Posted May 2, 2007 9:35 am by with 23 comments

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If you read our coverage of the Digg revolt yesterday, you already know that users were fighting Digg’s decision to remove a story that contained a decryption code for HD-DVDs.

Well, the revolution continued and Digg users effectively took control of Digg, saturating the service with many posts that contained the same decryption number. Digg became unusable and co-founder Kevin Rose saw his mega-social bookmarking site start to crumble before his eyes. Rose was left with a tough decision – prevent potential legal action, by removing the code, or, let Digg users have their way and suffer the consequences.

Talk about a tough call. If Digg insisted on removing the code, its users would have likely continued their revolt and eventually may have abandoned Digg for another service – leaving Digg in ruins. If Digg acquiesced to its users, and let them keep the code on the site, it not only faced potential legal action, but the illusion that it controlled Digg would be shattered and the little people would realize they owned Digg.

Rose’s Concession

Rose chose to concede and posted this message to his blog.

In building and shaping the site I’ve always tried to stay as hands on as possible. We’ve always given site moderation (digging/burying) power to the community. Occasionally we step in to remove stories that violate our terms of use (eg. linking to pornography, illegal downloads, racial hate sites, etc.). So today was a difficult day for us. We had to decide whether to remove stories containing a single code based on a cease and desist declaration. We had to make a call, and in our desire to avoid a scenario where Digg would be interrupted or shut down, we decided to comply and remove the stories with the code.

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. 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.

If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.

Any Legal Worries?

It’s not actually clear whether or not Digg will face any legal action for displaying the decryption code. Danny Sullivan attempts to explain the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions and concludes:

Publishing instructions rather than actual devices does not seem to be a violation of this particular part of the DMCA, to my non-legal but common sense eyes. Frankly, the AACS seems to be stretching those provisions to suggest that simply writing about how to override copyright protection is a violation of the DMCA, one that might require information to be taken off the web.

Age of Digg Enlightenment

In fact, Digg’s biggest challenge is not likely to be any legal action regarding the publishing of this code. What it must now accept is that it has effectively lost control of Digg – if it even had control to start with. Digg users have discovered they have power in numbers. They’ve discovered that without their support, Digg is indeed a ship without an engine. They’ve realized that it’s their support that helps Digg find advertisers and make money. Now that they’ve tasted the sweet nectar of enlightenment, Rose’s biggest challenge is making sure they don’t use their power like this again.

Indeed, what does this say about Digg’s future? Will it be able to raise more funding, find new advertisers, or get acquired, now that it has been exposed as, not a company run by some smart entrepreneurs, but a living, breathing social network that is run by its members.

Code Back on Digg

As of this morning, the code is back on the homepage of Digg, with Rose’s own post receiving more than 16,000 Diggs.


What’s next?

Many things can happen from here…

  1. This whole mess has created a lot of publicity for Digg. It has demonstrated how powerful it is and how influential the voice of its users. Empowered by their new sense of strength, Digg users may well become even more loyal and active on Digg, driving the site to new heights of success.
  2. Digg users may also start testing Digg’s management repeatedly, trying to get their own way. It’s one thing to listen to the voice of your community, but they’re not running the show – the Digg management is. If Kevin Rose et al can’t find a way to balance their control of the company, with the new found strength of Digg’s users, the company could collapse in the confusion.
  3. Digg could still actually find itself subject to legal action for displaying the code. It will have no choice but to either fight it, or face the wrath of its users. Fighting costs money, distracts the management and, if they lose, could be the end of the community. Not fighting will likely severely anger Digg’s users and could cause either another revolt or a mass exodus of supporters, as they look for a new home.

There are no doubt lots of scenarios that could take place. I’d love to hear what you think will happen next.