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Buried By The Brigade At Digg 624

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the because-they-can dept.
Slashdot regular Bennett Haselton writes in with an essay on a subject we've dealt with internally at Slashdot for years: user abuses of social news... this time at Digg. He starts "Alternet uncovers evidence of a 'bury brigade' coordinating efforts to 'bury' left-leaning stories on Digg. Digg had previously announced that the 'bury' button will be removed from the next version of their site, to prevent these types of abuses, but that won't fix the real underlying issue — you can show mathematically that artificially promoting stories is just as harmful in the long run. Here's a simple fix that would address the real problem."

Even if you just arrived from Mars and have never heard of Digg, that description of the service should make it obvious how easy it is to game the system, by rounding up groups of friends to vote on stories that you want to promote, or to bury stories that you want to kill. The former type of abuse (and it is abuse, under Digg's Terms of Use; search for "organized effort") is far more common, since people usually have more incentive (commercial or otherwise) to promote their own work than to bury someone else's. And in fact, Digg has announced that the next version of the service will remove the "bury" button, replacing it with a "Report" button for reporting bona fide cases of abuse, not just to bury boring stories.

The thinking seems to be that abusive "digging" to promote a story, is less harmful than abusive "burying", and this has the ring of plausibility — that a creative effort is better than a destructive one. After all, Alternet had previously highlighted several artificial right-wing "digg brigades" mentioned in their story (Diggs And Buries, theliberalheretic, etc.), but they didn't blow the lid off of the situation until their report on the Digg Patriots bury brigade, as if to say, "Now we've found something really scandalous!" Annalee Newitz cheekily reported on how she bought votes to boost a story to the front page of Digg, but probably would have felt guilty if she'd hired a service to bury someone else's story. And when a Digg user organized an effort to bury Ron Paul stories that he thought were "spamming" the system, Ron Paul supporters protested that they were merely organizing to vote up stories they agreed with — the clear implication being that this was more honorable than organizing to vote stories down.

But this, I think, is a fallacy. If a story's ranking is artificially inflated, then the extra eyeballs for that story have to come from somewhere, and they come from users paying less attention to the other stories that the phony up-and-comer pushed out of the way. Artificially bumping a story up is just as harmful as artificially burying a story, but the harm is distributed among many innocent victims, not just one. (By the same reasoning, in fact, you could argue that burying a story does no net harm to other users of the Digg site, because the harm done to one story is cancelled out by the benefit to all the other stories that rise in prominence when the victimized story is pushed out of the way. So by strict economic logic, recruiting friends to boost your own story at the expense of everyone else's, is actually more harmful than organizing a bury brigade!)

So I don't think that Digg's replacing the "bury" button with a "report" button will fix the problem. For one thing, obviously groups could abuse the "report" button in the same way — issuing calls to action to report a story for violating the TOU. Since a flurry of bona fide abuse reports is presumably what Digg uses to identify and remove truly abusive stories like MLM spam, how are they going to tell the difference between these cases and cases of abusive "reporting"? (My suggestion: See if there is a sudden change in the percentage of users who view a story and make an abuse report. For stories that are genuine TOU violations, the percentage of users who "report" it should remain steady; for stories that are victimized by a "report brigade," you'll see a sudden spike in viewers and in the percentage of those viewers who report the story for abuse. This might have worked for detecting and stopping the bury brigades as well, although we'll never know now.)

But more fundamentally, even if this change does stop the "bury/report brigades" from killing stories at will, that only fixes the most obvious symptom of the underlying problem, which is that the system can be gamed by recruiting your friends to vote either way. It won't stop "brigades" from artificially promoting shallow stories that agree with their opinions, which does the same net harm overall.

Indeed, the most long-term harm that the DiggPatriots Yahoo Group might have done is that their cheating was so egregious that it makes other examples of cheating look benign by comparison, and might prevent people from realizing that "benign cheating" is just as harmful. As detailed in the Alternet report, the DiggPatriots group talked openly about cycling through different Digg accounts and circumventing bans on their IP addresses. The welcome message to the Yahoo Group told new users that the group was operating "under the radar." The group leader, a woman with the handle "bettverboten," talked about how to prevent Digg from monitoring their actions. And of course the vast majority of posts were calls to bury stories. But what if all of that had been inverted? If the group had operated in the open, while still focusing on recruiting conservative members? If each user limited to themselves to only one Digg account like they were supposed to? And if they focused not on burying stories, but on digging stories that promoted their viewpoints? Just as bad. It just doesn't sound as bad.

I still think the only way to make Digg a true meritocracy, would be to use some version of an algorithm I outlined in an earlier article, inauspiciously titled "How to Stop Digg-cheating, Forever." The gist of it is that in addition to collecting votes from friends, stories should be shown to a random subset of users on the site (perhaps in a box that occasionally appears at the top of the screen when they're logged in), who are asked to vote it up or down. The votes of a random sampling of users would be more representative of how much value the story would have to the Digg community as a whole. Even if most users who are asked to vote on a "random story" simply ignore the request, all you need is to show the story to a large enough sample that you can measure the difference in responses to a truly good story vs. one that has been promoted by digg-cheaters. You don't necessarily have to run this procedure for every story, only the ones that are about to gain some benefit from a large number of diggs (such as being pushed to the front page), and you need to decide whether the story really deserves that big boost. The only way to game that system would be to organize a group of dedicated Digg users so enormous that they constituted a significant percentage of all users on the system — something pretty hard to do without getting caught.

