Digg’s Kevin Rose Fails To Stop The Bury Brigade

Include Buried Stories Option At DiggAfter a week of questions about Digg’s "Bury Brigade," Digg founder Kevin Rose has come in with some public comments about the system and the "alleged" brigade. Unfortunately, they’re just comments — not solutions to protect Digg from the actual brigade I myself can see. More about that in the article below, plus how buries work and can be misused.

For any story at Digg, you can see who voted for it — who dugg it. You use the "Who Dugg or Blogged It" tab like shown highlighted in the red box below:

Seeing Who Dugg A Story

That provides some transparency into the Digg system, making it somewhat possible for those participating in the Digg "digital media democracy" to see if there are any patterns among friends that they might be concerned about (for more about friending at Digg, see our Digg Friending 101 & The Top Diggers List article).

For any Digger, you can also see what they’re voting for. You go to their profile page, click on the Dugg link, and you’ll see their history:

Seeing What Someone's Dugg

The problem is that you can’t see the opposite activity — the bury activity that people are doing. That makes no sense. If Digg’s going to be open about who is voting, it should be as open about who is knocking down stories. That’s especially so given how people will abuse the bury system.

Let’s talk buries, then abuse. At the top of any story on Digg, you’ll see a button called Bury. If you click on it, options appear:

Digg Bury Button

Here’s a closer look:

Digg Bury Screen

The choices?

  • Duplicate Story
  • Spam
  • Wrong Topic
  • Inaccurate
  • OK, This is Lame

As I covered in my Diggers Can’t Handle The Truth (About SEO) story, from comments people make on Digg, you can sometimes tell that they are choosing the wrong bury option. They might dislike a story and so report it as "Spam." That’s sort of like doing a Google search for "global warming," seeing a listing disputing global warming and reporting to Google that the site owner is trying to spam Google. They aren’t. They just have a view you don’t agree with. You might consider them "lame" as Digg allows, but that’s completely different from labeling someone a spammer, some type of pseudo-criminal simply because you disagree with them.

Buries have been in the news a lot this week:

Buries have fascinated me this week because of my past experience with them. We’ve had several stories go popular on Digg — in fact – one just earlier this week. But I’ve also seen stories start to rise in popularity then just disappear through the bury process, for no apparent reason. As a site owner, you want to know why exactly your content — which Digg itself says it wants by encouraging you to install its buttons — is being knocked down. And you kind of want to know who is doing it, to see if you’re being unfairly or unreasonably targeted.

I’ve especially wanted to know this for the past two days. That’s because we’re now having all stories routinely buried. I’ll explain this, plus show how to tell if your own stories are being knocked out.

To check on stories from a particular domain, just enter the domain without the http:// portion into the Digg advanced search box, like this:

searchengineland.com

Set the first drop down option to use either "Title, Description and URL" or "URL Only." Either option is fine. Then you’ll get back all the stories submitted from that site by Diggers over the past seven days. Here’s the look for Search Engine Land:

Search Engine Land On Digg

The screenshot only shows the most recent stories submitted by those at Digg. In all, there were 12 in the last seven days. One of the stories about search engine freshness, the one at the top, became popular. Excellent. I hope those on Digg found the story interesting.

Now look closely at the search box at the part I’m highlighting:

Include Buried Stories Option At Digg, Highlighted

See the "Include Buried Stories" option? Let me rerun my search with that enabled:

Search Engine Land On Digg With Buries

Now there are 23 stories. Using that option reveals that 11 stories have been buried over the past seven days. Actually, 11 stories have been buried just over the past two days, if you look closely. Every story someone has submitted from us since we last went popular on Digg has been knocked down.

I’m not saying all these stories deserve to go popular. In fact, only one of them really got enough votes to likely do that — ironically, my Monitoring Buries At Digg story. But did they all deserve to be buried? Every story in the past two days?

That type of activity effectively makes the site banned from Digg, but Digg doesn’t have to do the dirty work. To Digg’s credit, Kevin writes today of what others have already seen, that sites previously wiped out through banning have been let back in, and that Digg might not be so heavy-handed in the future:

I also want to point out a couple of important changes to the way Digg blocks URLs that have been reported by our users repeatedly as SPAM or that violate the Digg Terms of Service. We have tweaked some systems so that Digg is now able to be much more granular in the way it blocks offending content, so that Digg doesn’t necessarily need to block entire domains or subdomains.

But as I said, while Digg might not be blocking say the searchengineland.com domain, the bury activity I’m watching over the past two days is still having that impact. This goes to the beginning of Kevin’s post:

Just wanted to post real quick about some stories I’ve seen in the blogosphere regarding an alleged ‘bury brigade’ on Digg and on the Digg site blocking process.

