Forbes blogger Elizabeth Woyke found herself in some deep kimchee this week. Her crime? Writing in a less-than-disapproving fashion about a social media marketing firm that offered to pay users on services like Digg and Reddit to promote stories about their clients.
Because, as we all know, votes on media aggregation sites are sacred.
(Those of you who've suffered damage to the regions of your brain that enable you to recognize sarcasm are probably wondering if I'm being serious. The rest of you know better.)
Back in November, Woyke received a pitch from RasiFranks, a marketing firm that offered to vault her blog to the top of the Digg charts for the low low price of $240. Reddit, Stumble-Upon, and Delicious were even cheaper. Their secret: Paying a select group of Diggers, Stumblers, etc a few pennies apiece to vote up her stories.
Mind you, Woyke didn't actually endorse the practice of paying people to Digg stories. She just thought it was an interesting concept (though not especially new, at least to those of us who follow this sort of thing). But that was enough to stir the Reddit rabble into action.
RasiFranks' efforts to recruit Redditors to promote stories inspired a blog post from Reddit programmer Mike Schiraldi, who apparently blames Woyke for RasiFranks' existence and call her "stunningly irresponsible" and "sensationalist." (Mike clearly needs to get out more.) He apparently doesn't want anyone to know people are out there trying to game Reddit, which he also claims is virtually impossible.
Fine. Everybody needs to blow off steam now and then. But as a result, Woyke and RasiFranks have been flooded with "you suck, now die" emails and tweets from the Reddit-heads. RasiFrank responded with a blog post of its own that said, essentially, get a life.
Thus perfectly encapsulating the nature of discourse on the Web.
A personal but related note: A publication I once blogged for that shall go unnamed strongly urged all of its bloggers to become power users on Digg, because that was its primary way to boost traffic to its stories. Traffic, as we all know, equals ad revenue. (In this case, it also meant revenue to the bloggers, who were paid a fraction of a penny per pageview.)
Becoming a Digg whore -- err, sorry, power user -- meant spending 6 to 8 hours a day on Digg, laboriously collecting Digg friends, constantly voting up their stories with the expectation they would reciprocate -- kind of a big game of you scratch my amusing picture of kittens and I'll scratch your video of people doing faceplants.
I said thanks, but no thanks. And I got no traffic, and the blog died. (Now Digg is floundering, and that publication needs to come up with another strategy.)
Here's my question: Is paying someone to vote up your blog post/amusing kitten picture all that much different than the reciprocity routinely practiced on social aggregation sites?
Or let me put it another way. Are the things that rise to the top of [name your favorite social media site here] really the best and brightest available? Or is it just random stuff a handful of people who are lacking in the life department happen to like?
Let's look at "what's hot" on Reddit right now:
* A not-especially-funny trailer for what I assume is a mockumentary titled "Gawd Bless America."
* A "humorous" letter to someone's dead girlfriend, allegedly posted as an ad on craigslist.
* A photo showing how badly people park when it snows out.
* A photo of a flyer for a "lost and very very crazy" dog.
To be fair, number one on Digg as I write this is a photo gallery of attractive women dressing up as Misty from Pokemon.
They're right. This is much better than what you'd get if somebody got paid to promote stuff.
Woyke apologized to the Reddit fans she inadvertently offended. In a just world, they would be apologizing to her. ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan is wearing asbestos bvds in anticipation of the response to this blog post. Catch his brand of juvenile snark at eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter:@tynan_on_tech.