Is Mises.org gaming Digg?
I was tooling through Digg's front page last night and came across one of those irresistible top ten titles: "10 Sites the Violate Digg's TOS." Oh fun! Click. And then shock: The site linked, RyanUnderdown.com, listed Mises.org as #2! Huh? It was like the Twilight Zone. As I looked through the rest of the list, it was clear what was going on here: the poster had a political axe to grind. He was annoyed at all the Ron Paul stories that were appearing on the front page of Digg, so he threw together his own page that had all the earmarks of a piece destined for the front page (top 10 lists are always good candidates).
It is a fair enough tactic, if a bit unseemly, but what about the substance of the charge that Mises.org is somehow gaming the system by coordinating organized diggs? In a word: false. I know of no organized effort at all. If there is a group out there doing this, they have not only excluded Mises.org editors from membership but not even let us know about its existence. Could one exist in private? I suppose so. Can't rule it out. But that alone wouldn't actually violate any rule.
In fact, we've been so scrupulous about this that last year, when a group spontaneously emerged to digg articles, we actually wrote to the founder to tell him to shut it down, and he complied, much to the fury of the group members. It must have seemed ungracious of us! And while there is nothing inherently wrong with a group of fans helping each other find and digg articles on a certain topic, it struck us at the time that it was all about perceptions. So the group had to go.
Since then, I've watched articles come and go and I remain utterly mystified why some articles take off and others do not. I can understand why a piece like "Modern Historians Confront the American Revolution" do not achieve popular acclaim. Popularity isn't the only standard, after all. If Mises.org was after hits only, we wouldn't be doing what we are doing. There are more popular topics in this world besides marginal utility theory, international monetary policy, and the methodology of the social sciences (to choose three topics that consume a fantastic amount of hard drive space on the Mises.org server).
But other pieces that I think should be massively famous and read by all, such as this piece on the wacky Zimbabwe inflation, mysteriously die on the vine, so to speak. Still, it is a great piece and worth running even if only a few learn from it.
Reflecting on the various mysteries of what makes an article popular or not, I had in my mind the piece from yesterday called "The Market Function of Piracy." Now this piece has great insight! The author points out that free samples are an excellent marketing strategy but an expensive one. So what we have with piracy is a form of marketing that is essentially free. What's not to like? the author asked.
I figured that this article would take off like a rocket, since it contained all new insight, had the word piracy in it, and is tip-top in its analysis and reasoning. The whole day yesterday, I was proven wrong again. It just didn't have legs. That makes it no less good! But still, one might think an article like this would achieve notoriety. But apparently not.
The irony of it all came home this morning, when I opened up the Digg front page and see this. It made it after all! How? Why? Who knows. But it is worthy of this level of attention? Most certainly. Did Mises.org somehow rig the system to get it up there? Not in any way. Looking into it further, I notice that the fame actually came about via a completely different path: through Slashdot.
Popularity isn't the only standard of truth and beauty, and it may not be a standard at all. But one can still detect the existence of a volition-driven meritocracy, even in the wild and crazy world of the web.
(As a final note, let me point out that the Mises.org server is right now being hammered by both Slashdot and Digg simultaneously, and it is working flawlessly, without a single delay. So: let me say thank you to Bill Gates, Dot Net, and MSSQL2005. So I said the unspeakable: Digg me down!)