Digg.com, Censorship, Piracy and Social Networking on the Web

Quotable: “When you hand the keys over to the mob, they’ll drive wherever they want to go.”

A great story on the front page of the L.A. Times today raises all kinds of interesting questions about the future of Search ranking, social networking, censorship and piracy (copyright) on the Web.

User rebellion at Digg.com unearths a can of worms
The site relents and lets members post a code that aids piracy despite threats of legal action.
By Alex Pham and Joseph Menn, L.A. Times

Digg.com is an influential social networking site that ranks news stories and blogs by allowing members to cast votes in their favor. You can find a Digg icon in the “SAVE AND SHARE” panel of the L.A. Times website. and it’s the first icon under the “SHARE” link on the New York Times article listed at the end of this post. With enough votes, a story can appear on the Digg.com home page, and this can significantly increase the number of visitors to the site carrying the story.

In addition to the increase in traffic that can come from Digg.com itself, sites that appear on the Digg.com home page also get an accompanying boost in search engine ranking. Digg.com is an authoritative website with 34,000 sites linking to it and a Google PageRank of 8/10 (i.e., huge). When Digg.com links to a site, it imparts some of its authority to that site, “authority” = better rank in search engines. Users may also decide to link to a site they see on Digg.com, boosting its ranking even further.

When Digg owners tried to remove references on Digg to a bit of code that allows people to make pirated copies of HD DVDs, users revolted by voting in favor of any and all pages displaying the code. Digg rankings were flooded these pages, effectively disabling the site.

Now Digg owners have decided to allow the code to remain on their site, which means they face a costly lawsuit from the DVD industry, a lawsuit that could potentially bring an end to Digg.com.

Who really runs Digg.com? The authority of sites like Digg.com is based, ostensibly, on ideals like free speech and the democratic nature of the Web. But, as the L.A. Times article notes, Digg owners already take down references to pirated copies of Photoshop software from their site. Where should Digg draw the line?

As companies like Google and News Corp. spend billions of dollars to harness the advertising power of social networking sites like YouTube and MySpace, it will be very interesting to see just how much they will be willing to let hoi polloi the People decide their fate.

Related Article:

In Web Uproar, Antipiracy Code Spreads Wildly
By Brad Stone, New York Times, May 3, 2007
Sophisticated Internet users have joined up to distribute a code used to prevent piracy of high-definition movies.

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