Posted by rebecca

I’m a fan of Digg and visit it every day to read various stories and check out what’s new. Every so often I comment on stories and submit stuff. I get a "woo hoo!" feeling whenever one of my comments gets a bunch of diggs or when a submission hits the home page, which, combined with the site’s content and news stories, are what keep me coming back for more. Sure, lots of people bash Digg for being juvenile and too much of a boys’ club, but since I’m a tomboy and often have the sense of humor of a 19-year old dude (my coworkers note that I average at least one poo or butt joke a week), Digg’s community is just fine by me.

Lately the site has been cracking down on a lot of things and has been banning users and domains for committing various offenses. The latest user bans have mostly consisted of people who have used scripts to auto-digg stories, but there’s been another crackdown that, in my opinion, is illogical and a wee bit ridiculous. Digg has banned sites that are commercial or salesy. Case in point: A friend of mine recently tried to submit content from a client’s website. It was an interesting blog post that wasn’t inundated with commercial links or calls to action on the page. However, he found out that Digg had banned the domain because the URL was commercial in nature (e.g., "greatcomputerdeals.com"). He tried to appeal his case, to no avail (I’ve heard from other Digg users that getting a ban lifted from your site is extremely difficult). Digg has also warned users who have submitted commercial domains and have even banned a few (I know of at least one user who was banned for submitting content from a retail site).

I understand the intent: Digg wants to prevent spammers from submitting pages from cheap-viagra-123.net and downgrading the quality of content on the site. However, what’s the problem with a site like smartautoloans.com submitting an article about "How Not to Get Screwed When Buying Your First Car," especially when the content stems from the site’s blog and is truly informative and interesting? Why should the fact that the domain is commercial ruin the quality of the content?

An easy example to refer to is Matt Inman and his free dating sites (Mingle2, then JustSayHi, then back to Mingle2). He’s created a bunch of successful quizzes and comics that were geared to promote his dating site and drive signups. A lot of them became popular on Digg, but because of the recent crackdown, he’s wary about submitting anything from the Mingle2 domain, despite the fact that the Digg community as a whole enjoys the content (sure, there are some people who lament the Mingle2 "spam," but many users noted that they didn’t mind that the content came from a dating site and applauded the clever promotional tactics). Is anyone really going "Hey, this ‘8 Phases of Dating’ cartoon is really funny! Wait, it came from a free dating site? Oh, eff that, this content sucks!"?  

Honestly, shouldn’t the users be able to decide if content from a commercial website is valuable instead of Digg automatically implementing a ban on the site simply because its domain is commercial in nature and the site sells stuff? And what about sites that serve up ads? Technically those are commercial websites because they’re making money from ads, right?

Let’s take a look at the stories that are currently top in all topics:

  • "I can’t imagine a President being named Obama" — a video on YouTube, which serves ads on its home page
  • Republicans Voting for Obama: In Their Own Words —  an article from The Huffington Post, which serves ads all over the article page
  • Think Firefox 3 is fast? Try Firefox Minefield — an article from CNET, which serves ads and has affiliate partnerships with retailers selling the products that the site reviews
  • Fake Cop Busted After Pulling Over Real Cop — an article from the Chicago Tribune, which serves ads and has affiliate partnerships with sites like Cars.com, Gadzoo.com, Apartments.com, and CareerBuilder.com in their Classifieds section
  • Obama Has Some Fantasy Football Skills —  an article from ESPN.com, which serves ads, has a subscription service for both their magazine and exclusive access to the site, sells books, and charges for some of their fantasy leagues
  • Economy Crashes but War Profiteers Doing Fine — an article from Reuters, which serves ads and sells "Reuters Professional Products" to professionals
  • Why are Docs From the Bailout Being Redacted? — an article from Propublica.org, an independent, non-profit site that produces "investigative journalism in the public interest." I couldn’t find any ads or obvious commercial intent, which makes sense for a non-profit site.
  • Rick Astley might be given up and let down by MTV? — an article from BestActEver.com, a pro-Rick Astley website that was trying to get Rick Astley voted as "Best Act Ever" for the MTV Europe Awards. Aside from the website’s explicit awesomeness, I couldn’t find any obvious commercial intent.
  • World’s most ineffective theft deterrent — an image from Flickr, which sells Pro accounts for upgraded uploads and account features
  • Gmail’s Canned Responses is E-mail for the Lazy! — an article from Wired, which serves ads and sells subscription services to their magazine

Okay, so out of the top 10 stories on Digg, only 2 can technically be defined as non-commercial in nature. The other 8 make money somehow–and really, what’s wrong with that? Ain’t no shame in rakin’ in some green. So why are these sites given a pass while other more obvious commercial sites are vilified? Sure, the above domains are more established and mainstream, so I can understand why their content is featured. But honestly, shouldn’t great content from a mid-level commercial domain be able to speak for itself? Why does it have to come from Wired or ESPN in order to be acceptable?   

You could argue that most of the "commercial" sites I mentioned make their money from ad revenue and that Diggers don’t click on ads, so therefore it’s not really commercial, after all. Well sure, but I’m willing to bet that most of them wouldn’t buy office supplies from a site whose "5 Best Movie Office Drones" list made the home page, either. It’s pretty widely established that Digg is pretty abysmal for driving conversions, whether that conversion is a sale, sign up, or ad click. The goal of social media marketing is largely traffic and links, which in turn can lead to better rankings and conversions. So if ad-driven sites like Cracked and Forbes.com (with their stupid, stupid slideshows that are designed to serve up a buttload of ads per page) are fine because "Diggers don’t click on ads," why isn’t a product site okay since Diggers likely won’t buy, anyway? And even if they do buy, what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with a user reading an article or post and then clicking on an ad that interests him or buying a product that he needs or wants? How is that providing a negative experience to the end user?

Angry gripes aside, it’s likely Digg won’t change their stance any time soon, so if you’re a commercial website with a commercial-looking domain, your chances of Digg success are slim unless you’re willing to try some clever workarounds. That’s not to say that social media marketing won’t work for you–there’s still lots of stuff you can leverage (StumbleUpon, Delicious, industry-appropriate forums, etc). However, if you’re looking for success on Digg, it won’t come easy. I guess that’s the price you pay for trying to earn a buck. 

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