Still, the only site that I know of, that uses a version of this "random sampling" algorithm is HotOrNot.com, which lets you recruit your friends to vote on the "hotness" of your picture on a scale of 1 to 10 (by sending them a link to that specific picture), but also shows a stream of random pictures to visitors, so that your picture can collect votes from strangers. If the votes from the users who visit your picture via the link are significantly different from the votes from users who see your picture via the random stream, then HotOrNot discounts the votes from users who view your page via the link. This prevents digg-style gaming from people who want all their friends to give them a 10. (Note that if you think about it, this is essentially the same as always throwing out the votes from people who visit your picture via the link. If you collect votes from group A and B, but you only count the votes from group A if they agree with the votes from group B, then you're really only counting votes from group B! All the extra votes really give you is the ability to brag that X many people voted on your picture.)

This seems like the simplest way to prevent Digg-cheating, although there may be others. Still unresolved is how to solve the general problem of "gaming" in traditional media and the blogosphere. For the foreseeable future, it's going to be the simple truth that if a major media outlet wants to run a story, it will be heard, and if no media outlet wants to run it, it won't be heard, regardless of how many viewers or readers would have voted in some hypothetical poll that, yes, they want to read that story, and yes, they liked it afterward. That's true for Internet articles as well, except to the extent that a deserving article might be rescued from obscurity by Digg, but the more that system can be gamed, the less it will reward articles that really deserve it. Digg is gameable because power users can recruit votes from their friends; the media and the blogosphere are so obviously "gameable" that we don't even call it "gameable," because "power users" — media outlets and A-list bloggers — can run whatever they want. Right now, the only way I can think of to change this situation that is even logically possible, would be for a site like Digg to adopt some version of the random-sampling algorithm, and to continue growing in power until a significant percentage of the public (not just Internet users, but everybody) relied on it for information. Then, if you had something important to say, people would hear it, but you wouldn't be able to cheat your way to the top.

The ultimate irony is that Alternet's story may never have seen the light of day, if it hadn't been the beneficiary of the same gameable, non-meritocratic inefficiencies that exist in the media-blogo-outrage-o-sphere, just as they exist on Digg. Yes, the Alternet story deserved to be heard, but you don't get the publicity you deserve, you get the publicity that you organize, and Alternet had the organizational publicity structure in place to get their voice heard. If a kid blogging from his bedroom had infiltrated the Digg Patriots group and made essentially the same discovery, would anybody ever have heard about it? (Well, maybe, because of the political hot-button factor — but even then, only after the story had been picked up by a major site like Alternet.) A truly meritocratic Digg algorithm could make it possible to get a good story out without a lot of organizational support behind it — and to ensure that an organized effort can't kill a good story either.

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Buried By The Brigade At Digg

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  • tl;dr (Score:5, Funny)

    by biryokumaru (822262) <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:26PM (#33190440)
    Yes... a simple fix...
    • He's wrong (Score:5, Informative)

      by recoiledsnake (879048) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:43PM (#33190780)

      But this, I think, is a fallacy. If a story's ranking is artificially inflated, then the extra eyeballs for that story have to come from somewhere, and they come from users paying less attention to the other stories that the phony up-and-comer pushed out of the way. Artificially bumping a story up is just as harmful as artificially burying a story, but the harm is distributed among many innocent victims, not just one.

      Nah, burying skews votes by not allowing corrections. Lets imagine that there are 50 people who are gaming the system by being an organized collective and that Digg needs 50 buries to kill a story. If it was Reddit, the 50 downvotes could be balanced by, say 100 upvotes. But on Digg, not even 1000 'diggs' can counter the 50 buries. This allows a small group to have a significant chilling effect and effectively a veto on the content. Artificially bumping up is much less harmful.

      • Re:He's wrong (Score:5, Informative)

        by makomk (752139) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:59PM (#33191086) Journal

        What's more, even if 1000 diggs could counter the 50 buries, because the bury brigade were mass-burying articles as soon as they were posted, no-one else ever saw the articles and had the opportunity to digg them. Abusive digging is somewhat self-correcting - as soon as an article reaches prominence thanks to the mass diggs, a lot more people will see it and attempt to bury it - but abusive burying fundamentally can't self-correct even if the site did allow it to be counteracted in theory.

        Oh, and this bury brigade were doing this to every single article from certain sites they disliked such as Huffington Post, effectively making it impossible for any article from these sites to appear on the Digg front page. That's a pretty big deal.

