Digg's top users banned for ever and ever

Since early September, nearly 100 users have been banned from the San Francisco–based news-sharing site Digg.com. Speaking out across the blogosphere, some are confused: Did minor crimes warrant erasing their profiles? Others are expressing melodramatic mourning for their "fallen comrades." One thing they all have in common: They're pissed.

It should come as no surprise if Digg, which was started in 2004, has let some of its power go to its head. With a community of "diggers" — users who post and vote on story links — numbering more than 30 million, the traffic it sends to popular items on its coveted front page can make or break a Web site. What many Digg readers don't realize, however, is that until recently those front-page stories weren't simply chosen by the votes of the masses. Instead, the site was dominated by a group of ten top diggers, each of whom had submitted thousands of links that made it to the front page.

That is, until they started getting banned. Digg recently began kicking off users for running scripts — programs that allow them to submit and vote on stories with fewer clicks — which the company said violated its terms of use. Other diggers, like number three user Zaibatsu, were banned for linking to inappropriate content: in Zaibatsu's case, a site where a female digger was selling her underwear.

The exiled users feel they should be given a chance to rejoin the Digg community. In a Sept. 23 article on the Regretful Morning Web site, banned digger Michael Wong explained the appeal that kept him coming back to the site for hours each day: "Even an average Joe like me had the ability to grab the world's attention." Wong refuses to go down without a fight. He plans to create a new account and keep digging: "So what if I get banned again and again and again?"

As for Digg itself, company execs seem unsympathetic. "We ban users who violate our terms of use on a semiregular basis," senior director of marketing and communications Beth Murphy says. "These figures are comparable with other socially focused sites." End of discussion.

Danah Boyd, a fellow with Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, says the issue is definitely not that simple. "Digg has this problem where it's susceptible to people trying to get to the top," she says. "When you curb that type of behavior, you create a tension, because the people you're blocking aren't the marginal ones; they're the ones who are most obsessed. It's only going to get rougher down the line. There's a real monetary incentive in this attention economy. Front-page stories mean page views and page views mean advertising money."

One thing's for sure: The banning story is big news. It must be. One blog post on the topic received 510 diggs, while another got 951: numbers high enough to qualify them for space on Digg's front page.

 
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