This week's blast of Digg with the HD-DVD encryption key was interesting enough to watch. If you weren't following, one of the keys that allows HD-DVD gear to playback discs got out into the open, and it was posted on Digg. A lot. At first they tried to remove the stuff and ban users that posted it, because it was a clear violation of the DMCA. The site eventually went down and in the long run, they decided to just let it go.
Kevin Rose, Digg's founder, not only conceded defeat, but posted the code himself. I think the world of this guy, who started out as a nobody on TechTV, but I can't say I entirely agree with his actions. They were doing the right thing removing the naughty data because there was potential for harm to the company. While I agree that the code would eventually get out into the world well beyond the scope of Digg, he made his play way too soon. He put his business at risk. And then to post the code himself, well, that's just asking to be sued.
The unfortunate thing is that the bulk of techie nerds aren't even the type I know and look up to, they're the hacks who work at Best Buy in the Geek Squad or are help desk jockies. They have their high ideals about open source software and free love, but fail to grow and mature to understand that in a capitalist culture, someone has to make money. People need jobs to eat. That's where the disconnect is between the crowd and Digg The Business. Let's face it, crowds are stupid.
I 100% believe in intellectual property rights, and at the same time, I hate DRM, dongles and anything else that makes it harder for me to use something I paid for. I don't live under the fantasy that if no one gets paid for music, software, movies or whatever, that it'll just magically exist anyway.
But laws are what they are. Right or wrong, they're there. Civil disobedience is one thing when you're talking about human rights, but it's quite another when you're talking about zeros and ones traveling through the air and on copper wires. I'm not so jaded that I don't believe that the democratic process can't work to make meaningful change. Look at the recent Internet radio royalty structure. Enough people made noise, and now there is new legislation to make it reasonable so that Net radio doesn't die and go away. The people spoke en masse, our representatives listened.
Unfortunately, Rose was right in his post that the community would rather see Digg go down in flames than do what's best for the business. They might get their wish if Digg gets sued. If there's anything I've learned in the last nine years hosting communities online, it's that they require some moderation if you hope to keep them useful. People get all pissed off when we remove things that violate our terms of service or that we consider spam or whatever, but that's why we still have a loyal and continuous user base. We don't censor ideas, and we never have.
The whole incident pans out what I've been saying for the last couple of years, that the "wisdom of crowds" is really that crowds are stupid. It also proves my Jerry Springer theory. It's not that TV executives are serving crap because they want to, it's because that's what the audience wants. As the audience of sites like Digg grows and becomes more mainstream, it shows that the crowd really does want that. Maybe that's kind of sad, but I saw it coming.