Being on top is nice, but being on top on a regular basis is better.
Robert Scoble explained the fundamentals of gaming Techmeme and shared his observations. I believe it’s important to know that Techmeme isn’t the only social news network that vulnerable and some valuable lessons that new sites could learn from.
What is gaming? Gaming is the behavior of intentionally creating content, rating content, or influencing the top 1% users of a social news site with the end result of having your material reaching the top or featured pages. It’s a little bit like spam, but not as shameful. Put it this way, PR firms could justify their application of “gaming,” but your typical C, D or F-list blogger could argue that it’s unfair.
I don’t think tech blogging is broken, but I do think some influential bloggers should clearly disclose their source of reviewing something (and not selling out and reviewing material because it was handed to them by a PR person). No, having it on your about page regarding your associations to VC firms doesn’t count.
Anyhow, back to the point. Gaming isn’t new. In fact, it’s been around for quite a while. Digg’s top users were caught gaming and accepting cash to simply post a link to a story; Netscape’s [now Propeller] tolerance to gaming was zero, and even Jason Calacanis put a $100 bounty out on these spammers.
There are two types of gaming, the way I see it:
- Malicious spamming: by means of proxies, multiple accounts, sinking relevant stories, raising junk ones.
- Grey-area marketing: by means of reaching out to the top 1% of influential bloggers hoping they carry your story getting your product to the top of sites.
I think a lot of social news sites have been able to reasonably manage the malicious spamming, by simple blocking proxies, verifying e-mails, using CAPTCHAs and rate limiting on IP address. (I’ve learned this by accident when I was using a shared IP and was using Digg a lot.) However, I don’t have faith that Digg or Netscape could effectively handle the influx of abuse that botnets could inflict.
The other kind of gaming is not something a computer or a script could detect — it relies on the top users that aggregators respect — ultimately depends on your own moral flexibility. As Scoble explained in his video, if the A-List blogged about “Google Fubar,” it will be number one on Techmeme without a doubt.
The solution? I think it would be reasonable empower users to vote on the sites on Techmeme, but have it silently raise or lower someone. Have low-rated sources queued in a moderation queue for re-evaluating their “importance” and possibly blacklisting them.
In conclusion, when a social news service is managed by an algorithm, it is vulnerable to mathematical failure; when managed by a human it is vulnerable to human error. When managed by both; you minimize both points of failure while adapting and reacting to user feedback.