        • by Elfich47 (703900) on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:38PM (#33191788)
          The Bury Brigade is effectively bumping anything they don't bury. As a result the entire site appears to lean in the direction that they desire. It is much more insidious than bumping because after the Bury brigade has been through, new viewers don't know that there were alternate choices/view points available.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Moryath (553296)

            What is odd is how it's all of a sudden a "big deal." Digg's had a group of left-wing Bury Brigades for years (as covered in 2007 by Wired [wired.com] and a number of other news organizations), but it wasn't a problem until now? [google.com]

            It's sort of like noticing this kind of thing going on [youtube.com], which seems to get missed. Or the fact that the guys with "Obama in a hitler mustache" signs at Tea Party rallies were actually Democrats of the Lyndon LaRouche cult [washington...endent.com].

            Say what you want about the Tea Party guys, there are plenty of kooks ther

        • by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:50PM (#33191960)

          no-one else ever saw the articles

          Don't forget the articles were originally somewhere on a real site, where people read them (like, Huffington Post). And the Digg button was right there... so no small number of people would be sufficient to overwhelm even a moderate number of people who read a site regularly and used the Digg button. It's not like burying a story on Slashdot where you would have no way to know Slashdot might have been talking about a story.

          That's one of the things that strikes me as really funny about the complaint, is that you naturally had large groups of people working moderations for a story just because of the Digg button. You could only bury stuff from small sites that no-one was visiting enough to Digg up anyway!

          • by recoiledsnake (879048) on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:06PM (#33192242)

            no-one else ever saw the articles

            Don't forget the articles were originally somewhere on a real site, where people read them (like, Huffington Post). And the Digg button was right there... so no small number of people would be sufficient to overwhelm even a moderate number of people who read a site regularly and used the Digg button. It's not like burying a story on Slashdot where you would have no way to know Slashdot might have been talking about a story.

            That's one of the things that strikes me as really funny about the complaint, is that you naturally had large groups of people working moderations for a story just because of the Digg button. You could only bury stuff from small sites that no-one was visiting enough to Digg up anyway!

            Nah, once buried, it stays buried, regardless of the 'diggs', original site or not.

            From the alternet article:

            When a story is buried, it is removed from the upcoming section (where it is usually at for ~24 hours) and cannot reach the front page,

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by fishexe (168879)

          Abusive digging is somewhat self-correcting - as soon as an article reaches prominence thanks to the mass diggs, a lot more people will see it and attempt to bury it - but abusive burying fundamentally can't self-correct even if the site did allow it to be counteracted in theory.

          Isn't this a bit like abusive modding on slashdot? Fewer people (even mods, unfortunately) read at -1, and once upon a time it was technically possible to get a post modded below -1 so that nobody would ever see it, even if they wanted to. These posts would not get modded back up, while posts that were spurilously modded up off the bat would eventually get modded back down.

          At least that's the theory. In practice, spurious up-mods seem to be met by further up-mods...this is /. after all.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pugugly (152978)

        Thanks - I was mulling through *why* it seemed intuitively wrong to me to make those equivalent, and yeah, I think you nailed it. I'm not sure his plan isn't an improvement, but but burying a story that can't recover on it's own merit is a lot worse than hyping a story that falls apart based on it's own shortcomings.

        Which is of course why we have a free press no matter how badly it sucks at time - I'd rather risk the hype of people adulating bs like the Paul Ryan budget, or even the most recent bs entertain

    • Re:tl;dr (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rwa2 (4391) * on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:03PM (#33191156) Homepage Journal

      If you've ever used StumbleUpon, it IS a simple fix... everyone rates every kind of article, and only gets notified of articles by like-minded people.

    • Re:tl;dr (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Vintermann (400722) on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:53PM (#33192012) Homepage

      It IS simple. And it's very traditional, too: the first true democracy, Athens, relied heavily upon random sampling to achieve popular representation. It's called sortition [wikipedia.org].

      It's one thing slashdot got right, too, or at least more right than reddit and digg. Mod points are awarded randomly here, if you've been member for a while (a year, isn't it?). Since we don't get to mod all the time, we do it more conscientiously when we do. A fair evaluation by a representative sample gives far better results than what you get elsewhere, which is usually empathetic votes from people who very strongly disagree or agree with you.

      (I admit, I could be a little biased here. I get much, much lower mods on reddit compared to slashdot, where it sometimes feels everything I write gets to +5!)

      Rob Malda, fact is you were right in a way digg and reddit simply weren't. Their approach was appealing in the start, but didn't scale well as their readership soared. Why don't you capitalize on this more? Take the next step?

      Allotted mod privileges is great, but it should also be random which comments and stories were eligible for moderation. Maybe just a tenth of the comments on each story, with these sorted on top (treewise), so that you avoid the Matthew effect [wikipedia.org], that already highly modded comments/stories get all the attention.

      The firehose could really shine, if you took your old ideas (which are the same as the old ideas of the Athenians) to their logical extension.

  • Haha (Score:5, Funny)

    by Captain Splendid (673276) * <capsplendid@@@gmail...com> on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:26PM (#33190454) Homepage Journal
    We have found the conspiracy...and it's a bunch of conservatives!

    Seriously, I listen to Rush every day, so I'm surprised and shocked. SHOCKED!
    • Re:Haha (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Abreu (173023) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:42PM (#33190754)

      I am becoming increasingly jaded at the USian right wing and their Obamapanic

      Really guys, your president is Center-Right from the perspective of the rest of the world, and it is just sad to see him try to meet the right wing halfway in all of his policies, only to be branded a "dirty commie" over and over again...

