Mild science, tech news, stories, reviews, opinion, maps and humor

27 October 2010

Demise of Digg as we knew it

I spent yesterday afternoon reading about the latest controversy swirling around rapidly-failing digg.com, a mainstay of the social web. Digg founder and CEO, Kevin Rose, recently chose to follow in the footsteps of Goethe's Faustus when he sold his company's soul to advertising partners.

Digg advertising partners less accommodating


The new Digg error 500 page
Troubled transition
Dr. Faustus fared better in choosing to deal directly with The Devil. Dr. Faustus was granted many years of productive accomplishment in the term sheet of his bargain! Yet Kevin Rose departed Digg a scant two months after Digg 4.0 went live in August 2010! A replacement CEO was hired, who now struggles to triage the sinking ship that is all that remains of Digg.

During the past several weeks, Digg slashed one-third of its workforce while watching site traffic plummet by 40% as loyal users continued their mass exodus. However, yesterday's events may well be the coup de grace.

Tampering detected


Lt General Panda, a long-time Digg user, released a series of spreadsheets, documenting the means by which Digg management, perhaps led by the new CEO, perhaps instigated by former CEO Kevin Rose, chose to alter its news-story selection algorithm. The algorithm is intended to reflect the Voice of the Digg User.

new Digg problem description
Site is no longer beta, but not quite functional either

Article submissions are classified by topic: current events, computing, security, gaming, technology, education, business, policy, world news, health, entertainment and humor.

Algorithm-related background details


Digg's proprietary algorithm was developed by the now vanished Digg Labs. The algorithm monitors Digg user input regarding perceived merit of submitted articles, which is then used to determine and adjust each article's relative visibility on the "front page". That is oversimplified. Digg provides more detail in the FAQ.

Lt. Gen Panda's story was quickly picked up by TechCrunch, suggesting that Digg tampered with its own proprietary algorithm in order to give greater prominence to items of interest to advertisers, rather than users.

Digg Labs landing page
Digg Labs website offline since Aug 2010

Advertisers already had a strong presence on the site, with banner ads and sponsored stories. By removing the Digg user community's freedom to select content based on merit, Digg management effectively removed all motivation to use Digg. After all, one can view as much display advertising and media news feeds as one wants simply by subscribing for free to feeds delivering stories via browser or newsreader.

08 October 2010

FeedBurner Security and Sensibility

Universal Feed Symbol

Feed Security

For any blogger or creator of syndicated content who might happen to pass by The Annex, I'd like to pass on this tip about the importance of keeping your Feed Bulletin feed private.

Feed Function

Confirm that your feed is working correctly and captures the intended content, whether headlines only, headlines plus content etc.

The best way to accomplish this is with a periodic feed check-up. Once every month or every other month is usually adequate.

Two reputable sites offering secure feed validation are:
To use either, simply enter the address of your feed and click Validate. Any errors are listed, with suggested remedies for repair.

Feed Sense and Faux-pas Avoidance


Problem: Why is the Posterous website overstating my subscription count? I only subscribed to ten blogs. Yet my profile indicates that I have 20 subscriptions! See image below.

Root-Cause: Carelessness by the blog owner or administrator! Note that the blogs written by journalists, who earn their living through digital publishing, have but a single entry on the list. The Laughing Squid is the only exception. He has two entries. One is a link recommendation list. The other is the actual publication. It is possible that I am at fault for selecting both rather than the blog (publication) alone.

Screen Shot of my blog subscriptions.  Click on image to enlarge.

The other websites are run by experienced bloggers or website developers. They are not journalists, nor earn the majority of their income from writing. Yet they should know better than to make this mistake. But it is a very easy mistake to make, even for the savvy.

How did this happen?


This can occur if burning multiple feeds for the same blog, but forgetting to delete the old feeds. Or creating new blogs, and not tracking carefully enough which blogs have feeds already. It can be avoided by taking care to keep track of the names and resources used for one's feeds.

Glance again at the example image. Despite my fondness for Adam Rifkin's wit, I don't need four versions of his blog. Some are very puzzling e.g. who is "Trout Girl"?

The same can be said for Dustin Curtis's design and usability insights. One subscription is sufficient. This is how an unintentional spam-like duplication (or quadruplication) effect can occur, sometimes exacerbated for those who choose to subscribe by email rather than RSS feed. Such effect is one of the fastest ways of alienating readers. I have first hand experience, inflicting this (accidentally) on my own subscribers!

Note that all individuals mentioned by name are prominent in their fields of expertise. I did not disclose information, nor negatively impact professional reputations. All are well-established.

Better to learn from their mistakes. It is far more damaging for a novice to commit feed faux-pas!