Social BookmarkingSocial Mediaweb 2.0

Digg's digital Boston tea party

So, did you find 10 ways to get started with web 2.0? Did you look at my holiday snaps on Flickr? I had a great time in the South of France last year. More about Flickr, and social media in general soon. But for now: did you also look at Digg?
I ask because something a bit odd happened on the Internet on Tuesday, which I wanted to draw your attention to. The great thing about Digg is that it’s like an online newspaper where the front page articles are chosen entirely by the readership, rather than an editor. If you find an article you like on the Internet, you ‘digg’ it. If you don’t like an article on Digg, you bury it. Everything is submitted and voted on by the Digg community. The most popular articles float to the top. It’s one of those wisdom of crowds / trust in people like me / user generated content things.
Here’s the odd thing. On Tuesday night, the amount of power Digg‘s users actually have came into the spotlight. Users posted links to pages revealing the copyright encryption key for HD-DVD (High Definition DVD) discs. The code can be used to copy HD-DVDs. This in itself isn’t news – it’s not that hard to find the code if you’re minded to.
What’s interesting is that when Digg‘s site’s administrators attempted to prevent users posting such information, by deleting postings and removing posters, Digg‘s users rebelled against this censorship. Hundreds of references to the code flooded the site, overwhelming administrators’ attempts to control the site’s content. At one point, the entire front page comprised only stories that in one way or another were related to the code.
The ‘wisdom of crowds’ was in danger of turning into a torch-wielding mob, and, at that point, Digg‘s executives gave way to the unstoppable force before it. Digg‘s founder, Kevin Rose, posted the following on the official Digg blog:

Today was an insane day. And as the founder of Digg, I just wanted to post my thoughts…
In building and shaping the site I’ve always tried to stay as hands on as possible. We’ve always given site moderation (digging/burying) power to the community. Occasionally we step in to remove stories that violate our terms of use (eg. linking to pornography, illegal downloads, racial hate sites, etc.). So today was a difficult day for us. We had to decide whether to remove stories containing a single code based on a cease and desist declaration. We had to make a call, and in our desire to avoid a scenario where Digg would be interrupted or shut down, we decided to comply and remove the stories with the code.
But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.
If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.
Digg on,

This raises a few issues, about:

  1. people power – or the tyrany of democracy, depending on your point of view. This isn’t the first time in recent history that we’ve had a ‘digital Boston tea party’. In July 2003, there was a tax revolt in Second Life. Linden Lab’s policy at the time of taxing residents for objects they created met with vehement resistance. Rebellious residents dressed in colonial garb and covered the land with giant tea crates and defiant signs that read ‘born free: taxed to death!’. That’s why Second Life residents now own the IP to anything they create in-world – and that, in turn, has powered the economic development of the metaverse.
  2. the potential danger of user-generated content (UGC). You may be aware that Viacom are currently suing Google for US$1bn for alleged copyright infringement on YouTube, for example.
  3. the extent to which organizations, institutions and corporations have lost control of content.
  4. the move from traditional print publishing models to online. For more on this, see what Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian newspaper in the UK, had to say about it at an RSA lecture last year called ‘Newspapers in the Age of Blogs’. You can download a PDF of his lecture, or hear the audio here: Newspapers in the Age of Blogs

The other major issue raised here is, of course, the one that sparked the Digg Rebellion in the first place – Digital Rights Managment (DRM) – which is a whole other topic. For now, this is an event that may help shape and define the ground rules for freedom of speech and democracy on the web.
We shouldn’t be too surprised by the behaviour of Digg‘s users. There has always been an idealist, dissident culture in the development of the Internet – it’s how a lot of the basic freedoms of the web we now enjoy were won. The first counter-culture dissident was probably Tim Berners-Lee himself, in giving the World Wide Web away to us all for free in the first place.
I hope this is a storm that Digg rides out. My own view is that we will all calm down about issues like DRM and UGC before long. It’s not so long ago that companies were terrified about allowing customers to comment on website forums, never mind blogging. Now everyone’s doing it. Creative Commons is a viable alternative to traditional copyright licensing. Even Apple’s iTunes has recently removed DRM from some of its tracks.
More and more content – text, images, audio, video – is being created by ordinary people rather than corporations, and with increasing quality and sophistication. These people are willing to share it for free or under less restrictive licences. As this trend increases, it will make many of today’s arguments about rights redundant in the future. Power will continue to shift towards the crowd. There may come a point when today’s corporate content owners become tomorrow’s content facilitators. That’s still a valuable role, and one that will have a huge market. What if the future of television is YouTube? Murdoch could have got a bargain after all.
This is an uneasy time for media industries – film, television, music and publishing. Change is always unsettling. But it’s not going away. The revolution has started, and will not only be televised, but blogged, podcast, bookmarked, tagged and dugg!
In other blogs:
How Digg could have avoided a community revolt

🚀 Want to be a successful author? Join the club!

Are you in yet? Become a member of Publishing Talk today. Members get free access to past masterclasses, plus lots of other benefits, discounts and downloads. You'll also be contributing to our tree planting programme.


Jon Reed

Jon Reed is a content writer, author, screenwriter, lecturer, blogger - and the founder of Publishing Talk. He was previously a publisher for 10 years. Publishing Talk aims to help new and emerging authors write, publish and sell books. Advice is available via the blog and our masterclasses and membership programme. More...