      The USA needs Democrats with balls to propose truly liberal policy, not watered down compromises, imho

      • Re:Haha (Score:5, Funny)

        by bsDaemon (87307) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:45PM (#33190824)

        The last time Democrats in this country had balls, they seceded from the union to keep their slaves.

        • Re:Haha (Score:4, Informative)

          by rsborg (111459) on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:03PM (#33191174) Homepage

          The last time Democrats in this country had balls, they seceded from the union to keep their slaves.

          Ah yes, the Dixiecrats [wikipedia.org] and the Solid South [wikipedia.org]. Funny enough, the voting patterns switched after the Dem party passed the Civil Right bill back in '65... the formerly "I'll never vote Republican" voters switched at the "betrayal". Consequently, Nixon/GOP leveraged this to victory in 68 and 72 using the Southern Strategy [wikipedia.org]... plus ca change (D->R) plus c'est la meme chose (ah, racists).

          • Re:Haha (Score:5, Insightful)

            by operagost (62405) on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:17PM (#33191428) Homepage Journal

            Funny enough, the voting patterns switched after the Dem party passed the Civil Right bill back in '65... the formerly "I'll never vote Republican" voters switched at the "betrayal".

            Strange, because a greater percentage of Republicans voted for the bill.

            The Democrats had a HUGE majority back then, and the Presidency... so we know for sure who was opposing REAL progress.

          • Re:Haha (Score:5, Informative)

            by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:02PM (#33192154) Homepage Journal

            Ah yes, the Dixiecrats

            The racist past of the Democratic Party is an interesting story.

            Clearly, there were lots of racists who called themselves Democrats, but over the past several decades, with the ascent of people of color in the Democratic Party, those racists would have become more and more uncomfortable as Democrats. Today, a black man is the head of the Democratic Party. By definition, any serious racist would obviously not remain a member of a party that is led by a black man.

            So where do you think those racist Democrats went? Maybe they just stopped voting, maybe they joined some third party (though the numbers don't really bear this out). There's really only one party to which the racist "Dixiecrats" could have gone.

            There have been 98 black members of congress. Since 1900, only 5 of them have been African-American. There are currently zero African-Americans among the 178 Republicans in the House of Representatives.

            • Re:Haha (Score:4, Interesting)

              by dachshund (300733) on Monday August 09, 2010 @05:24PM (#33196200)

              So where do you think those racist Democrats went? Maybe they just stopped voting, maybe they joined some third party (though the numbers don't really bear this out). There's really only one party to which the racist "Dixiecrats" could have gone.

              (Democratic) President Lyndon Johnson said it best, after signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964: "we have lost the South for a generation." The man was a Texan and he knew what he was talking about. Except maybe the part about it only lasting one generation.

              If you're interested, you can also read about how the Republicans took in those southern voters, and the people who made it happen. They were not good people. Ironically, many of them probably weren't even racists at all, by the standards of the day. They simply had no concerns, and realized that this was an opportunity for power and riches. Too bad we still have to live with their ilk.

        • Re:Haha (Score:5, Funny)

          by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <taiki@co[ ]et ['x.n' in gap]> on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:27PM (#33191600)

          No, the last time any Democrat had balls it got all over an intern's dress.

        • Re:Haha (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dgatwood (11270) on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:42PM (#33191834) Journal

          Actually, a significant group of Democrats were strong supporters of Lincoln's position in the war. No surprise since even back at that time, both political parties shared some significant common roots, having both been formed by pulling together members from the same basic set of defunct parties that existed previously. The party divisions were (and to an extent, still are) largely arbitrary.

          As for the "pro-slavery" Democrats, one could reasonably argue that this was the last time in the history of our country when politicians actually represented the views of their constituents.... Not that their constituents weren't wrong, but it's hardly fair to blame the politicians for actually doing their jobs (for once)....

          And to be fair, it was never about keeping their slaves, but rather to protect states' rights to decide whether or not to allow slavery. You know, the same sort of states' rights agenda that Republicans are pushing at the moment. Humorously, even in the Civil War era, the Republicans' view on states' rights depended solely on which party held the most power in the Federal Government. When Federalists were in power, they screamed "States' Rights!" at the top of their lungs, claimed to be for a smaller (federal) government, and generally tried to impede the Federalists' progress. The moment Republicans came into power, they took as much power as they could get and no longer cared about anyone's rights. Sound familiar? It should. It still happens in both the Democratic and Republican parties today, with just as much vigor.

          And like most governmental issues today, there was a lot of money involved in the slavery debate. No surprise, again, that at least initially, the wealthy slave owners won, keeping their power, up to the point of splitting off into a separate country. It would have remained that way, were it not for somebody standing up, saying "No, this is wrong", and being willing to take the country to war to make the point.

          But in the end, they shot him for it. Who is standing up now? Certainly not the Republicans, and certainly not the Democrats. Today, the people with the money win, because everyone is looking for the next big handout and no one wants to take a bullet.

