Digg town hall: The live blog report

The company's founder and CEO are webcasting a live question-and-answer discussion with their notoriously opinionated users.

Digg founder Kevin Rose and CEO Jay Adelson are, as many of you know, holding a "town hall" on Monday at 6 p.m. PT, streamed live via Ustream.tv.

Digg's user base is notoriously colorful, so this should be a popcorn-worthy occasion--that is, if you care about matters of editorial control, "gaming the system," comment moderation, and whether iPhone headlines are cooler than Linux headlines.

Digg CEO Jay Adelson (left) and founder Kevin Rose (right) with their MacBooks. Digg

All kidding aside, this will be a look into the workings and management of one of Silicon Valley's perpetual cool kids. (If you see an acquisition question, there's a chance that it comes from me.) Check back here for updates throughout the webcast, as well as analysis later.

7:12 p.m. : Question No. 20: Threads with a lot of comments are bogging down peoples' computers. This commenter wants a fix. Adelson says it's already in place.

Bonus questions: Rose's favorite beers? Chimay Red. "It's good stuff," he says. Kevin, have you ever tried Allagash White?

Live questions from audience: "Diverse diggers" rather than a homogeneous group--what are they, exactly?

"Diversity is about who, sort of where, questions like that? I can't get into any more detail," Adelson says ambiguously, and Rose talks about how Google goes into user interaction history and tracks queries. "We look into a lot of things and track a lot of stuff and we just want to make sure you're not trying to game us," Rose says.

Why are legitimate bloggers labeled as spammers? Adelson says they can be one and the same. Rose agrees. Adelson says it can be someone who submits every single one of their blog posts to Digg so that other users mark it as spam.

What does 'gaming' exactly mean? A whole lot of different kinds of schemes, the guys say. "It's insidious, the stuff that people do," Adelson says. Basically, it means manipulating the system. "They think it's going to generate revenue for their crap-ass site." Rose talks about how someone once hired a ton of people from Romania to Digg stories for him and the team was alerted to the high volume of Romanian IP addresses.

The guys won't comment about how they track down pay-per-Digg schemes.

And now it's done. Next town hall webcast will be May 28. Meetups in cities will be coming too, San Francisco on April 22; New York on June 17, and Kevin wants to do a live-from-New-York Diggnation then too; Chicago on July 23...

"Eventually, (for) these Webcasts there'll be an audience," Rose says. Soon after, they go back to their Anchor Steams.

7:03 p.m.: Question No. 15: Why not a way to see old comments?

Adelson remarks that it's really hot and that Rose is sweating a lot. Rose opts to answer the question and say it's coming in the new comments system, but Adelson says that it's already possible to "sort by comments" in profiles.

Question No. 16: I totally miss this one.

Question No. 17: Censorship issues and mysterious "auto-bury." Adelson and Rose assure they've already addressed it.

Question No. 18: Stale front-page content. "We want to get the best content in front of you as soon as possible," Rose says, assuring viewers that they're working on a way to streamline it so that the same stories don't just stick around.

Adelson talks about "a more customized experience of Digg," whether grouped by geographical location or interest, and then said that they can't make any promises but that they're thinking about that stuff. Yes, please! Then I won't see six zillion iPhone stories!

Rose says that if people want to be in Digg focus groups, they'll address it more in the next town hall next quarter.

Question No. 19: Better options to get upcoming stories on the front page? Maybe a random story? "You will see, in Upcoming, recommended stories," Rose says.

Adelson says "Don't say anything else" in response to Rose's tendency to say too much.

6:55 p.m.: Question No. 13 wants discussion about stories being removed by moderators. This has been a hot topic among avid Diggers, many of whom have seen this as a threat to their community-first mantra.

There is an admin on site at all times, Adelson says, but only to delete spam. Rose talks about a spammer who cleverly worked around normal spam controls in order to weasel his way into Digg by building up a reputation before switching to a sketchy spammy strategy.

