Care and feeding of top users

by greg on November 6, 2006

A minor hullabullo burst out a couple days ago over digg’s treatment of its top users – digg changed its algorithm sparked by a bit of public kvetching, a TechCrunch post and an open letter from one of the top users. Comments on TechCrunch were not particularly kind to the aggrieved diggers – although the algo change could’ve been communicated better. I filed this away until I read Markus Frind on it, and realized there was more there:

  • digg’s a forum, not a blog, and forums have different social dynamics;
  • when a community grows large enough, some user churn is a good thing;
  • Markus, who’s got a huge community, has repeatedly banned his top users;
  • the ecosystem’s so big and self-perpetuating, we’re all – blogger and digger alike – immediately replaceable. Even the most important individual isn’t.

There’s quite a dynamic at work here – in the beginning, a site run off of user-generated content needs users desperately, and although the jury’s still out on the Netscape experiment, paying for a few to seed the content pool might actually make sense. When a site takes on a life of its own, though, cliques need to be actively busted to make the site fresh, avoid groupthink, and welcome newcomers.

The logical implication – should Netscape take off, its paid contributors will naturally become unneeded and get sent packing – although it could very well be their first stop in a profitable consulting business, if VC-backed startups decide to start seeding their pool the same way. (Hmmm… I wonder what I could get as an agent to these people…)

Nothing personal, it’s only business – but under such a system, where the top users regularly get weeded out to prevent them from becoming a drag on growth, you can’t help but feel for the early adopters. They get the site off the ground and create the conditions for success only to become impediments to be shaken off once they get a little too comfy, consider the site ‘home,’ and start acting accordingly. When a site’s someone’s primary social network, getting the boot from it has got to hurt.

Can anyone think of any existing sites where the top 50 or so people really should get the boot, but haven’t? I’d nominate Wikipedia, in the hope that a little churn there would cut down on the spooky emergent bureaucracy (go see for yourself) and strangely-fascinating faction fighting.

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