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I spotted an interesting post on Soshable, which flagged up some data that shows how difficult it is for smaller publishers to break through to the Digg front page.

In the past week, according to data gathered by di66.net, the top ten sources featured on Digg are as follows: The Telegraph, The New York Times, YouTube, Time, Arstechnica, Huffington Post, Washington Post, Cracked, the blessed Daily Mail, and The Guardian. All big-ass publishers.

JD Rucker, who wrote the Soshable post, says Digg needs to diversify, unless it wants to die:When less than 1% of the sites submitted control 46% of the front page, diversity is dead.”

Read it back… just 1% of sources account for almost half of the most valuable page estate on Digg. 

Does this suggest that it is operating a whitelist, at domain level?

Not all sources are equal 

I’m convinced that Google News did something similar after it got into bed with AP, towards the end of 2007. The vast majority of stories promoted on Google News are from major news organisations. 

One look at the Google News (UK) homepage suggests as much. At the time of writing the top story has three links for the Guardian, two for The Times, and one each for The Telegraph and BBC. If you’re a smaller publisher, this (obviously) sucks. There are about 10,000 sources indexed, but very few of these are reflected in what Google News chooses to promote.

It has certainly put a spoke in the wheel for independent publishers, and – for me – made Google News a less attractive place to hunt around for stories. It became more like Yahoo News, which is full of AP and Reuters and other straight news sources.

I firmly believe that Google News operates a whitelist - a list of 'tier one publishers' that benefit from more blue and green links on the homepage, and in the channels. These sites have been given the nod. Go see. And let me know what you think... 

Not all Diggs are equal 

Digg is a bit like Google, in that it tends to change the algorithm frequently, rather than making one or two major updates every few months. Some of the recent changes include things like trying to prevent 'blind digging'. 

The issue with Digg is that you can just browse through Digg’s pages and digg posts without actually reading them. To combat this abuse it introduced a limit on the number of stories you’re allowed to digg in a 24 hour period, but I’m not sure that will stop this activity. Then again, surely it doesn’t need to. 

The advantage Digg has over Google News is that it is an all-seeing eye, and watches all kinds of user behaviour (which is why the site often takes a little bit longer to load pages than you might expect). It can tell that you’ve dugg a story but not clicked through to it. And that should matter, in terms of how it perceives your vote. It can simply discount blind digging, rather than change too much to accommodate it.

With that in mind, does it really need to whitelist at domain level? If Digg knows so much about users, then surely it is they who will be rewarded or punished (for good or bad behaviour), and not the source? 

I guess this very point should make us question whether it does in fact employ a whitelist. Presumably there are also other factors at play?

Considering the issue with blind digging from the Digg site, I reckon that diggs accumulated from clicking the Digg button on the source page must carry more weight than those on Digg itself? (just as a digg from a poweruser will...) 

Isn’t it just about the numbers?

There might be a whitelist. But it can also be argued that there isn’t. The reason why the major sites are doing so well in Digg may simply be about numbers.

If we can assume that diggs collected at the source (rather than on Digg.com) carry more weight, perhaps it is more likely that bigger publishers make it to the homepage with fewer Diggs, because they attract more diggs from their own pages? The major publishers have many more users than the smaller ones, and as such they’re more likely to collect more diggs on their pages. 

The argument against this is that you might not immediately associate a publisher like The Daily Mail with Digg’s more balanced user demographic. Can it really be that The Mail is attracting lots of diggs at source level? Are Mail readers also Digg users? 

You can disagree with The Mail’s right-wing mantras but polarisation works a treat on Digg, and The Mail is well placed to irritate Digg’s more libertarian users. And that's why many Digg powerusers will submit these stories. They're actively hunting them down.

At any rate, the publisher seems to be benefiting from social media. In the last 24 hours Digg has featured five of The Mail’s articles on the front page, second only to YouTube...

Chris Lake

Published 19 March, 2009 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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