The Digg Effect

It’s always changing and it’s always completely random. You’ll see two articles next to each other than no newspaper editor in their right mind would put beside each other. And that’s the post. The only filter is the audience itself. Yesterday’s most popular stories, for instance, included articles about Mt. St. Helens erupting, a link to a collection of nice-looking web sites, and how to make art out of regular paper.

But as social media grows up, so too do ways to manipulate it. Already, some public relations and ad agencies say they can get you on Digg.com -- for a fee. On these kinds of sites, there’s no corrections page. Inaccurate stories aren’t even removed. They’re just flagged. If enough people flag a story, a note gets put at the top saying its authenticity has been questioned, but it stays on the site.

Social news sites like Digg are starting to force traditional media to rethink how they organize their news coverage. The New York Times puts “Digg This” buttons on their stories, recognizing how many more eyeballs they can attract from Digg’s visitors. And Digg says journalists are using its site to discover what the Internet buzz is. But so far that’s where the experimenting stops. Most sites don't permit that level of customization to their web site. Then again, most media sites don’t have 800,000 rabidly enthusiastic readers.