Community quality and network leadership trump numbers: Digg loses contributors to Mixx

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An interesting article on Techcrunch says Digg refugees may be heading to Mixx. Mixx is one of literally hundreds of community-based collaborative filtering tools that is competing with Digg, yet it is getting significant traction.

It is particularly instructive to read what some of the “Digg refugees” are saying:

“I have already had quite a lot of success with getting my submissions voted on, this may be partly due to the fact that many of my digg friends have joined the site.” Dave Eaves

“Mixx has a much more positive audience than Digg. It always amazes me that even the most popular and highest quality articles can get so many negative and unnecessarily degrading comments on Digg. So far the users of Mixx have proven to be quite a bit more pleasant, something that I know will be welcomed by most users.” Vandelay Design

The context here is that while Digg gets millions of readers, the way stories get voted to the top is based on relatively small communities. As discussed in an article I wrote on the structure of social opinion, 30 people out of a million-odd are responsible for the original submission of 30% of the articles that hit the front page of Digg. The reason for their success is that their friends follow what each other Digg and vote on these stories, at which point the general mass of readers pick up on it. Someone who is prominent in the community is highly regarded, and can be an overt as well as a covert influencer. The community starts to become highly social, with personalities, exchanges, likes and dislikes.

As indicated by these quotes, the vibe on Digg is not always positive, with the community having shifted significantly from its start. Now it’s a very interesting question as to why Mixx is perceived as a more positive, friendly place. I’ve observed networks of many kinds for over a decade, and seen that the initial leadership of a network sets the tone for who is attracted. Even an open, rapidly growing community can have a very positive vibe, set by the people who founded it, attracted like-minded people, and in turn brought in others who liked the attitude. I don’t know the founders of Mixx, but I would guess they have personalities that are fundamentally shaping the site, even while anyone on the Internet can log in and become a user.

As Rob Hyndman points out, part of this shift is boredom on the part of Digg users, wanting something new. However their relationship is far less with Digg site than the Digg community. They are essentially choosing to reform personal relationships by moving affiliations. James Robertson suggests that as Mixx grows bigger, “the crap will follow”. This is true, in that when a site gets really big, its prominence mean that new members are not filtered by the community vibe. However the critical phase of growth for a site is in its early days, when community trumps everything, and is behind the rise of Mixx over its proliferation of competitors.

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