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Yet another reminder that users are in charge: the DiggBar backlash

If you needed any further proof that this is an age driven by users much more than publishers, look no further than what’s happening right now with Digg.com, a site you probably think of as a stand-in for all that is user-generated, unedited and anarchic.

Well, it turns out, to their users, that the plucky startup is just as much an outpost of the clueless empire as any other publisher, if it takes actions that users deem to be rooted in bad decisions.

It all started, simply enough, when Digg decided to launch an URL-shortening service (like tinyurl.com, is.gd and tr.im), with a twist. Under their URL-shortening scheme, a thin “DiggBar” would frame the site being URL-shortened:

diggbar

That’s where things started to go wrong. Because a framed site (shades of 1998!) has no visible URL at all. The only URL that remains in the browser points back to digg.com.

This did not sit well with some well-placed users, chief among them John Gruber of Daring Fireball, who began beating the drum against the move just a few days ago:

All sorts of sites tried this sort of trickery back in the mid-’90s when Netscape Navigator 2.0 added support for the <frameset> tag. It did not take long for a broad consensus to develop that framing someone else’s site was wrong. URLs are the building block of the Web. They tell the user where they are. They give you something to bookmark to go back or to share with others.

The DiggBar breaks that, and I’ve seen no argument that makes it any more sense to support this than it does to support 1996-style <frameset> site embedding.

So, shortly after it was announced, I wrote code to block it from Daring Fireball.

This is what DiggBar visitors see now when linking to Daring Fireball:

gruber1

What did Gruber do? He saw something he didn’t like. He stewed for a while. He made a public case against it. Then, he killed it, remotely, at least as far as his slice of the internet was concerned.

Had that been it, the Daring Fireball reaction would have made for an interesting slide in a presentation on user dynamics, but much like recent Facebook revolts, Gruber’s complaint and action tapped a vein of frustration, this time among a community that could actually do something about it: geeks.

Now, there’s similar blocking for WordPress, Expression Engine, Ruby on Rails and Django, all popular content-creation tools. There’s a DiggBar-blocking Greasemonkey script for Firefox and a javascript plugin-in. And this weekend, Engadget.com began blocking the DiggBar. All of this happened — as far as I can tell — without coordination or collusion. Users with skills had their own Tea Party to protest what they saw as unjustified action by Digg.

This hasn’t played out completely. I’d be surprised if there aren’t coders at work at Digg right now, building a solution. At least, for Digg’s sake, I hope there are. As Eric Schmidt said last week, you  do not want to be pissing off users. Because users are empowered, whether it’s as elaborate a reaction as is happening against Digg, or the simply act of voting with their feet and moving on from a site that  they no longer see as acting in their interest.

                                   
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Leonhardt
Caroline O'Donovan    April 23, 2014
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  • http://twocroissants.wordpress.com Bertil Hatt

    I’m not sure what is the problem with that bar (I’m not an active Digg user, i.e. an over-compensating teenager): is it the frame or the URL?

    Saying something is lame because it smells of animated gif is not really an argument: it’s a way to mock, but unless the DiggBar opens the same Pandora box as it did ten years ago (and it doesn’t seem to) I’m not sure what is the point. I mean, text-only not only is clearly a bad idea, but very much an early 90′s one and Twitter made it cool again — with fanstastic twitsts. Same thing with Black & White movies: ‘Munich’ or ‘Schindler’s List’ weren’t lame because of that.

    On the other hand, not showing the URL isn’t so cool, I’d say (phising anyone?) but that’s easy to set up, from Digg’s point of view. Making the web more social is a cool idea, though — and that particular technique wasn’t hiding behind a login, and could be sent from friends to ready-to-subscribe users.

    Given with how much care Digg set up the bar (especially about Google juice), I’d rather think a minor correction would be appropriate. Then again: it’s Digg.

  • scarabic

    >>shades of 1998!

    I’ve heard this comment from a couple of writers and I don’t get it. Google still does this (check out their image search) and so does Facebook (click on any shared link in your newsfeed). So what exactly is so retro about Digg using a frame? The perceived antiquity of this technique is false and irrelevant anyway.

