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digg’s friend feature is a complete debacle

Saturday, 1 March 2008 digg rant

Many aeons ago, digg added a social aspect to their news site: friends. Hailing it as a new way to find news at a more personal level, it was seen as a good way to follow your favourite diggers. Now there’s a new game for would-be spammers: add whoever you can and shout your crappy submissions at them.

I’ve never liked the friends aspect of digg. From day one, all I could see was it creating a tight circle of high-powered submitters, slimming the chances of anybody new being able to replace them — much worse than the top-diggers list ever did. The problem: it encourages users to just sit on their tods and digg only what their friends are submitting and digging, and worse: blindly digg things just because who submitted it. None of the (much needed) digging around in the Upcoming sections.

The shout system was added to let you publicly private message your friends. You can send URLs, digg stories or just plain messages. While I see the potential communication value, digg just isn’t a site I (or anybody I know) would use to chat with somebody and that just leaves it with one purpose: spamming. Your friends can already see what you digg so shouting it is just pushing your boot in where it’s not wanted.

The tipping point for me writing this post is the blatant friend/shout spamming that’s going on. I turned email alerts on (my fault, I know) so I got emails like this:

Friend spam

Spammers adding swathes of people to their friends list. It’s so nice to feel wanted that most unsuspecting users reciprocate the “friendship”. Shortly after that, the shout spamming starts for all the mutual friends.

Shout Spam

What’s wrong with this though? Well…

  1. It pisses regular diggers off. I’m not really looking to make friends on digg but if I was, I would be looking for people who actually like the stuff I do, not just because I’m on a page they run a batch script on.

  2. It further degrades other overall quality of digg. People spamming their shitty blogspam around is bad enough. Last thing we need is people actually digging them up in the vain hope they get a digg back later on.

  3. It stops valid stories getting the required attention. Believe it or not, there is some genuinely interesting news on digg. If people are relyng on friends, submitters who don’t friend/shout-spam are getting a raw deal.

  4. It’s suffocating itself. Now I’ve changed my alert settings, I don’t get emails when people add me as a friend. On the off-chance that somebody likes something I’m saying in a comment and they want to continue the debate out of the thread, I’m never going to see their request.

If digg can detect spam stories and work out when people are abusing the system, they can damned well detect when people are adding tons of friends and spamming via shouts and suspend them. Ideally, they could just can the whole friend idea but I think they probably feel: social == sticky == money. Unfortunately their income doesn’t equate a good web service for end users.

Reddit isn’t by any means perfect, but it does seem like a much fairer environment for everybody. Perhaps the perfect social news site would be a simple mix of Digg’s pooling and promotion model with Reddit’s comment system. No friends. No shouts. No super-users. No shit.