Blame SpamThe statement could be pushed over to just about any true Web 2.0 site where voting and popularity determine the success of a piece of content. Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace – overrun by spam. Mixx, Propeller, Yahoobuzz – spam havens.

For social news powerhouses Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon to be so changed by the presence of gobs and gobs of spam hits a little harder. They are the sites where I started my journey in Web 2.0. They are the shiny beacons of user-controlled, traffic-generating goodness that made mainstream media look to the people for their opinions and discoveries.

They are, for all intents and purposes, shells of what they should be, and spam is to blame. Perhaps more importantly, how they handled spam over the years has caused them to close their networks in one way or another through a series of witchhuntesque spam countermeasures.

…and spam is to blame.

Digg Paranoia

Many people go out (in this case, we’ll call her Blogger Sue), create a wonderful site or blog, put their heart and souls into the content (some even pay for strong content) and prepare their servers for the onslaught of traffic inherent with a Digg front page story.

One try, two tries, ten tries later, nothing. They’re lucky if they get 100 total visitors combined to their 10 stories.

They look at the stats. According to Di66, 2203 of the 4011 stories to hit the front page in the last 30 days came from 100 websites. Out of hundreds of thousands of submissions per month, 100 website control 55% of the Digg front page.

Blogger Sue notices something. It’s not just the domains. It’s the users. The top 100 users this month have 2197 front page submissions, again over 50% despite millions of unique visitors per month. That’s the ticket! She makes friends with a couple of top users, asks them to submit, and again waits for the traffic onslaught.

Again, she is disappointed. After several failed attempts, her site has been flagged for what some call “autobury” or “spam protection” because the Digg algorithm watches for new sites getting too many Diggs and prevents them from hitting. In any given month, new sites will account for less than 1% of the total front page stories.

Digg has trust issues. It trusts certain users and certain sites. The rest are spammers pushing spam. While on one hand you can’t blame them, as Digg is often considered the crown jewel of a traffic-driving strategy (and therefore gets spammed to death) but on the other hand there really needs to be a way to make it more fair for both new users and new sites. We have ideas, and we’ve offered them, but thus far nobody at Digg has asked our opinion.

Reddit Elitism

Reddit is the most open of the social news sites in that great content can hit the front page regardless of the submitter. Well, almost regardless. As long as the submitter is either brand new or well “vetted” by an algorithm actively pursuing spam and as long as the domain hasn’t been banned within a subreddit or by the entire site, then Blogger Sue can create an account, submit a post, title it appropriately, and have a chance of doing well.

There are 3 problems with Reddit:

  1. If you get banned in a subreddit or the site itself, you may never know. You can submit and submit and submit and nobody will ever be able to see your submission. This can be done by getting banned in enough subreddits or algorithmically based upon a series of criteria that few understand.
  2. The Subreddits, while they were a great idea at first, have partitioned into “traffic or no traffic”. There are a handful of subreddits that gained popularity early on and have continued to gain in popularity simply because they’re popular. The others are worthless and there it’s almost impossible to get traction into a small subreddit.
  3. The moderators. Too much power for the “trusted” few who have control over the strong subreddits. They can (and in many cases, have) banned users or domains based upon simply not liking someone or something. There are subreddits where respectable, completely non-spammy domains are blocked because they weren’t liked by an individual.

There are solutions at Reddit as well, but again, nobody seems to be looking for them. The offer, as always, is on the table.

StumbleUpon Contradictions

There are a dozen people in the universe who have figured out how to properly promote via StumbleUpon. For the rest, it’s hit or miss. Do we Stumble a lot or not? Subscribe a lot or not? Discover a lot or not? Should we share? Not share? Tweet? Su.pr?

Why did Blogger Sue stumble one decent story that got 30,000 unique visitors in a week, then stumble a great piece of content from the same domain that got 30 views?

StumbleUpon has been successful in driving traffic to quality sites, but has also been victim of filters that keep a TON of content out of the mix.  There are stories that are served up thousands of times before the algorithm realizes the content sucked, while other pieces of content that are gloriously powerful aren’t served to a single person regardless of who discovers it.

With StumbleUpon, I have no advice because I don’t understand it enough to offer any. Sorry guys.

What is the Future of Social News?

Digg.

Reddit.

StumbleUpon.

They are the present and will likely be the future as well. Still, there are things on the horizon that have potential. Tying in conversation within other networks is an option. Judging quality through batches of moderators vetting content is another. Someone will come up with a solution, then thousands will figure out ways to game and spam it.

That’s the nature of the beast, which is why I still love these sites, regardless of whether they’re dead or not.

… and spam is to blame.

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Read more about social news on this blog.

Written by JD Rucker
+JD Rucker is Editor at Soshable, a Social Media Marketing Blog. He is a Christian, a husband, a father, and founder of Dealer Authority. He drinks a lot of coffee, usually in the form of a 5-shot espresso over ice. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.