Many of these offers have been made out in the open, like Netscape’s offer to pay some of the top Diggers $1,000 a month to become permanent fixtures on Netscape’s Digg-like home page. Today, almost half of Netscape’s sixteen “Navigators”—paid social bookmakers—were originally top contributors to Digg. But other offers have been made in secret, according to Johnson, and he isn’t the only one being given the chance to Digg for cash. “One site offered me $100 for every submission that I got onto the front page of Digg,” says Derek Van Vliet, or BloodJunkie, who is ranked sixth on Digg and who was among those Diggers who took Netscape’s offer.
To accept such an offer is a violation of Digg’s terms of service, but Adelson acknowledges that it’s impossible to keep tabs on all 600,000 registered Digg contributors, and that in large part the community must police itself. While professional editors and reporters have also been caught taking bribes, they at least risk destroying their careers if caught. The top contributors to Digg, some as young as sixteen, only risk losing a digital account.
In early November, Digg —which has been the subject of sales talks—changed the algorithm that determines which submissions make the front page. The idea, in part, is to address the unequal access to the front page, and it has gotten a bit harder of late to get my submissions on page one. But the algorithm has been changed before, and the problem didn’t go away. For many, Digg is a game and a change in algorithm is merely an obstacle to be surmounted. Entire communities, like Spikethevote.com, have sprung up to try to cheat the algorithm by inflating a story’s votes.
Regardless of how well these attempts at cheating Digg work, the self-policing reality is troubling, especially in light of Digg’s policy of keeping the identity of users private. It fosters a sense of freedom in what people are willing to submit, but it also creates a void of accountability. While I can stand firm that trading Diggs for money is wrong, I have to admit it comes eerily close to what I do when I submit stories that I have been paid to write.