          These days, neither party cares in the slightest about states' rights except when they can use it to their political advantage. It's all just a charade to ensure that neither party every truly has to answer to the public as a whole. Don't blame me. I Voted for Kodos. At least a cartoon character is a real change from what we have now.

          • Re:Haha (Score:4, Informative)

            by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:08PM (#33192260) Homepage Journal

            And to be fair, it was never about keeping their slaves, but rather to protect states' rights to decide whether or not to allow slavery.

            I'm sorry, but that's not even close to the truth. In 1860, there was a concerted effort in the slave states to expand slavery, even into Central and South America. The slaves represented a huge part of the wealth of whites in the South.

            This business about "States' Rights" being the main issue of the Civil War is just an effort to whitewash the history of the Confederacy. The fact that the Confederate "battle flag" remains a popular symbol among whites in the South (and racists in the North) is just an indication that there is still resentment that their free labor was taken from them. The fact that most "right to work" states were also slave states shows that they're still trying to figure out a way to replace that free labor.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            And to be fair, it was never about keeping their slaves, but rather to protect states' rights to decide whether or not to allow slavery.

            I hear that a lot (mostly from Southerners), but I don't think non-revisionist history really backs it up.

            Slight tangent: an interesting article [theatlantic.com] I read this morning that takes a crack at the idea that most Confederate soldiers weren't slaveowners.

      • Catch 22 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hellfire (86129) <deviladv@gmCOFFEEail.com minus caffeine> on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:03PM (#33191160) Homepage

        We also need a populace which will support Obama if he leans left and shows jerks like Palin just how big his balls really are.

        But that's the true problem. We have an uneducated, jaded populace that doesn't vote their heart (if they vote at all), we have two parties who don't want to lose any control on government they have to allow a major third party, and we have a bunch of fat lazy rich people who also control much of the media who want to maintain their control on government as well.

        Obama was a good choice, IMHO, but he's basically been given crap to start with, and anything less than diamonds from that crap is spun as failure by the political machine. No he's not perfect, but the entire country has been positioned as center right, and our system of checks and balances, while good, has been pushed to the right hard over the past few decades and we don't have enough force to push it back. Even if we did it will take time as our system of government was built to create "stability", and major changes are sometimes harder for no other reason than it's hard to change the status quo.

        • Re:Catch 22 (Score:5, Insightful)

          by inKubus (199753) on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:52PM (#33191992) Homepage Journal

          Bush had 9/11 and Iraq, arguably both were capitalized on to avoid checks and balances. It's funny when Obama passes health care the crazies fear socialism but when Bush increases the size of the government by 50% after 9/11 and they didn't even look twice, flying their flags on their SUVs.

          Obama needs another four years so he can actually do some real socialism. This is really the modern way to provide basic human needs and it is possible to be fair with the increased real-time statistics and data reporting (social intelligence) being built as we speak. I think the U.S. is tending to be more socialist as we realize that some of this is possible to do right with government guidance (if not total service). There are lots of examples where a free market with pure competition is just not possible, and health care is one of them.

          The crazies are supporting a borderline fascist policy put forth by the republican mainstream for 8 years, where corporations can do no wrong. At the same time they were increasing the size of the goverment, except only the part that serves the corporations and their interests (security, defense, empire-building, etc)! But thanks to the evangelical base, whose leadership is probably not even Christian, they have a decent sized force of 2-3 million that will do just about anything "for the lord" so they can make it look a lot bigger than it is (this story being a good example)

          Between the two you have the vast majority of americans who don't have feelings on the matter and vote with their pocketbooks. Obama has not raised taxes on the middle class. He's really sending a ton of money back to the people (yes, they are borrowing it from the future, but Reagan invented this), and he's helping America to modernize and provide streamlined services for all it's citizens. He's the first techie president. However, you gotta be careful what you do for labor unions. We are probably better off with regulated labor unions and more jobs just to keep people off the streets. Of course, the real reason those jobs are being lost is that the crazies don't feel the need to obtain advanced education, which means they aren't real useful in a modern economy about moving stuff at highly lean and efficient paces, with lean manufacturing hopefully done by robots so you can "hire and fire" just by flipping a switch.

          So, crazies: get an education, enjoy your free health care and stop being racist--it's so 60 years ago.

      • Re:Haha (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Steauengeglase (512315) on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:12PM (#33191298)

        The solution is a lot simpler. Everyone in the center has to grow a pair and call a troll when they see one. If we did, we could find compromise that could possible move us forward.

        Hell, when you boil it down the tea party is nothing but a group of griefers. Who else shows up to claim that the Bhumfarq county council is in league with Obama and the UN to put those funny black signs up on secondary highways (to obviously guide UN tanks in the upcoming invasion)?

        Not that the left doesn't have it's own crazies, but they tend to specialize in their own, very specific brands of crazy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by phantomfive (622387)

        The USA needs Democrats with balls to propose truly liberal policy, not watered down compromises,

        The funny thing is Democrats weren't compromising with Republicans, they were compromising with other Democrats. They had to compromise because those Democrats were afraid they would get voted out if they moved too far to the left, and they were probably right. Even someone like Harry Reid who has served his state well for years, is in danger of losing his seat based on what he's already done (he would lose it for sure if his opponent weren't the Martha Coakley of the right).

