So a user on Digg posted an item that contained a code to hack HD-DVDs, and all hell broke loose. The folks who run Digg--er, I mean, the executives, who apparently are not the folks who actually run Digg--took down the item, fearing they'd be sued under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Then hundreds of people revolted and posted new items, overwhelming the service and prompting Digg President Kevin Rose to give in. As he posted on the Digg blog:
Today was an insane day. And as the founder of Digg, I just wanted to post my thoughts…
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.
I'm not surprised this issue came up on Digg, in particular. For all its clear value in surfacing interesting (if sometimes puerile) stories, it has a small but significant population of people with too much time on their hands--OK, let's call them the jerks they are. It seems inevitable that they'd seize on something eventually and wreak havoc. And I don't mean to dispute their views on DVD encryption, only their way of expressing those views, potentially at the expense of everyone else who depends on Digg.
It's not yet clear to me whether this is a seminal moment in Web 2.0, or something that will blow over quickly. I tend to think Digg and the compelling user-power notions behind Web 2.0 will come out OK, but who knows? In any case, I think the issue of who owns so-called user-generated content--the users or the service on which it's created and posted--will only grow more controversial from here on out.
It's one thing for a site to give the power to us, or acknowledge that it's ours. But if we do things that cause the service to get sued out of existence, what's the point? As one commenter on Digg put it, "IF we're all done acting like 5 year olds, I'm sure someone's got a great picture of a cute kitten in a computer to submit."
I suspect the user-driven services that will survive will be those that manage to establish a culture of collective responsibility from the outset--so users themselves will do the right thing--or at least manage to evolve to such a culture. Say what you will about periodic problems with fraud at eBay, it has survived in no small part thanks to founder Pierre Omidyar's early insistence that "people are basically good"--thus attracting basically good people.