Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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1/10/2006
03:54 PM
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Not Digging the Mob Mentality

A whole community gave O'Reilly Media blogger and editor Steve Mallett a rude introduction to the pitfalls of social bookmarking, blogging and syndication yesterday. Popular technology news site and Slashdot heir-apparent Digg, where users control a story's prominence with their votes, promoted to the front page of that site a community member's accusation that Mallett purposefully stole Digg code to crea

A whole community gave O'Reilly Media blogger and editor Steve Mallett a rude introduction to the pitfalls of social bookmarking, blogging and syndication yesterday. Popular technology news site and Slashdot heir-apparent Digg, where users control a story's prominence with their votes, promoted to the front page of that site a community member's accusation that Mallett purposefully stole Digg code to create a couple of his own Web pages. The story garnered tremendous attention and hundreds of comments from the popular site. There's only one problem: Mallett never deliberately stole anything.I'll be the first to admit that I'm a big fan of Digg. But it turns out Mallett had only used open source code based on a Spanish Digg clone, which in turn stole the code, unbeknownst to Mallett. This opens this sort of social, Web 2.0 application (I can't believe I just wrote Web 2.0 there… d'oh, I wrote it again) to an issue I've long been wary of.

In my last venture before coming to InformationWeek, I helped design a socially-created blog that retained some editorial control specifically to avoid these types of situations. We let people post the news, but editors would update posts immediately if news shifted, changed, or turned out to be false.

The obvious problem is that Diggnation and like sites tend to gain a sort of fast-moving mob mentality. The same social centricity that makes it great for uncovering cool, important stories can open it up for trouble that spreads like wildfire. As Nathan Torkington eloquently writes on O'Reilly radar, "it's hard to aggregate the wisdom of the crowd without aggregating their madness as well."

Not that we in the semi-traditional media are anywhere near perfect, but the Web-mob has made its potential ugly side clear. Thankfully, Digg users have corrected themselves with a front page post acknowledging they were wrong. That's the right path for these things to take and could be taken as a positive example for how new media correct themselves.

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