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The wisdom of the cowd?

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A minor brouhaha erupted recently with the publishing of a piece of investigative journalism at AlterNet, covering a conservative Bury Brigade colluding in a Yahoo Group to bury non-conservative stories, block stories from specific, left-leaning websites, and any post from certain targeted users, regardless of the content. An anonymous poster claiming to be a part of the group, Digg Patriots, responded on the group’s alleged blog The Rattington Post, saying essentially that as long as they were meeting outside Digg (meaning in a Yahoo group), they were not violating Digg’s Terms of Use. Now, that person may want to re-read the TOU, particularly Article 5, section 9, but a much larger question in my mind arises: What is the sense in allowing every user the ability to promote or bury each story on the site?

The idea seems sound enough: allow the community to decide which story, blog post, image, or video is worth sharing and push that content to the front page. The way it works on Digg is each user has the opportunity to Digg the story (like it), or Bury it. The Bury button was enabled to allow the readership to identify spam. But the ability to sign up with just an email address and bury any story you want invites the sort of abuse alleged by AlterNet. What seems like democracy in action turns out to be a distributed sort of censorship that the mainstream media is widely suspected of instituting. In the new upcoming version of Digg, 4.0, the Bury button is replaced with the Report button, but what’s to stop a gang of users from pulling the same trick with that button? On the other hand, if you remove the Report and Bury buttons, the site may well be overwritten with spam.

So what is the answer? Bennett Haselton proposes in a post on Slashdot a method of randomly selecting people to vote a hot story up or down, as a means to create a more representative sample of the community, and comparing those results to the wider community’s take on that story. In this scenario, stories could still be squelched when initially submitted by a well organized content posse. So, take Haselton’s idea one step further. Why not apply that method to all stories? That way, a story’s rise is powered by the community, rather than a coordinated effort to cheat the system. Is it more important that everyone have a say on each story, or to more accurately reflect the will of the readership? Personally, I Digg the latter.

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