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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

What Digg Should Learn From the HD-DVD Revolt
By Ludwik Trammer

As you probably noticed many times in your life, when media (and people in general) cover a story they try to describe it in a simple terms, therefore ignoring various aspects of the story.

It’s been a week since Digg’s HD-DVD key scandal, and we can pretty much tell how its coverage tends to look like:

Digg gets a cease and desist letter and removes HD-DVD key from the site. Its users disagree with this decision and strongly believe the key should remain on the site, so they start to fight Digg. Digg recognizes users’ position and capitulates.

We hear this story from media and from Kevin Rose himself. And there’s nothing wrong with it. I just feel this is only one part of the picture and we all begin to forget about all the other aspects. Sometimes I even feel Digg’s team haven’t recognized them at all. And by doings so they miss their chance to learn from this experience.

Leo Laporte in his interview with Kevin Rose (the founder of Digg) asked him about the upshot of the whole story for Digg – what they plan to do in similar situations in the future. Kevin didn’t really know how to answer. He just said that they don’t get such letters very often, and they analyze every single one very carefully.

It looks like Kevin Rose doesn’t recognize what the story was really about. It wasn’t about a difference of opinion about DRM and a business risk between Digg’s users and Digg’s team. It was about lack of a basic communication from Digg to its userbase. Digg could avoid the whole issue just by being transparent in its actions.

Let’s analyze the whole process once again:

  1. Someone added a story with the HD-DVD key number. It got fair amount of diggs.
  2. Digg received a letter form AACS and decided to remove the story. It did that in the same style it had removed stories before. Without giving any information whatsoever. Other user-driven services always leave a note in the place of a removed item explaining why it got removed (“This video has been removed at the request of copyright owner XXX” in the case of YouTube). Digg, on the other hand, acts like it would like to give the impression that the story never existed. The page just vanishes and the server responds with a standard 404 “page not found” error. I guess because of the site’s driven-entirely-by-users concept, Digg doesn’t want people to notice its moderators work, but this is exactly the kind of secrecy that makes people suspicious.

    Digg could end the whole issue right there, just by being open about it. Had Digg posted a message with a letter they got and information that they hated DRM, but were forced to do this (and possibly a link to some anti-DRM campaign) people would understand and everything would end then.

    But they did say nothing. Story just vanished.
  3. Someone naturally reposted the story, and this time it got a really huge amount of diggs.
  4. Digg removed the story one more time, and removed sender’s account. Obviously there wasn’t any legal reason to do the second thing.

    (Leo Laporte asked about the account of this very user. In the response Digg’s founder started talking about “the situation” in which they “banned the people that just kept posting it [over, and over again]”, while a lots of times there “would be a lot of profanity in the posts”. This might be the case later, when the riot really began, but doesn’t explains why Digg punished this first user).

    What’s worse is the second take-down was as silent as the first one. In the place of a story dugg by 15 000 users appeared error 404.
  5. People started posting stories about the mysterious disappearances. They still weren’t angry, just wanted others to know that something is going on. At this stage Digg could’ve easily prevented the revolt by just explaining its actions. It would be a little late, but still would’ve prevented what happened next.
  6. Instead Digg chose to do the most stupid thing it could possibly do. It started removing all stories about earlier take downs and banning more accounts. It may well be that the stories were removed because they included HD-DVD key number by talking about the original story’s title or by showing it on the screenshots. Yet Digg didn’t explain any of this, so people naturally took all this as an act of censorship.

    And only then things started to happen really quickly. Users posting stories over and over again, Digg deleting them and banning accounts. Only at this stage it became nearly impossible for Digg to stop users without posting the number.

And that’s how I see it. Digg could easily remove the number just by being open with their users. But instead they were forced (by themselves, really...) into the situation when the site became a battlefield of the HD-DVD issue and they had to post the key by themself. After that the risk for Digg of being sued is of course much worse than if they had just ignored the AACS letter in the first place.

On the bright side Digg’s stupid mistakes might help making important discussion about DMCA more mainstream. Still I hope Digg learned something from this experience. It remains a favorite site of mine.

Update: CJ Millisock, the user who originally reposted the story and got banned by Digg, wrote in the comments: “If I would have been confronted with a page saying that the original post was removed because of copyright or anything legally related, I DEFINITELY would not have submitted the story again.”

Digg this?


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