What happened at Digg and what does it mean for you?

Now, in business, we are used to doing things often unilaterally, and not worrying too much about the effect on the end user, and the vast majority of us certainly do not worry much about the response of the customer. If you issue a decree to your employees, they are expected to follow it. That is one of the reasons many organizations have very standardized feedback loops: they are good for scrubbing the anger out of most feedback. HR does a wonderful job of that.

Read it all on the FASTForward Blog

You have probably heard of Digg.com, and if you haven’t been there yourself, you may have seen it mentioned on CNN or some of the other outlets it gets mentioned on a lot.

Something happened in the last week at Digg, and it took a lot of people by surprise. A few weeks ago, someone “cracked” a secret key that is used by HDDVD players to decrypt the movie on the disc. This meant that software could be written to make rights-management free copies of HDDVD movies.

Now, the most important part of the whole copying process is the use of the specific key, and that key, under US and other laws, was owned by the MPAA they used DMCA notices to have any public displays of the offending key taken down. You can get a proper overview here and there is a pretty good story on it here.

Back to Digg. At some point near the end of April, takedown notices were being sent out, and on May 1st, Digg received one. It turns out that several of DIGGs users had posted the offending key on Digg itself, and the MPAA wasn’t happy about it. DIGG felt that it had to respond and protect itself from a major lawsuit.

Now, if this was a traditional website, like a news portal, or an editorialized blog or newsletter, the readers would never have gotten upset. Rarely does the audience of old media know what is going on behind the scenes. Digg, however, does not work like that. Digg does not create any of it’s own content, instead, all the content is created by visitors to the site, and there are millions of them. (Starting to sound like a not-so-bad business model isn’t it?)

So, Digg started taking down the posts that potentially created liability for Digg.

Digg users got really upset.

Now, in business, we are often accustomed to doing things unilaterally, and not worrying too much about the effect on the end user, and the vast majority of us certainly do not worry much about the response of the employee. If you issue a decree to your employees, they are expected to follow it. That is one of the reasons many organizations have very standardized feedback loops: they are good for scrubbing the anger out of most feedback. HR does a wonderful job of that.

That’s not how it worked for Digg however. Digg had, from the day it was born, given itself up to the power of it’s own community. Digg’s key to success has been that they seem to be the best at giving up control, and their users have repaid them by being notoriously loyal. Again, not a bad business model!

This time, however, people got mad. Really mad. Before you could blink, the entire Digg front page was covered with offending postings, and digg couldn’t (or didn’t want to) keep up with removing all of them. Digg.com had been taken over by it’s own community, and a lot of them were threatening to leave.

In the end, Kevin Rose, founder of Digg, posted on the Digg blog and said

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.

So, what does this mean to you?, you don’t run a user-generated content right?

Well, if you don’t run one yet, you are probably going to be confronted with one some time in the future. At the center of the Enterprise 2.0 movement is the idea that the creation of content and conversation inside the organization is liberalized and all members of your organization can contribute, and the rest of the organization can vote, either explicitly or implicitly, on what is important and what isn’t.

If you give this power to your employees, what will you do when they revolt? Will you be able to handle it, not by throwing your power around, but by influencing the community of individuals you have allowed to grow.

In setting up these communities inside several organizations in the past, we have called this a “moment of crises”, and we see it as management’s biggest opportunity to give their blessing to the wisdom of crowds of their organization.

What will you do?
The exact moment of crises always varied, one time it was the firing of a well liked manager, and there was a revolt that looked quite similar to the style of uproar on Digg. In the end, on a Sunday afternoon, the CEO of the company, after letting people blow off some steam, gave his most heartfelt and appropriate response. He did not use the communications or internal operations departments to send out a Memorandum on the issue, he simply said he was sorry that he had hurt so many people, but that there were good reasons for it, and that people can trust him on it, or come see him.

The first reaction that many people have is that it is easier to just disallow any sort of ad-hoc communication, but that sort of thinking is dangerous, because these conversations do happen anyway. You know they do. You’ve heard the rumor mill countless times, you’ve even dipped in to it yourself on occasion, and when crises hits, where do you think everyone turns? They turn to their rumor network, because you aren’t proving them a place to go.

Would you panic? Would you get angry that your employees are questioning you? Or would you see the opportunity within the crises?