The social aspects of sites like Digg, Netscape and Newsvine often provide the most rewarding experiences of the site. Being social is also a sure-fire way to move up the rankings and gain respect within the communities. There is a point, however, where being social can be construed as gaming the site. So where does being social end and gaming begin?
Gaming, for the sake of this article, is when someone circumvents the systems in place on the site in order to artificially inflate the popularity of a piece of content they submitted. What constitutes gaming is a point of contention among many users of social news sites.
There are some forms of gaming which everyone agrees is unacceptable, such as one person creating multiple accounts and using each to vote on a story. These are known as “sock-puppet” accounts, and are routinely discovered working in groups and banned.
Last August, AOL was lambasted by users in one of the most popular stories of the year on Digg. It was alleged that AOL’s Winblogs Inc. employees were submitting their content to Digg and then getting dozens of other staff to vote it up. Diggers viewed this as a mortal sin and went as far as to demand that all AOL-owned content be banned from the site.
Meanwhile, many users of social news sites regularly send links to their submissions out to friends via email and instant messaging in order to solicit votes. Netscape has even taken steps that make this easier, by providing an on-site private messaging system for their users. Judging by my Netscape inbox, its primary use is to send links to stories that are on the site (basically soliciting votes).
This is where we enter a gray area. You are likely to find just as many people who will tell you that this type of behavior is unacceptable as people who think it is good for the community. People who believe it is inappropriate will say things like “people should discover content in the system provided.” What makes it more difficult is that it is hard to determine who voted honestly on a story and who voted just because their friend sent it to them. I have always been on the side that thinks it is perfectly acceptable to send people links to submissions as long as the recipients don’t feel obligated to vote on them.
Digg has had an “Email This” feature on their stories for as long as I can remember. It allows you to send a story’s link to as many as 6 people at once. And if that isn’t indication enough that they want you to pass your submissions around, check out the “How Digg Works” page, which they added during their re-design in December:
Email your friends (Diggers or non-Diggers) when you find something you Digg.
Build a friend list; then your friends can track what you’€™re Digging. They can also subscribe to an RSS feed of your submissions and/or your Diggs.
These sites are always developing new ways for you to discover content on them. From RSS capabilities, to tagging to live trackers. There’s no reason why when all of those technologies don’t cut it, we can’t step in and send things directly to people we think will enjoy them. We just have to trust that they will consider the merits of the content.
In this way, the point where being social turns into gaming resides somewhere different in each of our heads. Sending stories to people who I think will enjoy them is something I have been doing since before social news sites existed. For me, it is one of the many practices that puts the “social” in “social news”. However, the moment someone votes on something on a social news site without considering the content, they have gamed the site.
So if you find a story you think I would like, by all means, send it my way.
Derek van Vliet is a Toronto, Ontario native who has been programming for most of his life. In the last year he has been active in social news. He is currently a top 10-ranked user on Digg where he goes by the name BloodJunkie. He is also a professional social bookmarker (aka Navigator) on Netscape, where he goes by the name Neophile. Check his blog at http://neothoughts.com.