NumberNeal Responds to Digg Bans: Insights in Community-Based Website Strategy

Earlier this month, popular social news site Digg banned a number of its users, citing script abuse. This sparked an outcry from the Digg community, including the following video letter from power Digg Neal “NumberNeal” Rodriguez (the same Neal to whom I recently offered some SEO career advice):

I only started using Digg recently, so my opinion of the ban is nowhere near as well-qualified as Neal’s. However, I’d like to walk through several of his key points and see what can be learned about running a successful community-based website.

“Your user, period, comes first.”
Neal asserts that Digg is penalizing user scripts in order to boost its impression count and advertising revenue. This, combined with Digg’s failure to provide its users with an efficient alternative to scripts, constitutes an unacceptable conflict of interest in Neal’s mind. As he puts it, “You’re not caring for your user by banning your user.”

My Take: Community-based websites live or die on their user base. There’s no debating whether Digg has the right to enforce its Terms of Use. However, it’s worth questioning whether those terms should evolve to accommodate changing user needs. At the very least, Digg should offer its users a better explanation of why such strict enforcement is in everyone’s best interests. Really, any explanation would have been better than, “…we believe that the larger Digg community is adversely impacted by people who choose to violate the TOU.” By failing to address the issue in a user-centric manner, Digg is only fueling negative user perceptions.

“Know your market.”
Neal points out that marketers and new media enthusiasts are the primary audience on Digg. By penalizing networking and self-promotion, he argues, Digg is alienating its most active promoters. He goes on to propose that Digg, “embrace marketers,” by offering users the tools and information needed to succeed on its platform. He even goes so far as to suggest that Digg pay its most active users instead of banning them.

My Take: To me, this may be an illustration of the difference between an actual audience and an intended one. Digg’s desire seems to be a broader appeal. In fact, it’s quite likely that its attractiveness to marketers is the unintended side effect of its success. Whether this is a smart move or not, it seems clear that Digg is trying to recapture its intended user base by doing exactly alienating marketers just as Neal says its doing. I do agree with Neal, though; marketers go where the traffic is. Digg would be better off in the long run by embracing them in the same healthy way that Google does.

“Digg is not the only platform out there.”
Neal presents statistics to demonstrate the effect of Digg’s actions. Unique visitors on Digg appear to be going down, while unique visitors on other social media websites appear to be going up.

My Take: As above, I doubt this is an unexpected consequence. If Digg is out to alienate marketers and make the site more attractive to casual users, they may be willing to take a calculated hit to their popularity to see it happen. Whether they’re killing the goose that laid the golden egg or patiently giving it a chance to lay again is up for debate. Only time will tell if such heavy-handed tactics add value or spell the downfall of the site.

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