Saturday, September 26, 2009


Social Book Marking Syndrome:

What’s Wrong With Digg?

Amidst the information onslaught brought about by the web, sorting the good content from the bad isn’t an easy task. In fact, it’s almost impossible unless this information comes with some authority. Any bozo can post his opinion that the world is flat and soon develop a cult following among other flat-Earthers. Still doesn’t make it so.

The authority of much of the content on the web (take it from somebody who consumes web content by the metric ton) is suspect. The problem with web content is good old contestability. I can read it, but I can’t contest it, discuss it, debate it or kick it around with the author.

In fact, most of the time, the author’s name doesn’t appear anywhere attached to the document and, frankly, some of this blather reads like it’s written by 8-year-olds. Too bad, because along with unreliable, biased, inaccurate data, the web provides access to quality content, well written, properly researched and relevant.

The key is to sort through all this web “noise” to find the pearls of wisdom that await. Or better yet, have other web users do it for you. That’s the thinking behind book marking sites. Let the readers decide what’s good quality. In theory, a good idea. In practice, not so much.

Digg It is, perhaps, the best known of the many book marking sites that have sprouted like so many digital mushrooms. Here’s how the company describes its mission in life:

“Digg is a place for people to discover and share content from anywhere on the web. From the biggest online destinations to the most obscure blog, Digg surfaces the best stuff as voted on by our users. You won’t find editors at Digg — we’re here to provide a place where people can collectively determine the value of content and we’re changing the way people consume information online.”

Other book marking sites worth a mention are: Technorati, and Yahoo’s My Web.

So break it down: these and other book marking sites enable you and others to assess the quality of what you read and hear, as you read and hear it. Look below this post and you’ll see two rows of links to book marking sites. By clicking on any of those icons and signing up, you can bookmark useful information, helping others find the good stuff.

These are seals of approval from readers who, at least it’s assumed, have some knowledge of the subject pinged. And this is where the system starts to unravel.

Freedom to Choose Does Not Lead to Good Choices

There’s a mistaken belief (at least in the U.S.) that freedom of expression translates into equality of expression – that all opinions are equal. Could anything be further from the truth?

When readers ping a blog post, their expressing their opinions. These opinions, from unknown, unverifiable sources, are then used by others as a determinant of quality.

The Bias of Authority

Using social book marking does, indeed, level the playing field. Your digg is as good as any other reader’s digg. All count equally. However, well-bookmarked sites are given authority by readers – readers with personal agendas, biases and mis- or dis-information.

The original intent of these sites was to point readers in the direction of articles worth a read. Unfortunately, many of the most pinged sites, blog posts and other web content lack real authority. Readers ping content for any number of reasons, not simply because it is reliable content. In fact, in many cases, just the opposite is true.

For example, political sites receive a lot of pings, especially during campaign season, which is now non-ending. Are the articles that get pinged unbiased references? No. Do the people behind the site have an unspoken agenda? Of course.

Unfortunately, book marking has created a “bias of authority” in content that is anything but authoritative.

It doesn’t take much to create this bias of authority, either. Content with as few as 100 diggs makes noise on the site, drawing attention. (Note of caution to novice diggers. Don’t digg your own pings over and over. The book marking site will recognize the repeating IP address and ban you and your diggs.)

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t network with others who share your views and ping certain rhetoric to build its credibility. The problem with social book marking is that it creates a “jump on the bandwagon,” herd mentality, which in turn delivers at least the cachet of authority, interest and/or readability, i.e., content worth putting down the Pop Tart and reading.

The Bias of Book Marking Frequency

Older computer users don’t bookmark as much as younger users who view the web as their own screen-based playground. Younger users are more likely to express their opinions (1) because they know how and (2) because they believe in their opinions enough to take the time to ping a piece of content.

This slants the tabulation of book marking activity to a much narrower demographic. Pingers are younger, computer savvy and fully functional online. The Gen-Xers, Gen-Yers and the Millennium Generation grew up with mouse in hand and they intend to use it, even though many of these book markers lack authority, experience, expertise and judgment.

So, we have a narrow web segment of non-authorities to determine “the value of content” according to digg’s mission statement above.

While it’s a noble mission and does further the cause of egalitarianism on the web, social book marking must be taken in context. It does not bestow authority. It does not validate an author’s opinion. It does not represent a broad, universal sampling and there’s no way to ascertain the authority, biases, conceptions and misconceptions pingers bring with them when book marking web content.

The only thing diggs and other bookmarks indicate are that, for some reason unknown to all, an unknown web user thought, for some reason untold, that this content was worth your time.

The value of this information must be defined within the above parameters, which doesn’t leave much value at all.

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