Jay Adelson, CEO of Digg , talks about Web communities and what happens when they turn on the people that run them.
Digg is a Web 2.0 company that lets users post news stories, which are then 'dugg' (bumped up the list of popular stories) or buried based on the reactions of other readers. The company's Digg.com Web site has been on a steady growth path since February 2005, when a story about Paris Hilton's cell phone being hacked was dugg, resulting in traffic doubling virtually overnight. Now, the "Digg this story" logo is included with countless online news stories -- including on this site -- and having a story or blog post dugg has become an online status symbol. Digg.com celebrated its 1 millionth registered user in mid-April.
What are some risks Digg has taken and then pulled back on?
The top-users list we put out when we launched Digg -- a list of users who had the most [story] promotions to the front page. At first that made sense because it created a competition and users liked it. Later, we decided to remove that because it had become a target for spammers to solicit these individuals for money to submit stories. It created a certain lack of confidence in the promotions system.
Allowing users to submit articles that they are interested in democratizes the Web but also allows for a mob mentality that could result in users filling a site with crude content. In addition, topics that may be difficult but important -- like genocide in Darfur -- could be pushed to the back burner. How can these questions be addressed?
The interactive Web is a democratic republic, but you have large groups of people who are much more passionate about a subject being the ones who drive that particular subject on Digg.
In terms of the mob, in Digg's methodology, it is never an inertia that can't be stopped. Even when a story has been promoted to the front page, passionate users will bury that as well. There is always the check and balance of groups of people. There is no such thing as a single mob in the Digg world.
We have never seen [a correlation between] the difficulty of a subject and what is popular on Digg. A story that may be more difficult for an American to hear is something you are more likely to see on Digg than the traditional media.
In early May users revolted against Digg's efforts to prevent users from posting an encryption key used to copy DVDs. That revolt, which some have described as the first online riot and a pivotal episode in the development of user-generated Web 2.0 sites, prompted Adelson and his team to change their minds and allow users to post the content.
Did the user revolt change your views on the potential dangers of the mob mentality taking over?
The tools we have for the users to moderate themselves are enough to prevent this from happening most of the time. Digg's success is a testament to that. The method they were using -- we're definitely going to look at that in the future. How do we allow the users who don't agree with [the posting of certain content] to have a voice too? We have to be sensitive to all our users. I don't think this changes my attitude that this was something we can manage within the way the site operates.
One of the distinctions that have been made between the dot-com era and Web 2.0 is that instead of racing for an initial public offering, many companies are being built to be sold. Is that what you're doing at Digg?
We're definitely not doing that at Digg. Digg was built to achieve this goal of democratizing the media. We are interested in doing this ourselves. There may be partnerships we can have. Maybe there is someone who could acquire us and get to our goal faster and more efficiently. Now, we're not interested in that.
What are the toughest technical and business challenges on your plate right now?
On the technical challenge, a lot of it is the math. It is interpretation of data in useful and innovative ways to make everyone's user experience better from a technology standpoint. That is where Digg focuses a lot of its attention. There isn't any cool wisdom I can draw from. It is all new.
The business challenge is about people. Digg is in a massive growth phase. I need to make sure I find the right people and grow my company in a way that we can continue to have our speed, flexibility and innovation. That is a very challenging task. The things you would typically think of as the obstacles -- like monetization and scale -- have been solved a hundred times before us, and they are not huge challenges for us.