The firestorm around Digg’s user revolt has mostly focused on the supposed dangers of empowering communities of users (as in this Chronicle piece, where I’m quoted), and whether Digg was right to flip-flop on its original decision to remove the potentially illegal code. Instead, we’re asking a question: what should Digg have done in the first place?
Its lawyers were advising it to comply with the cease-and-desist letter to avoid a lawsuit, but that action potentially undermined the basis of its users’ trust in the service. Beware of business decisions that masquerade as legal issues. You’ll be tempted to defer to your lawyer’s advice. And it’s a good bet your lawyer’s instincts will be wrong when it comes to fostering open, two-way dialog with your customers. It’s more likely they’ll enmesh you in a battle of wills with the very people you depend on to grow your business.
Whatever the “right” decision was for Digg regarding whether or not to delete the offending post, Digg knows it is nothing without its passionate and participating members. The enlightened path should have been obvious to them: be completely transparent with users from the beginning. Before it took any action that stripped power from users, Digg should have shared its dilemma with the community, explained the conundrum and the legal advice it had been given, and then solicited candid feedback via its forum. Debate would have ensued, but everyone would have felt like they were part of Digg’s ultimate decision, even if that was deletion of the code. More than anything, passionate users want to be heard.
These are simple steps that would have turned “us vs. them” into “us and only us”…without having to relinquish control to a “tyranny of the majority.”