The Myth of Web 2.0 Democracy (It's really an oligarchy)
ScienceDave | February 25, 2008 at 07:13 amby
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There's a great article on Slate concerning the true state of supposed democracy of Web 2.0 (Digg and Wikipedia, for example). Worth reading, and should provide fodder for some interesting conversation here...
Social-media sites like Wikipedia and Digg are celebrated as shining examples of Web democracy, places built by millions of Web users who all act as writers, editors, and voters. In reality, a small number of people are running the show. According to researchers in Palo Alto, 1 percent of Wikipedia users are responsible for about half of the site's edits. The site also deploys bots—supervised by a special caste of devoted users—that help standardize format, prevent vandalism, and root out folks who flood the site with obscenities. This is not the wisdom of the crowd. This is the wisdom of the chaperones.
The same undemocratic underpinnings of Web 2.0 are on display at Digg.com. Digg is a social-bookmarking hub where people submit stories and rate others' submissions; the most popular links gravitate to the site's front page. The site's founders have never hidden that they use a "secret sauce"—a confidential algorithm that's tweaked regularly—to determine which submissions make it to the front page. Historically, this algorithm appears to have favored the site's most active participants. Last year, the top 100 Diggers submitted 44 percent of the site's top stories. In 2006, they were responsible for 56 percent.
This isn't the kind of people-working-together image that Digg and Wikipedia promote. Of course, Wikipedia requires some level of administration—otherwise, the site would crash under the weight of additions and deletions to the George W. Bush page. But that doesn't explain the kind of territorialism—the authorial domination by 1 percent of contributors—on the site's pages. Is this a necessary artifact of operating an open-access site? Or is it possible to build a clearinghouse for high-quality, user-generated content without giving too much power to elite users and secret sauces?