Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Digggate Conspiracy...

There is a major drama unfolding this week that gets to the very heart of what the Web is and what it ought to be.

On April 2nd, the social news website, Digg, launched its new toolbar. The idea behind it was relatively simple and had been done many times before... let people Digg their favorite stories directly from their browser without needing the extra step of to visiting Digg's website. This follows on the footheels of Facebook, StumbleUpon, Twitter, Del.icio.us, and many others who've taken similar actions.

So what's the big deal? Well, the uproar is over the "extra" things the Diggbar does which critics claim go too far. As this RWW article explains, they are upset about 1) the framing of content and 2) the new URL shortener.

Let's break these down one at a time. The framing of content refers to Digg's new practice of placing the contents of someone else's web page in an HTML frame. Take a look at this link to see how Nerfherder pages now magically appear underneath a Digg frame. It might not seem like such a big deal to the average reader of websites, however what it means for content producers is that Digg is now stealing all of that website's traffic and "link juice" (and with it, taking away their advertising revenues and hurting their rankings in search engines).

To put this in perspective, Digg has always relied on external links, but whereas, in the past, someone might discover a Nerfherder link interesting and then visit its website to read the entire article, now people will be able to read the Nerfherder post entirely on Digg without ever needing to leave. Not only does that greatly diminish the traffic this blog receives, but also hurts its humble attempts at generating ad revenue. Furthermore, anytime someone creates a trackback and link to a Nerfherder post, the link is actually made to Digg's framed version of the page. In a world in which Google and the other search engines base their rankings on external links, this has a crippling effect.

The second issue is over the Diggbar's new URL shortener. Other shorteners like TinyURL and Bit.ly have existed for quite some time. However, while those services redirect people back to the original link being abbreviated (often for Tweeting purposes), the Diggbar directs traffic back to Digg.com. "In technical terms, the Diggbar produces a 200 server code instead of a 301 redirect (Danny Sullivan explains the difference here), and," as Michael Arrington writes, "on the surface that just does not seem kosher."

As a result, reactions in cyberspace have been pretty intense against the Diggbar. Comments in the RWW article include one person labeling Digg as "EVIL" and another explains how "framing breaks bookmarking, it breaks copy-and-paste from the location field, it breaks your browser history, it breaks bookmarklets. There’s nothing OK about it."

Additionally, one of the most successful bloggers in existence, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, has started a movement to "Block the Bar", citing a 20% drop in traffic over the past week due to the Diggbar.

One hacktivist, John Gruber at Daring Fireball, is so mad that he has even released this code to block the Diggbar from any site.

At its core, this is an issue that gets at the fundamental question of the Web... What are the limits and reach of copyright in a shared environment? Linking and sharing content has always been encouraged in cyberspace, so has the Diggbar really gone too far? Are the critics right in asserting that Digg is hijacking their web pages? Stealing, even, and then collecting advertising money from someone else's work?

When all is said and done and the furor has passed, this Digggate controversy will help shape the future development of the Web itself. How these questions get answered, and also how they are eventually framed (no pun intended), will prove telling.


At 12:43 PM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

UPDATE: Digg backs down..."All anonymous users, those not logged into Digg.com, will now be taken directly to the publishers content via a permanent redirect - no toolbar, no frames.

"These changes ensure that content providers receive full search engine 'juice' or credit for all links on and off Digg," says John Quinn, vice president of engineering. They also ensure that Digg short URLs won't appear in the indexes of any major search engines."

Registered Digg users that have not opted out will continue to see the DiggBar, but they will only see the bar when logged in, and opting out will be made much easier."


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