Nearly 1,900 viewers on the stream, and my browser can only handle about a few seconds before the sound goes out and I have to pause and restart. I reload the video, which helps somewhat.

Question No. 14: Podcasts! What's up with the Digg podcast section? "It seems like it's been in beta forever, but that's very Web 2.0-ish," the questioner says.

"We noticed that even though we had a great system for ranking podcasts, that we had a lot of content...that was finding itself on the front page of Digg," Rose said. Basically, people weren't submitting podcasts as podcasts because they wouldn't wind up on the front page if they were in the podcast section. So they're going to scrap the podcast section and fold it into the video section, which does point to the front page.

They're promising more details about this decision.

6:46 p.m.Question No. 9: Bugs in profile pages. They have an engineer wave hello and say that the bugs will be fixed soon.

Question No. 10: A "remove all shouts" button instead of having to delete them one by one? "Continuing to work on ways to improve the shouts," Rose says.

Question No. 11: Wants to see the shouts system scrapped due to spam. Rose says they're working on a way to have more private communication rather than public, Facebook-Wall-esque ones.

Question No. 12: Why are stricter measures not in place so that "super users" game the "little guys" with their influence? It's a little more complicated than that, but Ustream is crapping out on me so much that I miss half the question.

"This is from our perspective totally against the spirit and the terms of the site," Adelson says. Guess it must be pretty nasty.

6:38 p.m.: Question No. 6: A user wants news about the new comments system, long-awaited among hard-core Diggers.

"The answer is April," Adelson says. Developers in the room groan. "We don't like to attach dates to things," Rose says. "Things can go wrong." More testing is necessary.

New on comments: changing votes on comments once you've made them, delete comments, display number of applies, new display type sorted by "best threads." And more. If you're not a hardcore Digg user, you probably won't care.

Oh, wait, it's Anchor Steam they're drinking, not Yuengling. My bad, I grew up near Philly, not San Francisco.

Question No. 7: Will you be able to delete your comments? Answer: yes.

Question No. 8: Are you for sale?

"We get asked this every day," Adelson says. "We are laser focused on the features that users want us to do, and frankly that is what we're focused on as a business right now."

"Ooh, you said laser," Rose says.

6:32 PM PT: Question No. 3: Wants a moderated Digg-user forum so that users can communicate with employees rather than have to submit questions to technical support.

Adelson: "Yes." Will create a variety of user forums.

Question No. 4: Wants Adelson and Rose to acknowledge the "new algo," also known as controversial moderations to the algorithm that determines what winds up on Digg's front page. "The algo seems to penalize people who use the site most," he says.

Clearly, many of these questions are really only of concern to hardcore Digg users.

"Remember that Digg has 25 million visitors come in a month," Adelson says. "It's diversity not just based on the same people issue, but...there's lots of things it's looking at about the way people Digg that's going into this, and that's all we can say."

"Once we detect enough diversity around a story, it goes on the front page," Rose adds.

Question No. 5: If people can see who dugg a story, why can't they see who buried (un-dugg) it?

"I'm open to the idea of transparent buries eventually," Adelson says, but they've held off because some people are very sensitive to being seen negatively impacting something rather than positively. At least that's what their focus groups say.

Rose didn't even like buries in the first place. "I didn't want people fighting," he said.

Adelson recommends the book The Wisdom of Crowds. Rose says data about buries will first show up on comments before it shows up on stories.

With around 1,630 viewers in the stream, Ustream's sound is dying on me more frequently. Darn bandwidth.

6:21 p.m.: Adelson denies the existence of a 'super-user' system in which hardcore users have more influence in the site's algorithm than other Diggers.

"When we look at other ways that people try to manipulate the system, we don't want a group of people to come in and just say 'I have the power to put anything on the Web,'" Rose says.

