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Digg Users Revolt. Web 2.0's Moment of Truth?

Posted by: Rob Hof on May 2, 2007


So a user on Digg posted an item that contained a code to hack HD-DVDs, and all hell broke loose. The folks who run Digg—er, I mean, the executives, who apparently are not the folks who actually run Digg—took down the item, fearing they’d be sued under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Then hundreds of people revolted and posted new items, overwhelming the service and prompting Digg President Kevin Rose to give in. As he posted on the Digg blog:

Today was an insane day. And as the founder of Digg, I just wanted to post my thoughts…

In building and shaping the site I’ve always tried to stay as hands on as possible. We’ve always given site moderation (digging/burying) power to the community. Occasionally we step in to remove stories that violate our terms of use (eg. linking to pornography, illegal downloads, racial hate sites, etc.). So today was a difficult day for us. We had to decide whether to remove stories containing a single code based on a cease and desist declaration. We had to make a call, and in our desire to avoid a scenario where Digg would be interrupted or shut down, we decided to comply and remove the stories with the code.

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.

Digg on,


I’m not surprised this issue came up on Digg, in particular. For all its clear value in surfacing interesting (if sometimes puerile) stories, it has a small but significant population of people with too much time on their hands—OK, let’s call them the jerks they are. It seems inevitable that they’d seize on something eventually and wreak havoc. And I don’t mean to dispute their views on DVD encryption, only their way of expressing those views, potentially at the expense of everyone else who depends on Digg.

It’s not yet clear to me whether this is a seminal moment in Web 2.0, or something that will blow over quickly. I tend to think Digg and the compelling user-power notions behind Web 2.0 will come out OK, but who knows? In any case, I think the issue of who owns so-called user-generated content—the users or the service on which it’s created and posted—will only grow more controversial from here on out.

It’s one thing for a site to give the power to us, or acknowledge that it’s ours. But if we do things that cause the service to get sued out of existence, what’s the point? As one commenter on Digg put it, “IF we’re all done acting like 5 year olds, I’m sure someone’s got a great picture of a cute kitten in a computer to submit.”

I suspect the user-driven services that will survive will be those that manage to establish a culture of collective responsibility from the outset—so users themselves will do the right thing—or at least manage to evolve to such a culture. Say what you will about periodic problems with fraud at eBay, it has survived in no small part thanks to founder Pierre Omidyar’s early insistence that “people are basically good”—thus attracting basically good people.

(BusinessWeek mockup courtesy of iloveketchup, spied on Mashable.)

Reader Comments

Seth Hoyt

May 3, 2007 1:19 AM

"But if we do things that cause the service to get sued out of existence, what's the point?"

The point is not to create a denial-of-service for its own sake, as you suggest when you say, "It seems inevitable that they'd seize on something eventually and wreak havoc."

In reality, this revolt is about censorship, and the users' opposition to it. If for every piece of content that is censored, two more are posted, then censorship will fail. That's the basic idea, and why the site was overrun with these postings.


May 3, 2007 1:27 AM

you're too old to understand, Rob. Do you even read Digg or participate in similar sites? And stop using Web 2.0. WE know what it is...we're not old and balding. Well...we're not old.


May 3, 2007 1:33 AM

Im used to BusinessWeek having much better informed postings than this...

The havoc caused this week on Digg had relatively little to do with the DRM issue and much more to do with the widespread deletions of posts and commentary that make up the backbone of the Digg user model - with no communication from the site administrators.

By the time the initial statements were being made by the Digg admins, the situation had already hit full simmer with mass content and user account deletions - a powder-keg igniting move in any social networking situation, be it forum, newsgroup, or Web 2.0 site.

The snide tone of Rob's commentary is also hardly constructive.

Rob Hof

May 3, 2007 1:43 AM


Ah, the old "you're too old to understand." The last refuge of people who don't actually have a cogent argument.

glen gairns

May 3, 2007 1:50 AM

good job


May 3, 2007 6:27 AM

"But if we do things that cause the service to get sued out of existence, what's the point?"

The subculture that dominates Digg has anti-censorship roots that go way back to the earliest adopters -- what you might think of as the 'founding fathers' of the Internet. Their notion that "information wants to be free" is a guiding principle to them and I suspect that they care far more about it than any individual service, such as Digg. Most would see this more as civil disobedience than a temper tantrum.

I think that this will be a seminal moment not just in Web 2.0, but in how intellectual property issues are dealt with online.


May 3, 2007 7:07 AM

Actually Rob, you're the one with incoherent arguments. In fact, your piece is so full of contradictions, it shouldn't of made past BW editors. Take this for example: "only their way of expressing those views, potentially at the expense of everyone else who depends on Digg" Don't you get it yet? You're the only one who falls into the "everyone else" category, if you use Digg at all which is doubtful.

Not only does the "too old to understand" mantra apply, but you're of the "mainstream media" clan. The same dinosaur entities who refuse to acknowledge the fact you can't box in the web for personal gains and agendas.

Jack Krupansky

May 3, 2007 11:33 AM

Although I myself am "too old to understand", I have mixed feelings about this latest "episode" in "Internet/information freedom." Superficially, I would agree that Digg users really jumped the shark this time and that Digg is now doomed to a Napsteresque fate, but on the other hand we old fogies do have to recognize that the next generation will have its own values that will ultimately prevail regardless of what we believe and know to be "right."

That said, one has to wonder whether the crowd/mob/gang of "hooligans" and "information anarchists" that has gotten attention here is truly representative of all of the Millenial Generation, or just a niche "community" that we should simply ignore.

Finally, although we (I) assume that these Digg agitaters are "young", is that really completely true? Or are some significant fraction of them actually "aging hippy types" who simply fashion themselves as "young" or simply relish the opportunity to once again play the role of "radical activist"? I do not know, but I simply do not want to blindly blame "young people" for the Digg meltdown. I do imagine that there are probably quite a number of "old people" who also "steal music."

-- Jack Krupansky

Rupak Ganguly

May 3, 2007 6:16 PM

Good post. I have posted about this story as well on my blog at

Herbert Erdmenger

May 3, 2007 6:27 PM

F*** the Movies Association of America...or something... that tried to encript everything. You know...for an action there is always a reaction. Long live the First Amendment...and let Hollywood f*** itself

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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