Digg mobbed by its own crowd

Caught between movie-industry lawyers and its vociferous community, the news-discussion site decides to side with its users.

By Tom McNichol, Business 2.0 Magazine senior writer

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- "Letting users control your site can be terrifying at first," said Kevin Rose, the cofounder of popular news-aggregator site, Digg, told Business 2.0 Magazine recently.

But yesterday, Rose learned just how terrifying it can really be. Thousands of users rose up in protest over the site's decision to ban articles and comments that contained a 32-digit code that can be used to crack anti-copying technology on HD-DVDs.

After users bombarded the site with more articles containing the offending code, Digg decided to yield to the power of the crowd.

Digg founder Kevin Rose announced on his blog that the site had changed its stance and has re-instated the offending articles after reading thousands of comments from angry users complaining about censorship.

"You've made it clear," Rose writes. "You'd rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won't delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be." Rose added, "If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying."

The trouble started when lawyers for the format's digital rights management technology sent cease and desist letters to Digg, warning the site that that making the code public violates the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

Digg began removing articles and comments that contained the code, but then the site was met with a furious backlash, as users began flooding the site with stories containing the code.

At one point, the top ten tech stories on Digg were stories that mentioned the banned code, and the torrent of posts temporarily crashed Digg's servers.

Digg at first defended its decision to remove stories containing the code, saying it was only obeying the law. Jay Adelson, the site's CEO, wrote in a posting to users, "Whether you agree or disagree with the policies of the intellectual property holders and consortiums, in order for Digg to survive, it must abide by the law." But by the end of the day when user protests reached a fever pitch, Digg decided to reverse course.

As Digg told Business 2.0 last December when he gave readers advice about how to succeed in business: "It's about allowing users to define the site and police the site themselves."

Yesterday, following his own advice turned out to be harder than Rose might have imagined.

Tom McNichol is a senior writer at Business 2.0 Magazine. Read his blog at The Other End of the Telescope. Top of page

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