Adelson stresses that "buried" stories don't disappear from the site unless there is something like a DMCA complaint. Rose mentions the notorious HD DVD takedown scandal from last year and said that Digg aims for total transparency by posting the takedown notices, etc.

Adelson says you won't wind up on a reputed "Digg blacklist" unless you're really a spammer or breaking the rules. Mentions a "level playing field." Less than 25 percent of stories come from top 100 Diggers, he says.

Question No. 2: "Please fix the search. It is almost useless sometimes." Rose says the questioner is referring to duplicate stories that wind up on the site. Mentions a hardcore Digg engineer who's working on completely overhauling search for the site so that duplicate stories don't keep showing up.

Somebody hands Yuenglings to Adelson and Rose. Rose says, "I didn't want to drink tonight, but we can have a little sip."

Back to business. "We realize it (search and duplicate detection) is broken today," Rose says. Focusing on widgets doesn't mean they're ignoring the site's efficiency.

6:16 p.m.: Rose giving an update on where Digg is. Today: the iGoogle gadget came out, MySpace and Netvibes widgets. New features: revamped comments system coming. Recommendation engine under works, "a new way to explore stories and find cool stories even before they become popular and it takes a look at everything you've beein Digging throughout time and compares it to other users." (Rose)

This is where Ustream's servers start to fail me. The sound dies on me about every second and a half, and I miss the first question almost entirely--something about stories getting hundreds of diggs but not winding up on the front page. I switch browsers from Firefox to Flock, which gives me about 10 seconds before the sound craps out on me. Guess Ustream is a little stressed.

Adelson is talking about "auto-bury," which he says is not quite as conspiratorial as some users have suggested. It's really for spam control. Rose mentions a notorious Digg spammer called KoolaidGuy. "The last thing we want is for Digg to turn into a spam-hole," Rose says.

A balloon pops in the background. Oh, well, I guess these are Digg's offices.

6:21 p.m.: Adelson denies the existence of a 'super-user' system in which hardcore users have more influence in the site's algorithm than other Diggers.

"When we look at other ways that people try to manipulate the system, we don't want a group of people to come in and just say 'I have the power to put anything on the Web,'" Rose says.

Adelson stresses that "buried" stories don't disappear from the site unless there is something like a DMCA complaint. Rose mentions the notorious HD DVD takedown scandal from last year and said that Digg aims for total transparency by posting the takedown notices, etc.

Adelson says you won't wind up on a reputed "Digg blacklist" unless you're really a spammer or breaking the rules. Mentions a "level playing field." Less than 25 percent of stories come from top 100 Diggers, he says.

Question No. 2: "Please fix the search. It is almost useless sometimes." Rose says the questioner is referring to duplicate stories that wind up on the site. Mentions a hard-core Digg engineer who's working on completely overhauling search for the site so that duplicate stories don't keep showing up.

Somebody hands Yuenglings to Adelson and Rose. Rose says, "I didn't want to drink tonight, but we can have a little sip."

Back to business. "We realize it (search and duplicate detection) is broken today," Rose says. Focusing on widgets doesn't mean they're ignoring the site's efficiency.

6:07 p.m.: "We've been talking about it internally for quite some time," Rose says of the town hall discussions, which the company now hopes to hold quarterly, and adds that they're hoping to make them into live meetups soon. They could use the dialogue: over the past few months, Digg's all-about-the-community policy has come under question as rumors surfaced that editorial control over the social news site was tighter than previously though. "This is the first one. It's a little rough," Rose apologizes.

6:04 p.m. PT: They're sorting out the technical issues and doing mic checks. Adelson falsely introduces himself as Alex Albrecht, Rose's host on the Diggnation podcast. Rose quips, "You're much taller than Alex." Adelson says, "He is a little man.

6 p.m. PT: Here they are! Adelson is wearing stripes. Rose is wearing plaid. They hold up a whiteboard with townhall@digg.com written on it. (The sound is still turned off.)

 

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