Buying out Top Users on Digg, Del.cio.us, Flickr, MySpace and Reddit

deceived lettertype
deceived again by Bingo Little

Back in June, I asked what kind of Digg user you were. In that article, I showed the Five Types of Digg users and went deeper into Digg’s new user popularity system by showing you what it takes to become a Top Digg User. By comparing user statistics, Digg could rank reputable users by the success rate they’ve had at hitting the Front Page with their submissions, among other socially-oriented factors (e.g. comments, no. of diggs).

Along those line, I spoke about how these Top Diggers would soon be as sought after as A-list bloggers. True enough, this has finally happened.

Just as PayPerPost pollutes the blogosphere by inviting bloggers to sell-out, Netscape boss Jason Calacanis has offered to essentially buy out the top users on Digg, Delicious, Flickr, MySpace, and Reddit for $1000 per month:

“We will pay you $1,000 a month for your “social bookmarking” rights. Put in at least 150 stories a month and we’ll give you $12,000 a year. (note: most of these folks put in 250-400 stories a month, so that 150 baseline is just that–a baseline).”

Richard MacManus of Read/WriteWeb went deeper to explain how this makes perfect business sense:

Among the top diggers are people who have submitted over 1000 stories to digg, with a 25-40% success rate in getting those submissions to the digg homepage! If you do some back-of-the-envelope calculations, you quickly see that paying those top diggers $1000 per month is a pittence for what Netscape will reap – hundreds of thousands of extra pageviews per month, maybe millions.

Richard’s bottomline: That, unfortunately, the Web is after all very much about Quantity over Quality.

From Opinion Leader to Shill
This bring me back to a last year’s article where Alex Halavais and I talked about shilling online. In The Criminal Blogger: From Opinion Leader to Shill, the issue was how far do they have to go before they (either the blogger or the company) move from opinion leadership to shilling? For the rest of us, the Oxford American Dictionary states that a shill refers to “an accomplice of a hawker, gambler, or swindler who acts as an enthusiastic customer to entice or encourage others”. Librarian blogger Ivan Chew noted a shill as “posing as a satisfied customer to dupe bystanders into participating in a swindle.” Whether via blogs or social networks such as MySpace (even Murdoch was surprised with MySpace growth), situations like these could really happen.

So I can’t make money out of blogging or social networking?
Why yes you can, and keep your soul at the same time. If you’ve understood the ebb and flow of the blogosphere, personality still rules and selling out is likely to affect your established reputation. Personality is what attracts readers and that’s something unique to every individual. Professional blogger Jason Kottke tried to have faithful readers give a subscription fee for his blog and while he got money coming in, it eventually didn’t work out. Celebrity blogger Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com fame used a more traditional advertising approach to support her family when the couple were out of work. Perhaps Ask A Ninja does it well by making things very clear, right down to the numbers. The idea is not to deceive when you are marketing something and to make it as relevant to your readers as possible. When I blog a product review for instance, I make it clear to my readers on how I received the item and under what terms. Even Google sets a good example by making it clear that ads on their search results page are listed as Sponsored Links, rather than simply clustering ad links with the search results and thereby tricking users to click without prior knowledge.

The key word here is transparency.

Concluding thoughts
I might be worried about the business of selling out at first, but over time I believe that the collective intelligence of users should detect shillers whether in the blogosphere or in particular social networks. Just as one can build reputation, one can easily lose reputation as well.

UPDATE: Kevin Rose shot back at Calcanis calling it a smart PR stunt, while Leo Laporte posts his thoughts on the “Digg vs Netscape” controversy.

  • http://www.thebizofknowledge.com TheBizofKnowledge

    I don’t know the details of Jason’s offer, so I might be way off base here. But I think it’s perfectly acceptable for top Digg users to get paid for something that they’re otherwise doing for free anyway. Is there a stipulation that only certain kinds of articles/links will be accepted for pay? Any kind of censorship at all? If not, then I don’t see a problem with it.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Richard of Read/WriteWeb and Kevin Rose of Digg stepped in to talk about this. The problem is how monetary motivation is likely to create a more spammy social web. However, I think that this would be a good test to see how intelligent our so called collective intelligence works. If something is downright shilling, users should be able to detect it. Herd mentality or thinking person? We’ll see.

  • http://blog.baybox.net Ben Chandruang

    The success of Digg is independent of the top Digg users. I’d say if all the top 10 Diggers leave, 100,000 other Diggers are waiting in line to take their places.

    Being a successful businessman as he is, I’m surprised Calacanis doesn’t get the simple fact that Digg is cool and Netscape is not. May he does, and this is his last resort for a PR stunt to get people to take a look at Netscape.

    Leo Laporte summed it up pretty nicely.
    http://leoville.vox.com/library/post/rose-vs-calacanis.html

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Ben, if we’re talking about buzzwords, then yes, Netscape is so 90s. But speaking of the mechanics for “collective intelligence”, I think this is a great experiment to determine if there is really intelligence in mobs / groups, or if there only exists a “herd” mentality.

  • http://blog.baybox.net Ben Chandruang

    I was not referring to the uncool factor of Netscape as a buzzword. I was merely pointing out that even the herd of diggers have enough collective intelligence to see that Calacanis is nothing but shillin.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Ben: I hear you… Digg users made that pretty clear after one of them planted a javascript hack on Netscape.com which said a four letter word followed by “Welcome all Diggers