Consumer Democracy

By admin ~ May 14th, 2010 @ 9:17 pm

A reader suggested recently that some of my articles should be submitted to Digg, an online website where readers submit and vote for newsworthy and interesting pieces. The advice was flattering, and indeed it seems that some of what is said here is by all accounts of interest to a broad spectrum of readers, but more interesting still is the process by which Digg aims to achieve objectives of newsworthiness.

The website operates on the democratic principle that readers can pick and choose what submitted articles they want to read and whether they want to “digg” them, with the obvious result that those articles with the most number of “digs” receive front-page coverage and therefore exposure. For articles that readers deem uninteresting, instead of just not voting, readers have the option to choose “This is lame” – if there are enough of these “lame-votes”, the article is removed by supposedly light-handed moderators.

So far this all sounds like fairly intuitive democratic reasoning, and by all accounts there should be little complaint with the method, but there have been some considerable voices of opposition to the site’s worthiness. The most recent attack was by one fairly high-profile writer named Charlie Demerjian, who published an article called “ is worthless as a democratic concept” in which he recounted an experience of having written a fair piece about gaming online to discover that it was overwhelmingly popular. Deciding to submit it to, Demerjian unsurprisingly saw its popularity rocket and received more e-mails and comments, some in agreement and some in disagreement with what he had to say, but all fair.

When the young writer conducted a search on for his article several days later then he was surprised to find that it had been deleted. Querying the moderators of the website, he was told that the piece had also received ten “lame votes” and hence had been removed as this was the required number. Logically, he pointed out that despite an article receiving over one-thousand potential votes, it could be removed if only ten dissenters chirped in.

Consumer Democracy

Demerjian’s rant is somewhat reminiscent of attacks launched at Prime Time shows such as “American Idol” and “The X Factor”. The Spanish version, Operaccion Triumfo, recently received accusations by two investigative journalists that the final rounds were rigged in a currently banned expose.

On the occasions that there certainly was no unauthorised “editing” involved from producers however, viewers have complained at the lack of quality of the winners’ albums, and this has reflected in the mostly poor record sales once they hit the stores. In large part this is why it costs so much to make a phone call to vote for the candidates – because if revenues from shows where consumer democracy prevails were to be left up to end product sales most of these shows would display a net loss.

Demerjian summarises; “Luckily for humanity, the editing process has been left to professionals, or in our case, monkeys on crack. Regardless, they are professional monkeys on crack, and they show a good deal more common sense than the unwashed masses”, and here he hits the point.

Although we like to think that we know exactly what we want, and that we are capable of choosing our preferred product, as inexperienced consumers we are in fact notoriously inefficient, which is why as a society we have traditionally always been happy to have “professionals” do the selection process for us.

If there is no natural editing process, an artificial one often has to be implemented in order to make the venture commercially viable. The reason has the ridiculous rule of 10 vs. 1000 is that, were this not the case, consumers would leave popular articles on the front page for ridiculous amounts of time to the degree where they abandoned the site because it became “more of the same”.

It all comes down to habit. The difference between consumers and professionals is that, whereas consumers are notoriously habitual in their behaviour, professional editors and producers are anything but – in their eternal commitment to the “latest new thing”, they perform the natural recycling process which would seem exhausting to us in practice but which makes us content to return to shows and stores.

As the current trend of “reality” aligns itself with democratic knowledge-sharing technological capabilities such as the internet, such artificial ways of replacing a natural editing process will have to become necessary, because, as the evidence shows, consumer democracies are fundamentally dysfunctional.

Product cycles are best left up to the chosen few, even if, as Demerjian points out, they do happen to come with a crack habit.

RSSSubscribe to blog feed.

Comments are closed.

Leave a Reply

©2007-2020 Coupon Addict