Digg: Not for me, certainly not for everybody

The idea behind Digg is interesting enough, get a community of people rating and commenting on news. Like any other community, Digg has its norms and social mores, unfortunately, however, they are not my social norms or mores. As per the 23 things, I signed up to Digg, and let the links roll in (and they certainly did roll — at last count I had 209 unread Digg links in my feed reader). Anecdotally, most of what Digg is feeding me is either techtips (most of them to do with the iPhone) or college boy humour (’10 ways to get kinky in the kitchen’, ‘look what happens when some girl tries to eat a tablespoon of cinnamon’, ‘catfight in the girls locker’ room…that sort of thing). I haven’t done a watertight analysis of this, but on first second and third glance, it seems to be fairly accurate. In fact, the most interesting thing Digg has presented me with is this Stephen Pinker article about swearing (be warned, this paper includes explicit examples of bad language), which piqued an old interest in socio- and psycholinguistics.

Not only is Digg full of college boy humour and tech-tips, I have also had the rather uncomfortable experience of someone I don’t know becoming my fan, claiming he likes what I am doing on Digg (which is precisely nothing). I know this is part of social networking, but on a site that already feels as hostile as Digg, someone being my fan is downright creepy.

So why is Digg the way it is? What has shaped the community? Part of the issue here is that Digg reflects the wider online community, men use the internet more often than women, and for longer. Moreover, younger people (PDF) are more likely to engage in social activities on the web — so young men are likely to be the primary users of a service like Digg because they are the primary users of social services online.

Having said that, Digg sublty encourages this demographic trend with its user interface. When I signed up, I was asked to choose my gender (which actually should be irrelevant on a site like Digg, but I assume they’re selling my eyeballs to an advertiser and gender matters there). The problem is not actually being asked my gender, the problem is the options I was offered: ‘Fellow’ and ‘Bird’. This is an example of where relying on fun to create a good user experience can be really risky: some people would find this fun, but I find the suggestion that males are ‘fellows’ (which has associations of jolly-goodness and even academia) and females are birds (near-brainless, decorative and flighty) pretty insulting–imagine, for example, that the options were ‘ladies’ and ‘roosters’ (or some synonym thereof).

This gender-naming slight is not the only thing about Digg that may discourage women, though: The main topics on Digg are ‘World & Business’, ‘Technology‘, ‘Science‘, ‘Entertainment’, ‘Gaming‘, ‘Sports‘, ‘Offbeat News’ and ‘Comedy Videos’, four of which are traditionally male dominated, and none of which are traditionally female dominated (I’m not going to get into whether things should be male or female dominated, I’m only talking about things as they are). If a news item you are interested in posting doesn’t fit into a Digg category, you are not welcome to post it to Digg.

These are just two of a number of ways Digg works to bias their user base further in favour of the typical internet user — young and male, and the popularity contest nature of Digg means that this culture is self-reinforcing. To be honest, though, whatever Digg wants to do with their user base is fine, provided they are aware they are doing it. It does mean, however, that this will not be a way I get my news in the future (as the 23 Things task suggested I might). I might occasionally visit and read the music section, which has many interesting articles about copyright, but I am certainly deleting my account, and unsubscribing from the RSS feed — Digg is not for me (clearly some of my colleagues feel the same way — see here, here and here), and the culture there makes that abundantly clear.


3 Responses to “Digg: Not for me, certainly not for everybody”

  1. 1 scott parsons Monday, October 15, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Hi there, I found your take on digg to be interesting. I use digg as a news source, but I have never really signed up as it isn’t a community I really want to be a part of. I just don’t have time to jockey for position, and most discussions I have followed on site seem to become shouting matches. That aside I think an interesting point about the categorisation on the site is that that is I think a fairly recent addition, and only grew to represent the type of information being submitted, rather than shape the info being submitted.
    Of course I’m not entirely sure about that as I wasn’t in on those decisions.
    You should maybe have a look at scoopit which is a NZ based digg clone, I think it is more like digg was.
    Or of course there is sk-rt which is sorta a digg for women. Of course YMMV there also.
    Anywho… thanks for your article, I thought it was a thoughtful analysis

  2. 2 danamckay Tuesday, October 16, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    Scott, thanks very much for those recommendations, I will certainly check them out — who knows, I may even comment on them.

  3. 3 libodyssey Friday, January 18, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    One more of your 23 Things colleagues agreeing with you about the ephemerality, poor grammar usage and general offensiveness of Digg.

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