Here’s what the University of Chicago free-market economist in me has to say: Laissez-Faire Kevin Rose. Let it be.
This decentralized system of coordination is viewed by supporters of capitalism as one of its greatest strengths. They argue that it permits many solutions to be tried, and that real-world competition generally finds a good solution to emerging challenges. In contrast, they argue, central planning often selects inappropriate solutions as a result of faulty forecasting.
It appears that Digg has changed their stance towards their ‘economy’.
The Digg economy is the reward system for the users who contribute to the website by submitting content. This ultimate reward is the glory by way of user rankings, calculated as a function of total stories submitted by a user that made it to the front-page.
Keeping this economy in mind, you could say that the recent algorithm ‘upgrade’ at Digg is actually a shift from a capitalist free market state, to a socialist state of equality.
Prior to this change, the Digg economy was a capitalistic one. One that emphasized fairness and allowed each individual user to create his own fate. Under this system, each user was rewarded appropriately, based on their level of contribution to the system. This economy has now become a socialistic one (not to be confused with communistic economies), which emphasizes equality over fairness.
The ambiguity arises from the misunderstanding of the definitions of fairness and equality, a distinction that is very important to understand. Fairness, in the power-to-the-people, democratic, and capitalistic sense that Digg once did and should continue to espouse, means that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute to the community, and an equal chance to reap the rewards of making good contributions. Equality, on the other hand, in the socialistic sense that Digg seems to be adopting now (of course they are doing this under the ruse of fairness, but the two things are distinctly differing ideologies) means that everyone is equal, irrespective of differing amounts (and qualities) of contributions to the community.
Let’s look at an example from an agrarian perspective, shall we? And please tell me (in the comments section) which situation is better for the community:
Case 1: Every farmer is allowed to keep a percentage of his produce depending on the level of effort (and the quality of effort), assuming both things are monitorable (as in the case of Digg). If the farmer puts in high effort, the harvest is better, and he gets to keep a higher percentage of the harvest. Both the community and the farmer are better off.
Case 2: Every farmer gets the same percentage of the total community produce, regardless of his individual effort (and the quality of his individual effort). No farmer has an incentive to work more than is minimally required, and each takes home a small amount.
If you don’t see the parallel between our hypothetical farming community, and the Digg community, let’s elaborate a little bit.
Case 1: Every Digg user is evaluated independently of all other users, and has an equal chance of being featured on the front-page of Digg. The only factor taken into account when featuring a user on the front-page is the quality of the content (the produce). The more effort and individual puts in looking for content, and the better the quality of the content he finds and submits, the more rewards the person receives (a better front-page ratio).
Case 2: The case of the new Digg algorithm. Rather than rewarding good contributors based on monitorable past actions, Digg actually penalizes them. The more front-page stories you get, the harder it is to make it to the front-page. This is the equivalent of saying that if one farmer consistently puts in more effort, rather than letting him keep his fair share of more produce, we should create a mechanism which makes sure that the harder the farmer works, the harder it should be for him to produce better results (poisoning the land?).
Digg si opting for the second case, to ensure that the average community member gets on the front-page of Digg just as much as the not-so-average Digg power user does. This is done by handicapping the veteran Diggers, while assisting the newcomers reach the front-page. Talk about a contrarian philosophy.
Ultimately, in order to succeed in democratizing the flow of information, and truly giving power to the people, Digg will have to lean towards the free-market model and emphasize individual efforts and reward (not penalize) people based on their efforts (the only reward I am taking into consideration here is stories being promoted to the front-page, and nothing more).
Sure most people say that the only reason they contribute to social bookmarking sites is to share interesting and relevant content with their peers, but who doesn’t appreciate some recognition? Ultimately, Digg is just a game. If the rules aren’t fair, people won’t play.