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Lessons learned from Digg

© July 2006 Anthony Lawrence

As Diggs go, it wasn't much: five hundred digg points and a hundred or so comments. However, in one day it brought over 10,000 visitors to one article: Death of the command line. As this site typically gets less than 7,000 visitors a day spread over thousands of articles, that's a big visitation.

An unfortunately large number of readers didn't have a clue what the article was about. Too many people thought I was bemoaning having to use the command line. Actually the point was entirely opposite that, but it wasn't spelled out in big block letters. That's the first lesson of Digg: subtlety is lost on a large percentage of readers.

No, I'm not saying Digg readers are dumb. I'm saying that many of them are hasty. no doubt they are trying to be good Diggers and read a lot of posts, but wow: things can get off base very quickly.

For example, the very first comment said "That's because you're using a noob distro like ubuntu". In fact, the article referenced a Suse install, but more importantly, that comment set a theme or an expectation. That's the second thing I learned about Digg: what people think in comments can shape what other people think when they read your post. If that first comment was the result of hasty reading or misunderstanding, that error may infect other readers. Not all, of course. But accuracy can get lost in noise.

There's an opposite side to that too: hasty readers don't read other people's comments closely either, so you get repetition of ideas in comments. In this case, "Automator" was mentioned several times. The original post said:

"In fact, some graphical programming environments work just like that: you drag around little tools and create bigger tools without suffering the indignities of that awful command line"

But that didn't stop comments like:

This idea already exists. On a Mac there is a piece of built in software called Automator.

So....Apple's Automator?

Apple is way ahead of you with AppleScript and Automator.

It sounds like he wants Apple's Automator program.

Isn't what he's talking about the OS X Automator?

These show both a lack of careful reading of the original article and of course a complete disregard for other folks comments.

As I implied above, I could have been more direct in the article. Perhaps I could have avoided comments like:

Lameo, just coz some guy forgot some commands - "the command line is dead"

Just because the author is clearly a point-click user, that does not make his point valid

I'm far from a "point and click user", but I never said that. I never said that what was bothering me is`a trend by developers to ignore command line tools in favor of GUI versions. So some of the misinterpretation is my fault.

I doubt that this article will be Dugg, but if it were, I wonder how many readers would think I am casting doubt on their intelligence. I'm not. I do think Diggers could read a little more slowly and take note of other folks comments before adding effective duplicates, but that's just the way it is.

The question is, what to do about it? I do think I have to be more explicit, but on the other hand, pedantic writing can be pretty boring. As an intelligent reader, I don't like to be beat about the head by an author who wants to be certain I catch his meaning. Maybe there isn't a perfect answer for this: no matter what the level of writing, there will be problems for some readers.

I did make a small postscript to the original article today. It's too late, of course, but some stragglers are still coming in, so perhaps it can help.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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More Articles by © Anthony Lawrence

Mon Jul 31 13:58:31 2006: 2329   bruceg2004

Sheesh! "Kids these days" Maybe some of them forgot to take their ADHD meds. Slow down people! READ!

I constantly have to point out to people I work with to READ the email I sent them. Often they look at it so quick, make a judgement without all the facts, and it causes errors in peoples work. Then, some people just read the follow-ups, and make their judgements based on other peoples opinions, and never even read the original thought.

- Bruce

Mon Jul 31 19:46:08 2006: 2331   anonymous

I thought your dugg article was great. Digg users seem to be trapped in the masses, unwilling to escape. As for the comments, that made my day. Most of the time, I wish there was a way to me to turn off comments in my browser, so I at least wouldn't have to see them.

Mon Jul 31 20:04:32 2006: 2332   TonyLawrence

Well, Digg does let you set the level of comments to view.. but sometimes that makes it worse :-)

I'm glad you enjoyed it, anyway. Are you new here?

