The principle of transparency is regarded by many to be necessary in a successful democracy. Every day, people are demanding more transparency out of the media, business and government. Socially driven news sites are a step in that direction. They offer a level playing field where users come to edit news democratically. What role does transparency play in the users’ actions on these sites?
Digg features ways to positively and negatively rate both submissions and comments. The positive votes on stories are fully transparent, allowing you to see a complete list of who voted on them. Positive votes on comments are semi-transparent in that they display the last couple of friends of yours who have voted positively on comments. All negative rating – both buries and comment thumbs downs – are secret (with the exception of Digg Spy’s display of burials).
The transparency on Digg has generally been a good thing. It has served on numerous occasions to enable users to bust voting rings. The lack of transparency on the negative side of things, however, has given rise to lack of accountability for people burying stories. This in turn, has resulted in a “Bury Brigade“; a group of users who maliciously bury users or sites until those sites are banned from submission.
On Netscape, you can vote positively and negatively on both stories and comments. All votes and sinks are completely transparent. You can see a list of everyone who voted positively and negatively on every story, and even every comment.
Like Digg, Netscape has benefited from having their votes transparent to users. Users have on occasion been able to point out sock puppet voting rings. However the transparency has affected the social atmosphere to a certain degree. Some users take it personally when others rate their submissions or comments negatively. The result is an increased level of ill will floating around in some areas of the community.
Reddit has a positive/negative voting system on both submissions and comments. All votes are secret. Only the number of positives and negatives are available.
The lack of transparency, as it has on Digg, has been known to cultivate malicious negative rating of stories on Reddit. There have even been reports of trolls and bots who automatically down-vote new submissions.
Newsvine only allows positive votes on articles and comments. And like Reddit, they have no voter transparency.
Although there is no negative voting mechanism on Newsvine, there is a feature that lets users report stories for being spam, inaccurate, inappropriate, etc. There have been accusations of users abusing this story-reporting feature to get stories removed.
The more transparent a social news site is, the more accountability users have to each other. The more exposed we are to each other, the more we stand to learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses. As such, I urge all of the above mentioned sites to strive for even greater transparency of their users’ actions.
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.