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I Am Your Shepherd

The Swedish Trek: Borg Borg Borg.

So, a lot of people apparently liked making fun of my wife last week.

The post got on the first page of digg, over 1000 diggs, and pushed about 14 times the typical daily traffic our way.

Cool, people must have really found it interesting.

I must have really struck a chord.

Or maybe I cheated.

You see, the DreamHost newsletter went out that day, to nearly all our subscribers.. and I put a link to that post in it. That in itself drew way more people to the blog than on average.

Then, I posted it on digg. (Actually, I tried to, but some Happy DreamHost Customer beat me to the punch, so I just used his post!)

For those of you who don’t know, digg is basically a “meta-blog” where anybody can post an interesting link with a blurb and if enough people find it interesting it gets promoted up to the front page. It’s supposedly a highly-democratic way for the “hive mind” to filter out the cruft from the crop. Supposedly.

As you might have noticed, there are a lot of sites like this these days, these user-driven sites. Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, yada yada yada.. there’s even a community-driven t-shirt site, threadless.com!

I guess that’s what makes the web 2.0.

Then, I included the little “Digg” icon at the bottom of the post with some html they provide. Unfortunately, due to a problem with WordPress and Javascript in posts, the digg icon doesn’t seem to show up in IE 6.

Unfortunately… for nobody!

It turns out enough newsletter readers saw the digg link, were registered digg users, and thought the post was diggable to get it up to 50 or so diggs pretttty fast. And apparently somewhere around 50 is when digg decides a new post is popular enough to automatically make the front page!

Once it was on the front page, that was it. The diggers started digging it, the newsletterers kept newslettering it, the traffic kept rising, the bloggers starting blogging it, and so on and so on. I was contacted by my aunt, my wife’s cousin, my old college suitemate, Yahoo’s anti-phishing department, and even the head of the IRS’s anti-online-fraud department.

Who knew my aunt read digg?

Happy DreamHost Customers

So, the post was clearly a hit.

But really, was it that great? I mean, yes, it was. Of course. I’m awesome. Thanks.

But what it also seems, is that I have a human “bot-net” of hundreds of thousands of willing drones, that I can send in any direction I choose! Mwah ha ha ha.

And it just so turns out that community “voting” sites are highly susceptible to the directed efforts of thousands of people!

If I wanted to, I could probably repost my old prediction about Apple making Video Airport Expresses (in anticipation of their announcement next tuesday), get it on the front page of digg, the rumor sites would take it as gospel, and before you know it, I’d be paid a little visit by three large men in black turtlenecks.

Of course, anybody who’s ever run an online poll knows how easy it is for community-driven features to get abused. My way is a just slightly less automated, but a lot more “authentic way” of generating attention and spreading my influence.

It’s really just the “web 2.0” version of special-interest groups and letter-writing campaigns.


Ask your parents about them.

And that is where I see an inherent weakness in this brave new world we’re entering into. Sometimes, moderators are needed. Sometimes, the wisdom of crowds doesn’t work. Sometimes, the crowd is gaming you.

It’s the tyranny of the well-organized minority.

It even happens to us.. subversion was one of the most-voted on features in our suggestions area for a while. It seemed a teeny bit esoteric to me, but eh, whatever, I guess we’ve got a lot of fancy coding mama-yamas hosting with us. We implemented it, and it does seem popular.. but not nearly as popular as we might have expected based on the votes.

Later I discovered why.

Some sneakster had published a link right to the “Vote for official DreamHost support of Subversion” in the Subversion area of our wiki!

There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it did mean that just about EVERYBODY who used DreamHost and was at all interested in Subversion voted for it.. whereas our other suggestions get a much more random and normal distribution of users.

I wish I weren't a lemming.

Anyway, it’s all very interesting.

What EVIL SCHEME shall I use you, my sheep, for next?

Shall we get mandatory school vouchers for hybrid vehicles? Maybe we should all boycott McDonald’s new DRM-restricted big macs? Or do some offshore drilling into SCO’s legal team?

No matter what we decide though, I promise it’ll be in our best interest! When you’re a minority (and believe it or not, DreamHost customers are still a minority), you’ve got to organize and use the power you have efficiently and effectively. It worked for the Sunnis in Iraq, and it will work for you.

First order of business, let’s get this T-Shirt design made:


(It was made by a DH employee’s GIRLfriend!)

Go vote!


About the author

Josh Jones