Mon Jul 31 21:43:20 2006: 2333   TonyLawrence

The author (that's me) is NOT a point and click user.. well, that's inaccurate because here I am pointing and clicking, but what I mean is that I spend far more time at the command line than I do in a GUI. Unless it's to read my gmail or browse a site, the CLI is where you will find me. Given a choice of configuring with a text tool or even plain old vi, that is what I'd choose.

As I said in the "lessons Learned", I could have been more explicit. However, it's also very true that a good number of Digg *commenters* apparently read hastily and jump to conclusions about what something is about without reading the article or even other people's comments very carefully. It's impossible to say what the habits of Digg *readers* are in general; they leave no trail..

I have never eaten a kitten. I am a gawdamn leftish leaning liberal, which is ample reason to stone me dead in some parts of my country, but as jaded and disgusting as we are, we don't eat kittens.

I'm not a Ubuntu user either, though I have great respect for both the OS and Mr. Shuttleworth personally (and have said so publically more than once)
Yes (and I said this) it *is* the way the world works. But I also think (and I noted this also) that part of the problem MIGHT be Diggers trying to be good members of the community by reading a lot of posts and quickly passing judgment. Perhaps a display of "Diggs/Buries/Stories Today" on comments might help other people decide how much real thought went into a comment or Digg/Bury..

And then there are the really disgraceful folks like me who find a GREAT story on Digg, get engrossed in it, and totally forget to come back to Digg it. Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa.

Mon Jul 31 23:23:09 2006: 2334   Sledge

for your protection.
The problem with opinions is their ubiquity
Opinions are like toilets. Everybody has one, they all stink and no one wants to look at anybody else's.
Unfortunately, a large number of new people who could have benefited from visiting the site are now under the mistaken impression that you (of all people) are a n00b.
IMHO - This is the price of aggregation (RSS, /., ARS, Digg). First it was ads and now the sound bite society has engulfed the Internet. At least some enlightenment came from Digg (yours). I learn a lot visiting here. Thanks.

Tue Aug 1 01:02:18 2006: 2335   TonyLawrence

Well, I like other people's toilets.. err, opinions.

I suppose you could say that some Diggers will never visit for the reasons you said, but they weren't coming here anyway, and they obviously aren't careful readers, so is it any real loss?

I'm sure we gained a few readers in spite of all that.. and even if not, no big deal.

Tue Aug 1 14:43:03 2006: 2345   TonyLawrence

Just as a point of interest: although that article certainly walloped the all time record for most views in a day, we have a couple of posts that have exceeded 100,000 views in their lifetime. See (link) (and be patient - the page takes a second or two to load).

Tue Aug 1 16:44:25 2006: 2346   BigDumbDinosaur

Just for grins, I visited the "most popular" link and made an interesting discovery. If you sort the articles in ascending order of total hits, some with relatively low counts appear in the list (at least several with no more than 800-900 hits).

Tue Aug 1 17:49:39 2006: 2347   TonyLawrence

Sure - that's just picking up the most popular 50 based on monthly views (not overall). In theory an article could have a large number of views but not appear because it's not popular recently.

Fri Aug 4 16:03:34 2006: 2365   anonymous

No, you don't have to be more explicit.
Yes, there is no answer (my meaning is clear, n'est pas?).

Let's say for example, that you publicly posted the opinion
that a certain unpopular litigant might prevail in a lawsuit.
You might cause mass hysteria because readers will think that
you are a cheerleader for the much-reviled litigant. Then,
no matter how many clarifications you issue, you will be
perpetually misunderstood.

I am often misunderstood when I send emails. Yet I prefer
email to the phone, because I think it is easier to be understood when
stating something in writing.

You can fool some of the people all of the time, even when you're
not trying.

To paraphrase Comic Book Guy, "there is no emoticon" for my frustration!
D'OH! (8(|)


Fri Aug 4 22:19:29 2006: 2366   TonyLawrence

"publicly posted the opinion that a certain unpopular litigant might prevail in a lawsuit"


And of course they still might, though fortunately the chances of that are getting vanishingly slim..


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