Shove over "Karma"-whores and make room -- disillusioned Diggers want a seat on the piano bench. Media participation is, after all, an inalienable right! This was the sentiment at work last month when disgruntled fans of the social news site Digg began showing up suddenly and loudly on Reddit, a smaller social news site.
In case you're one of those clever individuals who've as of yet been able to resist frittering away untold hours online, let me explain that community-powered news-aggregator sites like Digg and Reddit are online hubs of passionate, topical activity. Individuals post links to web content they find interesting, amusing or important, and fellow community members vote the links up or down, all the while discussing, disputing, dismissing or otherwise contributing further content.
There are plenty of sites like this around these days, some, like newsvine, more newsy than others, and even traditional sites, like Netscape, have begun incorporating elements of the social-news schema. But Digg vs. Reddit is a popular blog meme and the inadvertent competition between them takes top billing when it comes to comparing social news aggregators.
Digg is larger, and more technology-focused, while Reddit features more of a general-interest mix of technology, science, politics, and other news. Usually, however, if something's at all worth noticing, it will show up in both places (and on sites like Boing Boing as well).
This is good, because it means I'm not pressed to visit Digg in order to find out what the hell's going on online. As someone who likes to chew the fat now and again, especially about certain newsworthy topics, I find myself checking the headlines on Reddit at least once a day, and speed-reading through the threads of mostly witty and occasionally informative comments posted by other users. But I rarely visit Digg. It's just not for me. That's not to say you won't like it, though. If you and your Linux-savvy friends frequently debate preferred methodologies for "packing kernels," then veer into fart joke territory, well -- I'd say Digg is, in fact, THE news aggregator for you.
In other words, the two sites have quite different communities.
Or at least they did until roughly a month ago, when members of the Digg community posted an HD-DVD decryption code and Digg administrators took it down. Users posted it again. It came down. And again: up, down. This cycle continued throughout the day, until finally, Digg co-founder Kevin Rose responded by saying Digg would stop removing the code and the posts related to it.
But by then, many Digg users were either furious, or forlornly broken-hearted.
Despite an overblown reaction in much of the unfortunately-termed "blogosphere," none of this was all that surprising. The whole concept of a "social news" site is still relatively young, and to be fair, the folks who run these sites are forced to kind of make it up as they go along.
Digg's team has been accused of tampering with content in the past, and Digg has also been the target of stealth marketing campaigns, designed by third parties to rig the system and get stories to the front page on behalf of paying clients. So: admin censored content? Not surprising.
What was surprising though (and just a little fascinating) was what happened next -- on Reddit.
Diggers, angry that their participation in their usual community was being taken for granted, simply moved their discussion over to Reddit. Slowly, new redditor after new redditor, each with a karma of "1" (what you get for registering) began showing up, ranting, analyzing, and posting links to the other site as evidence of this unfair turn of events.
Redditors chimed in on that discussion -- some being regulars of both sites, some interested in the Digg redactions on principle, some to make it thoroughly clear they were skeptical of this vocal new wave of folks from across the fence. There was much verbal eye-rolling on the part of long-time redditors, sure the migration would destroy the quality of Reddit posts, mods and comments.
But after a few hours, the new redditors -- members of the Digg influx -- began to point out that they were new to Reddit, look around at everything, and exclaim to each other about the differences. Hey! Look how much faster it loads! The comments are nested! More stories on the front page!
They also had suggestions for redditors: someone should do something about this ugly user interface! Here's a way you could improve the recommendation feature. Here's another. This search is crap! Why can't I have karma for commenting?
This was truly novel, and I was hooked.
Digg's demographic skews younger than Reddit's, and both sites skew heavily male. I felt like a bunch of younger brothers had suddenly wandered into my room and started picking up the things on my dresser, turning them over and asking about them.
Then, without warning, my same-aged siblings started slapping their hands and laying down some rules. The recent-but-experienced redditors tended to answer questions help desk style, and a few entrenched redditors turned into blowhards, with one or another of the old timers acting all gramps-y and harkening back to the good ol' days in early '06 when there were only about five redditors anyway, and the only discussions were about atheism and libertarian ideology. (This would have been before Reddit's fondness for cat pictures.)
But in doing so weren't the redditors, even the grumpy ones, displaying just a bit of Reddit pride? Not unlike the Diggers might have done if we'd suddenly moved in over there.
Both Digg and Reddit have fairly loyal communities. Members begin to feel "publicly at home" after repeatedly visiting their preferred site, more so than on a newspaper's site or on a frequented blog, and more so in some ways, than on a standard social networking site.
On a community-driven news aggregator site you share and are shared with in public, without the benefit of your own "page." In addition, there is no sharing without interaction -- each action provokes at least one reaction (a mod or the absence of a mod). Your comments can be sorted by your nickname, your submissions can be viewed and voted on, and your ranking in the group is there for all to see.
It's a community for three reasons:
1) nothing happens in isolation
2) the user's repeated experiences and regular behavior have helped create the nuances, protocols, mores and culture of each site, and
3) the integrated result of everyone's participation IS the site.
How could pride and ownership not come into play?
I suspect most of the visiting Diggers have by now returned to their usual water cooler, but out of curiosity, I called Kourosh Karimkhany, the General Manager of Wired Digital, which owns Wired News (AKA Wired.com) and Reddit.com. I asked what was up (if anything) with the traffic on Reddit since the "migration."
His reply: "According to our stats, Reddit's traffic did rise noticeably on May 1 and May 2, but it's hard to tell whether it was a random spike or the result of a statistically significant jump tied to a specific event. Overall, Reddit's traffic (page views and unique visits) have been doubling every four months and we don't expect the trend to slow any time soon."
He also told me that in late April, Reddit had received take-down notices regarding the same decryption code that Digg had removed. "We complied because we felt at the time that the code was still obscure and could be protected. But within a matter of days the code was all over the internet -- 56,000 web sites according to Google. After Digg declared they would not comply with the take-downs, we felt it was useless for us to do so."
I'm not sure why I found the cross-pollination of these two communities so interesting. The news posts that day were just as informative, important and/or amusing as always. Maybe the social phenomenon taking place that day was, for me at least, its own form of content. Content that actually affected my news community.
The two-year old Digg, currently the most popular of the social news sites, recently registered its one-millionth user; the just-slightly younger Reddit was recently purchased by CondeNet, which owns Wired Digital. Both operations are headquartered in San Francisco.