Digg has become popular over time because of the democratic system it employs. Anybody can post a story and have a chance of it making the frontpage. The latest controversy surrounding the site though is that the system can be gamed (no surprise there). If a group of people work together they can easily get a link to the frontpage and therefore some people (including the Digg people) believe this takes away from the democratic nature of the site, when in fact this is exactly what should be happening.
Not too long ago, people were complaining that a small group of Wikipedia editors had too much power with regards to what content made it onto the site or not. A Democratic system does not mean that everyone is on a level playing field, but does leave open the fact that if done correctly any person has an opportunity to control the system just like the current crop of elites.
The real concern here is when you try to prevent individuals from “gaming” your system are you really helping or hurting your site. In the case of Digg you could argue your case either way. It’s easy to see how a small group (top 100) have heavy influence over whether a link makes it on the homepage or not, but does that deter quality content from making it? They had to become top 100 users one way or another because it just doesn’t magically happen. If you try to take away the “power” that they worked so hard to achieve you are more than likely going to upset them and quite possibly get them to leave (make sure to checkout The Overjustification Effect and User Generated Content).
Sure another group will just take their place, but what is to assure you that the new group won’t do the same thing? I tend to believe that these groups bring order to chaos and essentially that’s exactly what you want. You have to understand that in this kind of participatory media, some groups are going to participate a lot more than others. Not everyone is going to put the same amount of time into a site as the next person. In the U.S. political system (supposedly democratic in nature), when two candidates are running for the same position, the one that gets his name out the best tends to win the election. They are gaming a system that we believe shouldn’t be gamed.
Scott Karp makes an excellent point about Digg and gaming when he examines the same situation.
If participatory media is all about community and the user in control, it’s not surprising that Digg is having so many problems taking a traditional command and control approach to addressing abuse of the system. You have to wonder why Kevin Rose didn’t just come out and ask the “community” how to solve the problem. When you put the users in control, you can’t suddenly decide that they have too much control and take it away from them.
The current 9rules model doesn’t allow for gaming of the system since the sites that get in are decided by only three people. Well actually, that isn’t entirely true. You might get on our good side and have a better chance of getting in than if you piss us off and in many cases you could consider that gaming the system. If we were to open up the selection process for 9rules Member selection a small group of people might go out of their way to find how to game the system, but this shouldn’t lessen the quality of the process. When you give individuals unspecified power, it is up to them to define how they will use it and that’s the beauty of these democratic systems.