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  • http://tomuse.com Kevin Eklund

    I think what most Web users fail to realize is that the DiggBar and other sites employing frames are essentially spamming you. If Digg is allowed to do this, others will follow and the Web will be reduced to nothing but frames within frames within frames (see image below).
    http://tomuse.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/multiple-iframes-digg-facebook-hootsuite-krumlr-hijack-web-users-large.png

    If publishers don’t block frames on their own site they too are contributing to the spam. There are plenty of URL shortening services available that don’t display a frame based toolbar when the link is clicked (i.e. tr.im, cli.gs, tinyurl.com)

    Unfortunately many publishers not blocking the DigBar in hopes for greater traffic returns. In stark contrast to this belief, publishers can actually obtain more traffic by blocking the DiggBar.
    http://tomuse.com/3-reasons-break-digg-diggbar-increase-web-site-traffic

  • http://www.adrianeden.com Adrian Eden

    Humans always react and rarely foresee. We have always fixed things after they are broken, rather than foresee what may happen and avoid it.

    Ask your users what they want, and provide that to the best of your ability, without question.

    We are not stupid.

  • moxiemk1

    I think you’ve missed the point here, man. This is not _user_ backlash, this is publisher backlash. Publishers like “Daring Fireball” and “Engadget” dislike their content being displayed this way, but as a user, this makes things easier. Shorter URLs to send out if I want to share things I saw on “Digg” with my friends, and buttons to make it easier to share it with them.

    It’s a win for users, but a loss for publishers. So, I think you should re-examine who’s hurt by this. It’s not the masses.

  • erik ahrsjo

    URL shortner, who cares it is the post linking digging function that I like

  • Sarah

    The DiggBar reminds me far too much of Claria/Gator. They’re trying to hijack legitimate content to deliver ads (the next step, I’m sure). So they not only get ads on their own site, but generate revenue by advertising directly on someone else’s site. It’s scum-ball marketing.

    Also, last Friday I got hit by a drive-by attack when visiting Digg, called Luckysploit. I’m no expert, but I believe this malware has something to do with iFrames. I haven’t been back to Digg since (although it was probably an infected ad server out of their control, but still).

  • http://www.aafter.com Subhankar Ray

    It is not only Digg, there are other URL shortners doing the framing.

    One point of failure with these kinds of URL is also an issue. AAfter.com [our site] generates multiple short URLs to reduce that risk, and it does not frame pages.

  • B

    What’s the difference between the Digg bar and the facebook bar that appears when you click a link from facebook?

  • http://www.iqdupont.com Quinn

    This is a crock. Users never have been, nor ever will be “in control”. It’s called capitalism, and specifically the power yielded by dominant capital; it prevents this sort of thing from happening. Some fringe sites may break some technology, but then they will lose out on valuable revenue. Dominant capital owns these controls, because they control who earns and who doesn’t.

  • http://cleanhotdry.com John Giannakos

    This is the second article I’ve read where they’ve said there is “…no visible URL at all”.

    Actually, it’s right in the diggbar, in the center, the long piece of text taking up most of the bar.

    Is it the same as having it in the URL bar, No. But it is certainly worth mentioning in an article that takes about phishing and the problems of frames in the 90′s.

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  • http://twitter.com/danboarder Dan Lundmark

    I would disagree with some comments here stating that this is only a publisher backlash. In fact, many users expect to see the real URLs in their browser by default. As a user, when I hit Bookmark I want to get the descriptive URL, not a shortened one. I know it can be turned off, but that’s not the point. I think DiggBar is bad for web users and should be opt-in, not opt-out.

  • Scott Wilson

    There may well be a user backlash of some sort (although I haven’t heard anyone other than a few purists complaining) but this article didn’t describe it… this is a publisher reacting in a predictable way, and doesn’t demonstrate in the slightest any user backlash.

    It’s like saying that the AP’s reaction to Google News is a “user backlash” because AP Chairman William Singleton also happens to use Google from time to time.

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  • http://www.timwindsor.com/ Tim Windsor

    Given that a lot of people here think that I’m confusing Jon Gruber for a user, rather than a publisher, I thought I’d answer:

    - Yes, he is a publisher, of a popular and specialized blog. He has a vested interest as such in protecting his traffic. So he’s not a pure “user” as I described him.

