Yesterday's post about Digg led a number of readers to ask me about other social bookmarking sites. Are they just as likely to be controlled by an elite group of power users as is the case at Digg, or do they provide a more "honest" opportunity for user-supported content to rise to the top?
Of course, I'm not privy to the algorithms used by Digg, nor the dozens of others (like Propeller, Delicious, Mixx, Reddit, Buzz, Newsvine, Stumbleupon, etc.) that are among the Web 2.0 wave of social bookmarking sites (*). so I have to infer how these various services operate by studying the results they display.
"Votes" or ratings by users are easily gamed. So, ideally, the sites also add in metrics like keyword search frequency, comments, times emailed, times linked to, blog mentions -- all sorts of metrics indicating true popularity and user engagement.
As far as preventing a determined group of geeks from gaming their system, it is exceptionally difficult, as Digg's case proves. Digg's staff has actually made a pretty good effort to stay ahead of its power hackers, to little avail.
In the end, there is one final tool these sites can employ to reduce manipulation and that is to hire human editors. Human intelligence is the best tool to apply against the work of hackers. Mano a mano.
Of the various services mentioned above I am usually impressed by the integrity of the results Delicious yields. But I've also been a fan of Buzz since not long after Yahoo launched it. One reason is that Buzz delivers a far wider range of general content than the others, which (excepting Newsvine) are predominantly devoted to tech news.
Tonight, Buzz goes "public," after six months with its training wheels on. During this extended beta, Yahoo had to approve the sites whose content could get "buzzed." Now, it's showtime -- anyone can submit a story from any site.
The incentive underlying Buzz is to make it onto Yahoo's home page, which is still the Holy Grail for web content due to its massive worldwide audience. Therefore, you can expect that the same subset of Digg gamers and similar cells will try and hack their way past Yahoo's built-in defense measures.
In the end, is Yahoo prevails, it will be due to the presence of its (human) editorial team. If so, and if Yahoo integrates content in from its other social networking sites like Delicious and Flickr, the resulting content mix could truly provide a rich experience.
(*) If you are interested in the origin of social bookmarking sites, it dates back to April 1996 and the launch of itList. Other Web 1.0 entrants you may recall included Blink and HotLinks.