        Something a lot of people don

    • Re:Haha (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:28PM (#33192640) Homepage Journal

      Seriously, I listen to Rush every day

      "Those who hold high places must be the ones to start to mold a new reality closer to the heart." -- Rush
      Oh, you meant the OxyContin addict? Never mind.

  • And what about yelp? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:28PM (#33190474)

    I have been yelping for about a year and I see the owners of places abusing the crap out of that system. I now actually have yelp staffers emailing me asking me to change my reviews at the bequest of an owner of a restaurant or it will be removed...

    • by aquila.solo (1231830) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:47PM (#33190848)
      That's not from the owners of places as much as extortion [wired.com] from Yelp itself. If a company doesn't pay to become a "preferred member" or some such BS, then Yelp shows the unfavorable reviews. If the company is a "good citizen," then Yelp shows more of the favorable reviews; even to the point of pressuring users like you to modify their posts.

      In short, Yelp is pretty much useless as a source of unbiased information.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nine-times (778537)

        Fortunately, in the long run, they're probably shooting themselves in the foot. The only reason anyone would go to Yelp is to get unbiased reviews. As it becomes more bias, it becomes less useful, and they'll probably lose their audience to someone doing a better job.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Triv (181010)

      I now actually have yelp staffers emailing me asking me to change my reviews at the bequest of an owner

      You crammed two words together, there - it's either 'behest' or 'request,' unless they demanded you change your review from their deathbed which, I'm guessing, would require you to really, really have gotten under their skin. :)

  • How is this new? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:28PM (#33190478) Homepage

    Slashdot had this problem long before Digg even existed or was even an idea.

    CmdrTaco tried several ways of dealing with it, but it still exists today. Shill accounts designed to moderate down a disliked opinion. Mod down mobs. I have seen this stuff in action on lots of people's posts.

    Typically the shill actions and mob actions get undone by the general populace but you can see the effects by looking at the moderation of a hot topic post. 30+ moderations with a crapload of overrated,troll, etc.. when the post was 100% op topic are a prime example of this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymusing (1450747)

      If I had mod points, I'd mark you as an overrated troll (because, of course, you're on topic!).

    • Re:How is this new? (Score:5, Informative)

      by SoupGuru (723634) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:41PM (#33190734)
      Those global warming discussions are pretty interesting up to 3 hours after posting. Then it starts evening out with some rational discourse and some science. I'm not sure I'd call it organized but it seems pretty suspicious that the rational science loving audience that frequents slashdot would crank up the denier rhetoric so consistently.
    • Re:How is this new? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SashaMan (263632) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:50PM (#33190910)

      I totally disagree. While of course this happens to some extent, and while in general Slashdot has some pretty common points-of-view (FOSS supporters, generally libertarian leaning, etc.), the level of groupthink and mob rule is many orders of magnitude less on slashdot than on digg. While part of this may be due to the audience, I think the biggest factor is the moderation system. There is no "agree" or "disagree" moderation on slashdot. There are certainly many times I've moderated stuff as interesting or insightful even if I didn't necessarily agree with the sentiment of the poster.

      On digg, it's all up or down. You'll frequently see comments like "**** Republicans!" rated very highly. Whether or not you agree with Republican political views, putting four asterisks before their party name adds nothing to the discussion. You rarely, if ever, see a comment like that rated highly on slashdot, unless there's something sarcastic behind it. Of course, now you'll probably see lots of comments like that as responses rated highly :-P

    • by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:31PM (#33191682)

      Slashdot had this problem long before Digg even existed or was even an idea.

      Slashdot actually has two systems in place that make comments much better moderated here than on Digg:

      1) Metmod. I know lots of people think metamod doesn't work, but I think it does - it's imperfect but it's the best way to avoid handing moderation to people who make moderations most people disagree with.

      2) Posting rule. This might be even more effective - the fact fact that you cannot moderate AND post. Since most people want to weigh in on a topic it means people moderating are willing to hang back and moderate up stuff the agree with, more than moderate down... yes you could bury a bunch of stuff but at the risk of posts you think are good getting buried too. This arms race means that generally more posts will get modded up.

      There's even kind of a third one, limited moderation. On Digg you can bury and upvote all day long, as much as you like - even comments have a limit on the number in a certain time period, but not digg/bury! So it'ssuper easy to bury something you only mildly disagree with instead of putting any thought into the moderation. When you have only five moderation points you think way more heavily if something is worth upvoting or downvoting.

      Basically Slashot as a whole is just way more thoughtful about moderation and encourages moderators to really think about what they are doing, Digg does none of that.

  • by aronzak (1203098) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:31PM (#33190544)

    The fix is just to go to Slashdot for all your news, ever.

    Slashdot is never wrong, right?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rsborg (111459)

      The fix is just to go to Slashdot for all your discussion, ever.