    - However he’s also not a large publisher, of the scale of a Digg or a newspaper or magazine.

    - My point was that large publishers, acting in self-interest can no longer expect that such action is unilateral anymore. Individual users and smaller publishers on whom the larger publisher depends for aggregated content or user-created content have the same tools — and often greater grasp of them — as do the larger publishers.

    - This is, on the whole, a good thing. It keeps everyone on their toes and, ultimately, leads to a better user experience. It is, however, a pain in the ass if you’re a large publisher uninterested in change.

    I was wrong to call Gruber a user, but I’d like to think the larger premise holds.

    And to John Giannakos, you are correct that the URL is visible in the DiggBar (and clickable too). I should have been more precise and said that the URL is rendered invisible in the browser’s location bar.

    Thanks for all the comments. Who knew that people read Nieman on the weekend?!

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  • http://tomuse.com Kevin Eklund

    What most people fail to realize is that if Digg is allowed to frame other publishers’ websites, more will follow their lead and soon the Web will be nothing but frames within frames.

    This is exactly why frames were stopped in the early 1990′s. The only difference is that these frame spammers are repackaging it as a service and baiting publishers with promises of greater traffic returns. In contrast to Digg’s empty promises, publishers can improve their traffic stats by actually blocking the DiggBar.

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  • Walt

    It’s not about SEO!

    Well, at least not entirely.

    Let’s say Digg worked out the SEO part 100%. Then it’s cool to use? Of course not!

    1. It’s poor web etiquette. What if every site did it? (“Yeah, but Digg is just not ‘any’ site.”) OK, what if the top 100 sites did it? What if Google did it?

    2. It’s ego driven. You love Digg so much, why would you want to leave? How about you just stay on Digg, and we’ll pull over that site and put it on the page for you. Copyright violation, anyone?

    3. Digg is putting their ads on other people’s sites. In their frame, click on something to take action, and the frame expands complete with an advertisement. Digg displays your content below, but puts their ad at the top. Above any of the ads you might have. So, not only are they displaying your content to generate ad revenue, but they’re also diluting the value of your ads by putting their ad first.

    4. This isn’t about user experience, or to make it easier for the Digg community, or whatever else they’re feeding everyone. It’s about money. Digg’s only motivation for the Diggbar is to increase the Digg audience, increase the time on the site, increase revenue, and so on. Whatever else Kevin Rose says is part of the Pollyanna PR spin. Making money is great. I’m a big fan of that personally. But, when you’re pulling this kind of crap to make your money, i guess you’re better off putting the “it’s really for the user” spin on it!

    5. It’s not opt-in. What if a site doesn’t want the Diggbar at the top of it’s page? I mean, it’s not Digg’s page, right? If a web site owner doesn’t want his user experience altered, that his/her right, yes? (“Well, they can block it using various tools.”) Why should they have to? Isn’t that the unsolicited emailer’s creed? “You didn’t ask for this, but if you don’t like it, just click on the unsubscribe link.” Diggbar sounds spammy to me.

    For being the tech saint he is, lover of open-source, feel-good guy, I expected a lot more out of Kevin Rose.

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  • Eliot

    So how will this frame issue play out in the “Open Web”? See Steve Rubel’s excellent post at http://www.micropersuasion.com/2009/04/the-next-twitter-or-facebook-is-the-open-web.html and his example of shopping for a book on Amazon from within GMail – and imagine where that goes. (I have no affiliation with Rubel.)

    All sorts of content will follow users, wherever they are – what happens to impressions and ad revenue?

  • http://www.stickernation.com Srini Kumar

    they should have added more value. if you could have seen a running commentary from digg users on the content on the site it might have been seen as a way for powerusers to gain more chi – sort of like that old ThirdVoice. of course that would still tick off publishers but it would have been wiser politically i think. just a guess.

  • Plural Media

    @ Tim Windsor you wrote, …”when Digg decided to launch an URL-shortening service…”

    When words beginning with vowels are pronounced as if they begin with a consonant, the correct usage is ‘a’ and not ‘an’. URL is pronounced as you-are-el.

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