Crowds are stupid: The Digg factor

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.


  • Sort of agree.

    The wisdom of businesses is also kind of stupid. The DRM is basically a way to treat your customers like criminals. But then, I do think the best answer is to not buy it. Don't listen to a company that is trying to sell you something restrictive.

    We live in a global world. My girlfriend is Russian. Sometimes we want movies which aren't yet available in the US. So we'll order them, and we'll decrypt them so that they can be played.

    Capitalism is supposed to be about Businesses responding to the desires of the marketplace... Consumers ought to be smarter, and stop buying products from companies that won't deliver.

  • never underestimate the power of large groups (crowds if you will) of stupid people

  • "Capitalism is supposed to be about Businesses responding to the desires of the marketplace..."

    I think I disagree. Responding to the desires of the marketplace is not a foundation of Capitalism, rather it's a byproduct of Capitalism.

    "The DRM is basically a way to treat your customers like criminals."

    While I'm not crazy about DRM, it wouldn't be necessary unless the company has realized that they are losing money through theft. So, essentially, DRM was not created to treat its customers like criminals. It was created to prevent the customers who actually ARE criminals from illegal activity. Companies have a right to benefit from their hard work and innovation.

    I'm not bothered by DRM all that much, mainly because I have no interest in copying and distributing electronic media.

    "Don't listen to a company that is trying to sell you something restrictive."

    You want restrictive... Have you ever read XP's EULA? Technically, you don't own XP. You own the license to XP, and the right to use it. That's all. MS gives you a copy of the software to run, but technically it still owns every bit of XP on your computer.

  • In response to Kyle's comments...

    If responding to the desires of the marketplace is not the foundation of capitalism, what is? Market forces are the underpinnings of pure capitalism.

    It is regrettably too easy for companies to justify DRM or any kind of software protection by claiming to protect themselves from people stealing their software. Unfortunately, the only people hurt by these practices are the honest people who purchase the products (including paying for the DRM, higher prices, inconvenience, and issues). Those who don't pay for the products are those who would probably not have contributed to the company's bottom line anyhow, are able to break the DRM, and make it more likely to make honest people see how ridiculous the whole process is and how artificially constrained we are by the way media is packaged (case in point, not being able to play my DVD collection on my iPod). Everyone should be interested in DRM for these very reasons. In fact, the next HD DVD you can't seem to get to play at full resolution on your PC but works fine on your HD TV is probably because you aren't using an HDMI cable on your PC. The authorities should be going after the thieves and our country should be working with countries to make sure their laws respect the rights of the product owner. However, that should be the extent of it.

    Finally, technically you don't own any software other than that which you write completely on your own. However, that software will be pretty basic without using any libraries that are all licensed with varying degrees of restrictions regardless of being open or closed source. How ludicrous would it be if GNU's license read, "By accepting this license, you own this software?" Or if Microsoft's license read, "By accepting this license, Microsoft accepts full responsibility for how it might be used including but not limited to any misuse?"

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