      FTFY. Slashdot is usually at least interesting w/r/t discussion. Strawman, Ad-hominem, Troll, Flamebait and other forms of Conversational Terrorism [vandruff.com] (ie, noise) are usually downrated, and many times I learn things here due to the up-rating of signal that's Informative or Insightful. I tried, I mean, really tried to spend more than 5 minutes on almost any other discussion thread... it's a worthless effort.

      It's a shame that the moderation sys

  • by peter303 (12292) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:33PM (#33190586)
    I read the primary news sources already, so have read most of digg articles. Slashdots seems to find the gems from obscure sources. I like it better.
  • Digg's biggest fault (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MikeRT (947531) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:39PM (#33190688) Homepage

    is that it lets people moderate AND post at the same time. That is the #1 reason why it often degenerates into ideological and immature flame wars.

    • by Surt (22457) on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:07PM (#33191240) Homepage Journal

      Digg's and Slashdot's faults are pretty much the same: they use a moderation system that doesn't allow the end-user to filter out bad moderators.

      For example, on /., it would be trivial to replace meta-moderation with a system that asked:

      Would you like to see moderations from this user in the future? If you say no, that person's mods are now 0s to you. We'd all have differing views of /., based on our personal preferences, and organized gangs of moderators would be totally useless. And the more you metamoderated, the better your /. experience would be. Given a higher rate of participation in metamoderation, users with high levels of 'no' could be defaulted to 'off' for all users (becoming visible only if you've explicitly said 'yes' to that moderator).

      But it will never happen on any discussion site because it would yield too much of the editorial control.

      • Digg's and Slashdot's faults are pretty much the same: they use a moderation system that doesn't allow the end-user to filter out bad moderators.

        That's sort of correct, but in the end wrong.

        Because the Slashdot moderation system is designed to automatically filter out bad moderators, over time. Sure the user cannot do it but the user shouldn't have to.

        Meta moderation can identify people whose moderations are undone more often than not, and simply not hand them moderation. With Digg you have no governance

  • by maillemaker (924053) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:41PM (#33190736)

    If I have to choose between gangs of diggers and gangs of buryers, I'll take the gangs of diggers.

    I'd rather see what is most popular, rather than not see what is most unpopular.

    But I think the suggested random voting is best.

  • Why bury is worse (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fermion (181285) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:44PM (#33190800) Homepage Journal
    Skimming the essay the basic assertion seems to be that having too much to read is worse than the occasional killing of a story. This is common thinking of those that wish to protect us from unfavorable information. That there is someone who knows better than you what you need to know. Of course a selection process is neecessary, there is no way to print all the minutia that goes on in the world, but that selection should be based more on interest rather than the facts presented in the story. For instance, if one is interested in Miley Cyrus, then one wants everything on the subject, not just the Disney edited factoids.

    Which is why burying is worse. Burying is act of preventing people from hearing differing opinions. While it is true that artificially inflating the importance of information also has negative effect, many different viewpoints can be overinflated, so we still end up with a variety of opinions. A comment system allows all to reflect on those opinions.

    It is true that groups can game the system to inflate the ranking of stories, but look at it this way. On has a finite amount of time. It is relatively trivial to use the time to bury selective stories, but becomes more complex if one wants to do the same thing by inflation. One has to inflate a larger number of stories, and at the same time others are doing the same with stories they agree with. All sides are probably going to inflate the stories that reflect best on them, as inflating politically correct but embarrassing stories would not be beneficial.

    At the end of the day, and inflation policy is more likely to result is a selection of the best stories from a variety of opinions, while a bury policy will likely cause the best stories to be buries simply because a few people disagree with the viewpoint. The question is one interested in presenting information that people can choose from, or if presenting an opinion in hopes that everyone will agree.

  • Well, yes... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EriktheGreen (660160) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:46PM (#33190828) Journal

    Despite the fact that they are involve the public more directly and more immediately than any democratic or community based voting or collective decision making system has in the past, internet sites where visitors decide on something still rely on honesty and impartial decision making (with respect to the purpose of the vote) by the voters in order to produce a non skewed result.

    Like any voting process whose outcome is meant to reflect the "will of the people", voters must vote only once so everyone has an equal voice, and no voter must be unduly influenced by biased interests. To correctly reflect the views of everyone on the internet, a vote would have to include a significant random sample of internet users, which is impossible. Further, due to the nature of the Internet and web sites, even detecting a biased, stacked or invalid vote is nearly impossible.

    While this is obvious to some, it's worth stating explicitly that just because a voting process takes place on the internet doesn't mean it's fair and balanced, and just because something is posted on the internet doesn't mean that it's true.

    It can be a shock to those who believe humanity is a step away from an internet based golden age of online government where corrupt bureaucrats and overpaid staff are eliminated, but the internet is just a better way to communicate than we've had in the past. The value of communications has always depended on whom you are talking to :)

    Erik

  • I'm genuinely curious. I haven't metamoderated in well over 7, maybe 8 years. But I'm wondering, is it working? Has it worked before?

    • I can tell you that whatever it was 7 or 8 years ago, it was better then. The metamoderation system employed currently is, to be far too kind, a total pile of worthless steaming failure buried in horse shit. Spitballs flung across your office would be more effective tools for metamoderation on slashdot than the current system. Really the only relevant question to ask about metamoderation is why they even bother keeping it up currently, it doesn't do a damned thing.

