Digg, Slashdot, and the tyranny of the mob

Does the Internet need an editor?

In a meme reminiscent of Nick Carr ("The cult of the amateur"), Rob Malda of Slashdot fame has riffed on the fallibility of Digg's model:

"...[W]ith sites like Digg, it's the wisdom of the crowds or the tyranny of the mob. You never know what you're going to get."

Some will call this sour grapes on Malda's part. I, however, think he has a point. I don't look to Digg to tell me what's important or newsworthy. It really does reek of a cattle call for she who makes up the silliest headlines or, worse yet, coordinated news "attacks" by groups that know how to goose the system.

This is not to say that I always agree with Slashdot's choice of news, either. I think it runs a lot of lame stories that aren't of interest to me but are of interest to...Rob Malda. But at least I know that. He's upfront about it. As he told me in an interview :

Ask yourself, "Would Rob want to read it?" If I wouldn't care, your odds of getting a story on Slashdot are next to nil.

This blog is no different: I get dozens of stories sent to me each day and I reject most of them. They're just not of personal interest to me. The smarter PR people have clued into what I care about (business angles, not techie angles - Mike Maney at PageOne PR probably groks what I care about better than anyone else. In fact, he was the one who sent me the link to Malda's comments).

I don't think we ever get away from the importance of an informed editor. I know that I couldn't write this blog nearly as well without all the great raw material that serious journalists at CNET, eWeek, New York Times, Linux.com, etc. write. My commentary depends on the hard work of editors who filter the news much better than a stampeding crowd can.

Malda is right. Digg isn't necessarily wrong, but I believe it would be more useful if it found ways to involve editors in some way. There's nothing wrong with applying a little studied discretion to the news.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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