Digg This: The New Power of Social Networking

Tangentially related to local (as far as social networking has growing ties to local search) is the unprecedented power of social networking that was shown yesterday in the much hyped Digg HD-DVD debacle.

The transparency and collective will that we’ve known to exist within social networks was taken to a new level by the Digg community, which contains a rather intense and active set of users.

For those who don’t know what happened, a few Digg users started posting an HD-DVD encryption key. This essentially allows users to copy DVDs of the new HD-DVD standard, and allow playback on unauthorized systems (non HD-DVD players) such as Linux.

AACS lawyers promptly issued a cease and desist letter to Digg, which caused CEO Jay Adelson to post this on the Digg blog around 1 p.m., notifying users that the company had taken down the content that was brought to its attention.

This ignited a firestorm of activity throughout the day on Digg in which users unabatedly piled on more and more posts containing the controversial key. Then at 9 p.m., Digg founder Kevin Rose went back on the earlier announcement with a blog post containing the following.

“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.”

Power to the People?
For Digg, the dilemma was similar to a journalistic one, in that it had to choose between the free flow of information, and buckling to legal pressures. Changing its decision to allow the content, however, probably doesn’t represent an ethical high ground, but rather a response to the power its users hold in such a network. Digg users essentially power the daily value of its network and, with enough collective will, have the ability to overpower any attempts to suppress the free flow of information.

The other takeaway here is that some corporate and legal interests can’t seem to grasp that cease and desist letters often increase exposure and activity around the very activities or movements they are trying to stop. Here, the encryption key distribution grew to levels well beyond those prior to the legal threat. The power of social networks and their associated transparency compound this effect.

We’ve seen this happen time and time again, with Napster, RIAA litigation, and most recently when NBC demanded that YouTube take down the now infamous “Lazy Sunday” Saturday Night Live clip, which marks a huge turning point in YouTube’s explosive popularity.

So what’s the lesson here? The power of social networking and social media to influence behavior is clear. For IYPs and local search destinations, the growing influence of user reviews is related to this. Generally speaking, harnessing the power of social media as a tool to influence buying behavior will be an important challenge in the coming years.

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