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Thoughts on the Great Digg Revolt of 2007

This one's for you David...

The Digg revolt has had me mulling some thoughts like cheap wine at Christmas:

  • I understand why Digg has bowed to its users' demands. I mean Kevin Rose and his team did when they backed down. They have a chance to take a stand rather than be nudged into irrelevance by their own community. If they bowed to the cease and desist the users would open up elsewhere. If they are closed down, the same thing will happen. While it's farr from certain, I think Rose and his team could even come out of the coming fight on top (even if Digg as we know it is closed down).
  • This is a challenge to copyright laws and notions of intellectual property that are no longer useful. See Lawrence Lessig's fantastic speech from last year for more on the history and context around this and the Creative Commons movement.
  • We'll see this mobbing tactic again elsewhere. The crowd is smart and has a good memory for successful techniques. I think we'll see people attempt and fail to use the same technique - does it have a name yet? - for trivial issues... or perhaps succeed.
  • This episode may add to brand and media owners' fears about the mob rule of UGC-powered media. Sure we can see the Digg crowd as a particularly militant, self-assured bunch but their collective action was a demonstration of a sense that they own that space. And they do...
  • You can't keep secrets in open networks. Adjust your business and marketing models early to avoid disappointment, please.
  • Censorship attempts on the web encourage wider distribution. Digg's not my thing, so I'd have missed the fact that it was really easy to crack HD-DVDs had it not been for the noise created by the cease & desist inspired clamp-down.
  • On a personal note... I think that DRM on DVDs is irritating and insulting: as someone with a large-ish DVD collection it drives me mad that I can't transfer these to my hard drive or my video iPod to watch. I paid a fair whack for each of those movies but I can't watch them as I please.

Couple of other points of view I'd note are...

Ian Douglas at Telegraph blogs:

It took two months for someone to break the security on HD-DVDs. If it’s changed, it’ll take someone less than two months to break it again. Yet again, only the law-abiding paying customer is prevented from using the films they’ve bought flexibly.

Bobbie Johnson at The Guardian is more circumspect:

I'm no fan of the ludicrous digital rights invoked by Hollywood on DVDs, but it isn't that hard to find the information you need on the web. Digg's a user-led site, but nobody has the inalienable right the post there. Some users are concerned that the approach has been affected by the fact that HD DVD took out some advertising on the site. Well, it might, but they were still abiding by the letter of the law. And while the law might suck, but - unfortunately - it's still the law.

There's a fine line between freedom of speech and foolishness. I wonder how many of the users involved would be happy to post the encryption key on their own site, and then ignore a cease and desist order?

I don't buy the whole "the law is the law" bit. Laws get changed because people resist them and agitate against them. And I don't buy the "would you behave like this in your own home argument either" - that's like asking protestors if they would stage a sit-down protest on their own. Digg is a public space where the crowd, the mob or whatever are drawing on the strength of the community the relative safety in numbers.

One last one - Valleywag calls out everyone who has been talking about this as navel-gazers and that this is the sort of story that:

...will restrict social news sites such as Digg and Techmeme to a geek ghetto; the general public really doesn't care that much.

The fact that these sites are niche is what builds them community. I couldn't imagine either crossing over to the mainstream - although their models are ones with other niches and even the mainstream - if that survives as a meaningful concept - can adopt.

What do you think?

: : BTW if you interested in how things unfoldedValleywag has a good account - Wikipedia being out action due to the same mob behaviour / info-riot stuff  that Digg was subjected to...


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Antony Mayfield calls it the Great Digg Revolt of 2007 and Mike Arrington says Viva la Revolution but for Web 2.0 entrepreneurs, the story of Digg's capitulation to its mob of users intent on linking to a DRM crack must be somewhat disquieting. The eve... [Read More]

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Censorship attempts on the web encourage wider distribution. Well put. I remember when radio stations would have their djs complain about p2p back when napster was around but ever since they stopped talking about it, more people actually buy cds and mp3s.

Thanks Antony. As interesting and thought-provoking as I was hoping. I dropped a few more thoughts here. Cheers, David


You're very welcome...

Nice analysis Anthony... Particularly interested in your "The crowd is smart and has a good memory for successful techniques" point. You're of course spot on and an angle i haven't really specifically thought about before - i.e. the 'crowd/community' acting as a single entity and demonstrating these types of behavioral characteristics...you've got me thinking so thanks...

I wonder how some UK newspapers who are keen to attract bloggers and UGC on their websites would have reacted in similar circumstances?

It's a big ask to rely on staff to see a piece early enough to pull it and you can imagine their competitors would lap it up as soon as the full facts were out.

"..will restrict social news sites such as Digg and Techmeme to a geek ghetto; the general public really doesn't care that much."

The odds on a site called Techmeme becoming a place where non-geek-ghettoers gather seem quite slim. :)

Craig - that's a very, very interesting thought. And a question that mainstream media brands looking to enter this space will need to ask themselves.

What would happen if MyEXPRESS was dominated by far-right agitators or MyMIRROR (when/if it comes?) by militant animal-rights activists who forced a similar issue?

I don't think anybody's arguing that crowds aren't powerful. But I'm not sure this crowd wasn't just stubborn, rather than wise.

The laws change, but the rule of law shouldn't.

So yes, I am circumspect - I don't believe that mob action is a good thing by default, even if it's all sparkly and Web 2.0 and whatever.

Would we be so happy to watch them do this in other cases? What if this was to do with, say, a libel suit? Or a contempt of court case?

OK, those are speculative. But, like you say, users know how to try this tactic and (so far) it has worked. That is what concerns me, because the consequences of others trying the same thing in the future could be incredibly damaging.

(Remember, this a very vocal minority of Digg users pulling in the same direction. Who's to stop a few thousand concerted users doing the same with another topic?)

Thanks for your comment, Bobbie - I think you're right to be circumspect.

The implications of what happened at Digg are complex and concerning. The scenarios you describe will happen at some point, I think, and our approval or disapproval will be beside the point in some ways: they just will happen.

There are many questions society, societies around the world, will have to deal with when it comes to living with open networks. I guess the question may be: will we be able to deal with the openness and transparency of the web? Openness and transparency are loaded, usually positive words for most of us, but they carry all sorts of consequences for the way we live.

I hope that new ways of thinking and dealing with these things emerge - the alternative is more draconian regulation of the web and with the loss of freedoms would come a loss of potential for all of us.

My thoughts exactly.

It is something Shane Richmond alludes to in a piece about My Telegraph:


maybe just conincidence, but as i was reading your post i came across this breaking story on Flickr about copyright and crowd behaviour in the social media space


it will be interesting to see how this one gets resoved...

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