      Although even worse is that the people who get moderator points know this and spend their points with wild abandon because they know that the metamoderation system will never, ever, ever do anything to them.

      Go ahead, try the metamoderation link [slashdot.org]. Tell me how many of those 10 comments it asks you about were even moderated at all - if your number is greater than zero you should count yourself lucky.
  • by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:00PM (#33191094)
    As with many debates, much of this debate depends crucially on what you think Digg's tools are meant to do (what is, in philosophy, sometimes called the telos, or purpose, of a thing). If you think Digg's purpose is to show "the best" stories, then that requires a certain algorithm (e.g. rejecting votes from brigades in favor of votes from people who are apt to judge whether something is "the best"), but if your objective is to show "the most popular" stories, then a different algorithm is required (just making sure everyone only votes once).

    So there are some part's of Mr. Haselton's argument that presuppose a certain purpose to Digg, which may not actually be the purpose that the majority of Digg users care about. (Also worth thinking about is that the purpose of Digg, from the point of view of those running it, is to make money; irrespective of whether the users are happy or the best stories get on the main page...)

    The only way to game that system would be to organize a group of dedicated Digg users so enormous that they constituted a significant percentage of all users on the system — something pretty hard to do without getting caught.

    This distinctly presupposes a purpose to Digg. From the point of view of many, it doesn't make sense to "get caught" with respect to getting a "significant percentage of all users on the system" to vote a certain way. If the majority of the community is up-voting (or down-voting) a certain way, then the community's feelings are being correctly reflected in the story-ranks. (To those who consider Digg to be a popularity engine, this is perfectly fair.)

    If each user limited to themselves to only one Digg account like they were supposed to? And if they focused not on burying stories, but on digging stories that promoted their viewpoints? Just as bad. It just doesn't sound as bad.

    It's not just that it doesn't sound as bad... it's that it really isn't as bad... at least for those people who think Digg is "supposed" to be a popularity engine, where each user gets a single chance to "have their voice heard". (In this view, voting more than once is wrong; anything else is fair game.)

    Yes, if the purpose of Digg is to really find "the best material" then voting brigades are an attempt to game the system. But honestly if the purpose is to curate the best material, then it's been shown time and again that self-selected, open voting systems suck. You need to either hire curators or use tuned sampling methods (as is done on Slashdot and as is suggested by Mr. Haselton). And even these have plenty of problems with being gamed.

    All that to say that I think you need to first decide what goal you are trying to optimize for, before suggesting sweeping changes. I honestly don't think that those who run Digg, or those who use it, are really looking to have a ranking system that promotes "the best" material. They are looking for a ranking system that engages users: and a (broken) popularity system does that just fine.

  • Statistics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mbone (558574) on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:03PM (#33191166)

    (Note that if you think about it, this is essentially the same as always throwing out the votes from people who visit your picture via the link. If you collect votes from group A and B, but you only count the votes from group A if they agree with the votes from group B, then you're really only counting votes from group B! All the extra votes really give you is the ability to brag that X many people voted on your picture.)

    No, I don't think so, at least as long as your threat model is "most votes on items are unbiased, but some small number are attacked." Suppose pictures (to stay with the OP's model) are being voted on, with most pictures getting a small positive response (say, a typical picture gets a 1% positive score), and a few getting as much as 99% positive votes, with each picture getting, say, a few thousands of responses. In theory, in this situation, you know the "likeability" of any given picture to a few %. Suppose you want to test the high ranking ones for attempts to game the system. To do that you might get as few as 10 votes from people you select at random. Now, 10 votes would not be nearly enough to distinguish between (say) "50% like" and "90% like," but it would be enough to distinguish between "99% like" and "1%" like or, for that matter, "50% like" and "1 % like."

    So, if you think of the overall votes as providing you with statistics, and the much smaller number of 'random' votes as providing a go/no go confidence indicator to detect gaming of the system, both are useful, and neither can replace the other. (You can use the tools of operational research to tell you, for a given confidence level, just how many random votes you need to detect gaming for any given situation.)

  • ... it will only end up moderated down.

    Seriously, why do we call it "moderation" when there is seldom anything moderate about it? It would be better called "scoring" or "random review", since that is a better description of what actually comes from it.
  • Netflix Prize (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Baldrson (78598) * on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:58PM (#33193168) Homepage Journal
    The way to fix the problem is the Netflix Prize [wikipedia.org] algorithms:

    If a cabal forms then they'll benefit by being shown what they want shown. No one else will be hurt. Indeed the "bury" signal from such a cabal is useful to the opponents of the cabal because the Netflix Prize algorithms just strengthen the a negative correlation. In other words, if you hate the cabal, a "bury" signal from them is a "like" signal to you and others similar to you.

    Of course, this kind of relativistic prediction of preferences has been obvious for many years now. The only question is: Why has it taken so long for collaborative content sites to realize it is not just "a" solution -- it is "the" solution?

    I have my ideas about the answer to that question, but suffice it to say, the vast majority of collaborative content sites have priorities that aren't really about collaborative content.

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