Digg, the popular Web 2.0 news site that ranks stories based on the votes of members, is embroiled in a heated controversy over allegations of possible manipulation of the system.
The angry debate has led to promises by Digg co-founder Kevin Rose to change how content is voted onto the homepage, and has prompted the site's top submitter to stop contributing.
Supporters have touted Digg's user-driven system as a democratic alternative to mainstream news organizations, which use professional editors in choosing stories and their placement in newspapers and magazines. Since supporters often accuse the editor-based system as subject to personal bias or corruption, the latest brouhaha questions whether Digg is any better.
The flap started this week when a blogger did an analysis of Digg's front page and found that a significant number of items were promoted to the coveted placement through votes by the same group of Digg members. Members of the clique, which included top 30 Digg users, had often submitted the content, the blogger found.
"What does this say about Digg," the blogger wrote. "It means a small aristocracy controls the vast majority of content that gets on Digg, and it means the every day it gets harder and harder for new users to have any kind of an impact."
The disclosure, however, did not necessarily point to intentional gaming of Digg. Members are encouraged to invite other members to vote on stories, so the group analyzed by the blogger may have been just avid users of what Digg calls its "friends" feature.
Nevertheless, the blog sent tremors through Digg and prompted the site to initiate plans to change how it handles content promotion. Co-founder Rose, who last month was featured in a cover story on BusinessWeek magazine, said in the Digg blog that an algorithm update coming soon would take into account the diversity of the individuals voting on a story in moving the piece toward possible placement on the front page.
"Users that follow a gaming pattern will have less promotion weight," Rose said. "This doesn't mean that the story won't be promoted, it just means that a more diverse pool of individuals will be need (sic) to deem the story homepage-worthy."
Angered by Rose's posting, the site's "top user" in terms of story submissions and voting said late Wednesday night that he would no longer support the site. The person, who goes by the name "P9," was identified by the blogger as a member of the group whose voting was analyzed.
"As a direct result of your blog this evening, I will no longer no supporting (sic) Digg going forward. I bequeath my measly number one position to whoever wants to reign," P9 said.
P9 denied that he was gaming the system, and challenged critics who "do nothing but bitch about your being prevented from getting your stories."
"Now YOU can spend all the time, all the effort and get stabbed in the back by fellow Diggers -- aptly named -- and then tossed to the side by a Digg team that values toilet paper with more worth than the core users that feed this site it's content every day," P9 said.
This is not the first time Digg members have been suspected of gaming the system. Political bloggers from the left and the right have accused each other in the past of manipulating the system to get stories on the homepage and to remove others.
As a news site, Digg tends to favor stories on technology and science, but the site is trying to expand its content to include politics, gossip, business and video. Member-submitted stories are placed in a section where they must receive enough votes, or "diggs," in order to appear on the front page. If a story fails to leave the section after a period of time, it's removed.
The site has become the 24th-most popular Web site in the United States, with more 1 million visitors a day, according to BusinessWeek.