as long as it gets onto Digg's front page. If it happens to be a hit on Digg, I get praised outrageously as a genius and they plead with me to repeat the same magic again next week. If it doesn't happen to work, the client is polite enough to not blame me (thank goodness), but is still disappointed, disillusioned, and asking for my criticism of where they've gone wrong.

The answer to both cases is: There is NOTHING you can do! The whims of Digg have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of your site's content or lack thereof. You could do anything and get any result. I am now seeing the same kind of bogus cargo-cult guesswork going into trying to sway Digg that I saw a few years back over Google.

Science has shown that a common flaw in human nature is trying to find patterns where none exist. Just like blowing on dice or carrying a rabbit's foot, people with no input to derive clues from just impose whatever pattern they want to on the white noise, guessing that two random events are related or believing in superstitious and fanciful causes and forces.

What brought the Digg traffic today? My fung shui? The meta-tag voodoo? Because I wore pink? Oh look, they're gone now! It must be something I did. A pigeon flew over my house - those must be bad luck!

The Digg traffic is subject to a whole slew of variables.

  • Maybe something more important somewhere else got their attention.
  • Slow news days happen on the Internet, too.
  • Digg rewards people just for submitting popular links, so maybe the link itself didn't matter that time.
  • Maybe there's a personal war going on. Groups rise up, duel it out, and disband, with links blowing around in the midst of battle.
  • Maybe they just saw this topic last week.
  • Events sometimes affect the collective mood of the user base. The great AACS encryption key rebellion, for instance.
  • Maybe the people who would have voted for that link just got banned for violating the TOS.
  • Maybe the people who were violating the TOS had to get out of the way so others could vote for that link.

I'm telling you folks: It's roulette. Keno. The perfect case of non-determinism, driven by one of the most perfect cases of natural entropy I've ever seen. The Diggers come and the Diggers go. Sometimes they bring flowers, other times they leave a boiling bunny on your stove.

For one thing, Digg has a major lead over other social bookmarking sites; they just hit the sweet spot at the right time in history, so their user numbers are staggering. Digg hit 1 million registered users according to this TechCrunch report back in March of 2007. Now compare that Slashdot only recently hit its millionth user. Digg was started in 2004; Slashdot was started in 1997. That's how fast Digg grows.

When you get into such huge numbers of users and give them so much power of determinism, you get out of the predictable math and into chaotic math. There's a whole bunch of butterflies flapping their wings here, enough to stir tornadoes all over the world. But there's only room for 15 stories on the Digg front page, just like there's only room for 10 hits on the first page of Google search results. Yet even Google results are controllable within a specific range - not doing stupid things to get yourself black-listed and having reasonable amounts of keywords will at least get you a spot somewhere in the results. Being an established site with lots of traffic helps. Beyond that, it's all astrology.

Granted, also, the concept of "linkbait" exists. Yes, there are classes and categories of articles that are more likely to get on Digg's front page than others. But just like with Google, more than ten people each and every day are out there vying to get onto Digg's front page. Making the very best linkbait in the world doesn't guarantee you'll win today's Digg lottery, only that you have an entry ticket.

Keno. In fact, I've often thought that you could get a good random number seed value off of the front page of Digg. Here's a Bash script:

#!/bin/bash

       lynx -dump http://digg.com/ | \
            grep "/*[.*] .* diggs" | \
sed -e 's/^.*]' -e 's/ diggs$' | \
awk 'BEGIN {total=0}; 
    {total=total+$1}; 
                     END {print total}'

exit 0

I call it "Digg_RNG.sh". It returns the total of all votes cast for the stories on the first page of Digg. I haven't tested this over time, but the value seems to change about twice per minute. Perhaps a better number could be gotten off of the combined first ten pages, but here we get into abusing Digg's server, when really all I'm doing is saying "proof of concept". I have no idea of the range, but a theory I have is that you could use this as a seed value for random number generation that might be as good a value as the real-time hardware clock. Any math wonks out there care to comment on this?

Anyway: Now the question is, will Digg like this blog post? Who knows? It depends on what mood she's in today. She might give me the silent treatment, or fall all over me kisses and giggles, or launch a revenge campaign against my perceived manipulation of her, or spurn me in spite for a competing suitor. You just never know.

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