Digg.com user revolt: 'The community won'

Censorship attempts cease

Digg.com, the popular site where users determine the placement of new stories by voting, Tuesday found itself in the centre of what some are calling a test case for the power of user-generated content on social networking sites.

The brouhaha erupted when executives at Digg began removing posts that contained a software key needed to crack the encryption used to limit copying of HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs. Digg, which began removing the posts after it got a cease-and-desist letter from another company asserting that the posts violated its intellectual property rights, also began deleting user accounts of those posting the key.

That move outraged many Digg users, who repeatedly posted the key until founder Kevin Rose relented Tuesday night and stopped the deletions. Stories about the key received tens of thousands of "Diggs," or online approvals from the community and by Wednesday afternoon, Digg's top two stories -- both about the keys and user response to them -- had received approximately 35,000 Diggs.

The revolt marks a test case for social networking sites that accept user-generated content, said Dianne Lynch, dean of the communications school at Ithaca College. Lynch, who also writes regularly about Web 2.0 issues such as alternate worlds, noted that she couldn't access Digg Tuesday night because of the high traffic.

"The situation tests the validity and integrity of a social communities," she said. "The social community won."

Although Digg "saved itself" from by returning control to the community, refusing to do so could have had "serious" implications for the site, she said.

"If you're going to turn [the site] over to the community, you can't decide to change your mind without having serious implications," Lynch said. "User-generated content means that users will make a collective decision about is and isn't appropriate. As soon as you establish a user-generated site, you by definition give up the right to say, 'No' [to publishing content]."

If sites do began to edit content on such sites, "you have undermined or devalued the whole mission or purpose of that kind of exchange," she said.

Michael Arrington, who writes about Web 2.0 companies in his blog TechCrunch.com, wrote that calling the response by Digg users a revolt "is an understatement."

Until Tuesday, he wrote, "even Digg didn't fully understand the power of the community to determine what is 'news.' The users had taken control of the site, and unless Digg went into wholesale deletion mode and suspended a large portion of their users, there was absolutely nothing they could do about it."

Some Digg users said that most of the people posting the key never intended to use it for any malfeasance and likened the response to a user revolt. The outrage, wrote one user, was more due to Digg removing the posts and "having absolutely no explanation and owning up to it. A simple 'We are sorry, we don't want to get sued' would look at lot better," the user wrote on the Digg site.

Digg CEO Jay Adelson did provide an explanation in a blog post Tuesday afternoon, noting that "to comply with the law, we have removed postings of the key that have been brought to our attention. Whether you agree or disagree with the policies of the intellectual property holders and consortiums, in order for Digg to survive, it must abide by the law."

But by late Tuesday night, Digg founder Kevin Rose had relented under pressure from the users. In a blog post, he noted that after reading thousands of reader comments, the will of the community was clear to Digg.

"You'd rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company," he wrote. "We hear you, and effective immediately we won't delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences will be. If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying."

Digg officials did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

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Heather Havenstein

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