For the same reason that we don’t expose all of our back-end methodologies for the Digg promotional algorithm, we also don’t expose the details of how the burying algorithm works. We spend a lot of time analyzing our data and understanding how people Digg and bury content. We have spent the last 2.5 yrs building systems that ensure a diverse group of users promote or bury stories.

For what it’s worth, and to shift the blame off of the users listed here – quite a bit of this data was gathered inaccurately as the author states in the Digg comments. Please also note, due to the massive number of Diggs/submissions/buries and comments, Digg spy only shows a portion of the activity within Digg at any time.

It’s not "alleged" to me. I can see the results of a bury brigade knocking out my stories. It’s not some coincidence. It might be a mini-brigade. There might be multiple bury brigades in action. But you can’t tell me there’s not some serious activity to knock out every single story from this site.

That bury brigade prevented Diggers from learning about our story yesterday about Google’s click fraud rate announcement. Sure, the traffic might have been nice, but 1,400 other people DID find the article through other sources. Digg’s loss, not mine. And really Digg’s loss, too — I can’t find ANY story on that important topic that grew to be noticed at Digg. I especially know that Google’s own official announcement didn’t make it. That’s because I submitted it myself. It gathered all of six Diggs. At least, though, that story wasn’t buried.

The not exposing "back-end methodologies" stuff — yes, I’ve heard that for years, from the major search engines themselves. I still want to do that long parallel between all the spam fighting at major search engines over the years and how Digg is merely following in their footprints, especially in terms of public comments. But I’ll do a short one now.

For years, Google deliberately held back on providing full link data out of fear site owners might misuse the information. Recently, they became confident enough to stop that. Similarly, Google long felt telling site owners officially if they’d been banned might reveal too much. Indeed, Google used to talk about keeping some sites in the index not to clue in spammers in precisely the same way Digg CEO Jay Adelson told Wired in its article this week that Digg scammers, if spotted, are invisible rendered harmless but not banned. But today, sites can determine if they’ve got a banning problem through tools at Google Webmaster Central and even do reinclusion requests.

So the we’ve got to protect our secrets stuff? Been there, heard that, seen that excuse get whittled away with more openness. Digg’s going through that same process now, and it will be one that takes time. Not everything will go open, either. But if you can show what people are voting for, you can show what they’re knocking down and the reasons they are giving, so the community can self-police.

In addition, this also solves concerns that people will get inaccurate information on their own, as Kevin’s blog post discusses. Of course it might be inaccurate — but it wouldn’t be if Digg itself provided this.

Overall, get the buries out of the closest. Let me as a content provider understand if someone’s targeting me. If not, at least I know I should yank down all those Digg buttons sending you my traffic and point them to sites that show more respect for content owners.

Postscript: Less than 15 minutes after this story was submitted to Digg, it was buried. There is no bury brigade here. These are not the droids you seek :)

Postscript 2: Digg user canewediggit comments about burying the article, flagging it as spam because a completely different article is inaccurate, in his opinion. While arguing there is no bury brigade, he also self-admits to having been at least a one-person bury brigade of his own:

i’m burying this as spam. you know why? all those “bury brigade” articles are WRONG. they have been proven WRONG. yet some people feel the need to continuously write them and report them. the data was INACCURATE, they proved nothing. and i’m getting really f-ing sick of seeing these articles every day. apparently, burying them as inaccurate wasn’t doing the trick, so now you get my spam vote. come with proof.

His comment backs up everything I said above. Stories can be buried as spam when they clearly aren’t, which is unfair to the site. Stories can be flagged as inaccurate by those who haven’t bothered to read them (this story wasn’t arguing the stats in another story on bury brigades). And showing what’s being buried would make it easier to see the actions of people who might be working against the overall community.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Search Engines: Digg | Search Engines: Social Search Engines | Social Media Marketing

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • mad4

    I don’t think its a bury brigade – its just an algorithm.

    One of my sites was banned about May last year and was let back in to Digg the other week. Since then every single story submitted from the site is buried no matter how many diggs it gets.

    My theory is that instead of banning sites digg just automatically buries all submissions. Kind of like the Google +30 penalty.

    I think JohnChow.com seems to be experiencing this as well.

  • jimbeetle

    Very, very interesting. This story was first dugg 58 minutes ago. It’s already buried.

  • Blue Collar Muse

    Danny -

    Just an FYI to let you know that I linked to this story at Blue Collar Muse. This isn’t really a comment other than to say I liked the post enough to link to it. Sorry to spam your comments but there was no contact info for you that I saw. It really is just an FYI so feel free to delete it after you get the info.

    Blessings,

    Blue Collar Muse

  • http://www.forthardknox.com Jenn

    Another reason Digg might be having problems? Seems the “Diggers” don’t have as much authority on Digg as one might think. Update: http://forthardknox.com/?p=236

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