Secret behind DIGG’s Yellow Brick Road
As many people have tried to figure out, the secret behind Digg’s Algorithm remains to this day a conundrum, a mystery, a secret clouded in obfuscation. Some great thinkers have of recent date conjured up the belief that it might not be a secret at all, and that for all the investigation, maybe a magic formula doesn’t really exist, at all. Perhaps it’s a great hoax, like the Wizard of Oz, a case of smoke and mirrors a pretense held up to keep to the world in the dark, when in actuality it’s just someone assigned to the role of wizard who makes decisions frivolously and on a whim with each and every new entry that is fed into the Digg news bank.
For those of you who are not aware, Digg is a social bookmarking website that offers participants (aka diggers) a way to discover and share content from anywhere on the Internet, by submitting links and stories where other diggers can vote the content up or down in a process respectively called digging and burying. Tens of thousands of stories are submitted daily, but only the most Dugg stories ever appear on the front page. So the obvious goal for diggers is to continuously make attempts at grasping at the illusive gold ring, every time they hop on the Digg-go-round. With its immense popularity, it has prompted the creation of other social networking sites like StumbleUpon, Reddit, Techorati and others to evolve based on a similar premise.
Other lines of algorithm speculation include those proposed by Rand Fishkin, euphemistically referred to as the Wizard of Moz, but who is in actuality the CEO and Founder of SEOmoz, a hub for search marketers worldwide that provides education, tools and resources to help search engine optimization companies improve their skills.
Fishkin believes that even though Digg isn’t as widely used as Google (whose complex algorithm is another story altogether), it has become highly sophisticated in mixing and blending a unique mixture of ingredients into their algorithmic stew!
He, like others, assesses the obvious; i.e. voting in and of itself is the dominant component. The theory being: if one votes for one article more than others, the more popular story should succeed in the final analysis, similar to our recent presidential election (unless of course the Electoral College thinks differently, but that’s another Wizard of Oz story).
Differing from a mere popularity contest, Digg has taken into consideration a factor that is missing in general elections, and that is timing. Any number of votes in a very short period (if not manipulative) is stronger than the same number of votes over a longer time span. The speed of voting is given more weight, based on the idea that a buzz has been created and excited the digerati to gravitate toward the story quickly.
Also if a low number of stories have recently made the front page in a given category (as all submissions have to note content type), the story is likely to get on top with fewer votes; whereas if there is a high number of recent submissions, the opposite may be true. Also the time of day is a trigger. If 100s of people all tag the same item at 12 midnight, this might be a disqualifying factor and Digg red flag the submission.
The idea of manipulation is another dynamic that Digg is known to weigh. They look at the domain from whence the link came. Has it had content submitted previously? Did that content receive votes, get marked as spam or make the front page? And has the domain been automatically flagged for being manipulative?
Then you have the consideration as to the profile of the submitters and voters. Have they submitted or voted on high quality stories in the past? Or are they simply voting for their own work? Also how many friends do they have? Diggers with more friends can obviously sway a vote. And how long have they been diggers. New registrants might be spammers.
Similar to the Wizard of Oz parody video shown above, the truth of the matter is there is some manual intervention. Many Digg users may not realize it, but all the stories to hit the front page are virtually scrutinized by the Digg editorial staff that may or may not pull a story if they determine the content is too marketing-focused, driven by marketing dollars or has a marketing agenda.
The source of the votes is also thought to be a significant algorithmic element. If the same IP address or IP block appears for one submission, or if an abnormally high number of folks came via a certain geographic region to a Digg page (for example, with no referring URL) these methods could possibly signifying a mass email or IM link. In these instances, Digg might be discounting the value of those votes.
Less of a factor is the “number of views” to the actual Digg ratio. Nonetheless, an abnormally high ratio of views with few diggs could mean that people aren’t really fans of the content that they have given it some consideration, but don’t believe in it enough to spend the time and effort to vote for it.
Matt Asay, GM for Alfresco, a leading open source enterprise content management firm notes that in his interviews with Rami Taibah, a veritable Digg rock star, with over a 100-front page stories on Digg have offered up a few nuggets of wisdom for diggers. Rabitha believes that Digg wants a diversity of people to digg up a post, and that if you continually rely on your same crew of diggers, your future diggs will start to slide in the ratings. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt, according to Asay that Taibah “has over 2,500-plus followers (to rely on), which means that he has a ready-made audience of fans that tend to like the things he Diggs, but who’s counting?”
Finally, why not explore what Digg has to say about its own secret formula. Getting it from the horse’s mouth, Anton Kast, with the inscrutable title of Lead Scientist (shades of the Wizard again) is quick to admit that tweaking the Digg algorithm is a continuous work in progress. But he also states that Digg has “made a few notable enhancements to (their) promotional algorithm recently, to ensure that all Diggers have a fair chance at getting their submitted stories promoted to the homepage,”
And with that definitive and enigmatic statement posted to Digg’s blog, February 12, 2009, Kast quietly slips back behind the veiled secret curtain where only the Oz of Digg can hide well, maybe with some assistance of one MC Hammer! Because Digg is an enigma, and like all enigmas, as Hammer prophetically chants: “U can’t touch this!”