Thursday, February 14, 2008

From The Editor’s Desk: Movie Websites and Digg Abuse - SendMeRSS

Much like steroids in Baseball, the online community has a dark system of abuse that runs so rampantly and so widely, that most of the people involved don’t even recognize it as a problem, or refuse to acknowledge it as a problem because most of the “players” in the game are doing it themselves as well. We ignore this issue, we even celebrate it, all the while it erodes what little integrity we in the online film community have. I know I’ve done it. I’ll go on record right now that I’m the worst of the bunch. I’m talking about social bookmarking abuse.

For those of you who have never heard of “Digg” or other services like it, this post may not make much sense. For those of you who are familiar with Digg, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

The way Digg (and other services like it) is supposed to work, is that when someone finds a great piece of news, a great graphic, a wonderful story, something hilarious, or anything along those lines online, you submit it to Digg with a link to that item. As the millions upon millions of Digg users see the item you put up there, they click on it, driving traffic and visitors to that item’s website. If the Digg users like it, they “Digg” it (it’s like voting for it). The more “diggs” an item gets, the higher the profile it gets on the Digg site, thus even MORE Digg users see it, click on it and drive traffic to the item’s website.

It’s not only a wonderful system for online readers to discover great individual items online (news items, art, music, anything at all really), it’s also a great way for an item’s CREATOR to gain recognition for their work, their story, their graphic, their editorial… anything really. It’s a win/win for the online originator, and the online reader.

A great example of how this system is supposed to work is an article by our friends over at FirstShowing. They did a great, informative little piece they called “The Official Guide To The Summer Of 2008″. It’s a simple article, but very useful, outlining all the films coming out this summer, their release dates, directors and stars listed. Any film fan would enjoy looking it over. The article was submitted to Digg, and through Digg, FirstShowing received thousands upon thousands of new visitors who came to see that item they created. It’s a great system. The creator and the reader are rewarded.

But like anything good in this world, we have found a way to abuse it. Let’s say for a moment that The Movie Blog (that’s me) wrote a post talking about FirstShowing’s article (we all do this all the time, and there’s nothing wrong with it, we actually appreciate it when other sites do this). I list the stuff they list and give them credit for putting the list together. That’s all well and good. But what if I then submit MY POST to Digg? Although my post is a tip of the hat to the work that FirstShowing did, I now have put myself in the position where I get rewarded for FirstShowing’s work. I am essentially stealing all those new visitors from Digg that by all rights should have been going to the original source of the item at FirstShowing instead of to The Movie Blog.

If you think that scenario sounds despicable, you’re right. It is unethical, it is underhanded, it is cheating, it is stealing, and I’m ashamed to tell you that it’s something I’ve done dozens and dozens of times over the years. No, I’ve never done it to any of the sites that are similar to The Movie Blog, but I’ve done it nonetheless.

Here’s how it usually goes down. I find a great movie news item that I think people will be excited about, so I do a post on the item on The Movie Blog. That’s fine. But then I decide to submit MY POST to Digg instead of submitting the REAL originator of the story (let’s for argument’s sake say it was from ComingSoon.Net). If I thought the news was good enough to submit to Digg, then I should have enough integrity to submit the actual originator of the story to Digg, not my own post. For me to submit my own post about the story is nothing short of theft. Not only am I stealing all that new traffic from ComingSoon, I’m also stealing from the Digg readers who have the right to expect they’re being taken to the website of the person who broke the story. It is a betrayal of the spirit of online social bookmarking.

The Movie Blog (and many other sites like mine) is not a news site. We don’t have beat reporters. We don’t break stories. We are a commentary site, and on some levels a news aggregate site. If people enjoy coming to The Movie Blog because of the commentary I give on the news, or the selective way I choose which items to write about as an aggregate, then that’s fantastic. But the moment I write a post on a story I found on another site that (I’m making this up for the sake of illustration) Hulk Hogan is going to star in Halo The Movie, and then submit my own post to Digg as if I was the one who was breaking this news to the world and they should come to The Movie Blog to read all about it, then I’ve crossed a line. I’ve betrayed the site I found the story through in the first place, and I’ve betrayed the readers, even if they don’t realize it. This practice is wrong, and it needs to stop.

It got to the point that as soon as a big story would break, I would rush to Digg to see if anyone else had “Dugg” it yet, because if they hadn’t, I was going to write a post as fast as I could and then Digg my own post instead of Digging the originating site, because getting a few thousands new first time Digg readers to my site was more important to me than my integrity. And I know for a fact that many other sites do this as well.

I realized how underhanded this practice really was a few weeks ago when I was chatting with a journalist for a VERY prominent movie news source and this topic came up:

“I can tell you of at least 20 times in the last 60 days alone that guys like you (he said pointing a finger, and I can’t blame him) have swooped in like vultures and stolen my thunder. Taking credit for something you have no god damned right to take credit for.” (thankfully he wasn’t talking about me specifically or else I might have ended up with a beer poured over my head)

He went on for about 5 minutes, and he was 100% right. It wasn’t until I could put a face to who I was stealing from (I never thought of it as stealing before this) that I really thought about the whole practice. No more.

From now on, we will never submit any of our own links to Digg that is not our original content. We will not seek fake traffic numbers artificially inflated by wrongly swindled Digg visitors.

I also call on all my colleagues in the movie website world to stop this underhanded practice of Digg abuse. If we spent as much time creating quality original content as we do Digg hijacking stories other people broke, then the online community would be greatly enriched.

I propose a simple rule. If I didn’t break the story, or if I didn’t create the content, then I don’t Digg myself for it but instead send the Digg to whoever did break/create it. That’s the spirit of social bookmarking, and it should be the spirit of the online film community as well. Just my two cents worth.

Link - Comments - john@themovieblog.com (John Campea) - Thu, 14 Feb 2008 04:25:42 GMT - Feed (2 subs)
User comment: By: Erik Davis
At Cinematical, we have a strict rule to only Digg original content. If one of our posts shows up on Digg that's not original, it's because a reader submitted it -- not a Cinematical writer. But I totally agree, and a lot of these smaller websites who practice these shady ethics are being rewarded right now with lots and lots of traffic. But that's their game; that's how they play it. And if it means more traffic, more money in their pocket -- then they'll do what they have to do to compete with the big boys. I'm glad you owned up to having done this John, and I'm happy you're not going to do it again. The whole thing is just shady.
User comment: By: Vek
You're a great blog, you don't need to cheat.
User comment: By: Jarred
Damn! Daryl beat me to the Hulk comment! But really, solid stuff John. I've noticed this stuff a lot over the last year from a few sites and I've often wondered how they sleep at night doing it. Kudos for bringing this up and brining it out in the open.
User comment: By: Daryl
Well done. I couldn't agree more with everything you said. Having said that, Hulk Hogan would be awesome in a Halo movie. The passion he has on American Gladiators would transfer well to the big screen.
User comment: By: Michael
Well said sir! I am an avid Digg Nation member and use Digg all the time. I've Dugg a few Movie Blog original articles before too. It drives me nuts when I see certain sites constantly, and I mean on a fucking daily basis, stealing Digg thunder from the real original sources, and no one seems to do anything about it. This does indeed need to stop, and I'm glad you're saying something about it. As a side note, I can't recall seeing a Digg link to TMB other than for your original content. I'm just saying.
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