Muhammad Saleem: Insights from an elite social bookmarker
With the rise of social bookmarking sites such as Digg, Reddit and Netscape, we wanted to sit down with someone who lived in both worlds to give us an opinion on their relationship with blogging. It wasn’t easy, because there are not that many individuals who can do both successfully consistently over time.
But we did find Muhammad.
In this interview you’ll learn about why it’s so hard to do both, what it’s like to try and submit your own content to Digg, and what this elite book marker and successful blogger has to say about trying to manipulate crowds to “stuff the vote”.
Unlike some of our other interviewees, people may know less about you – can you tell us a little bit about Muhammad Saleem?
Sure. I am a senior at The University of Chicago and am just wrapping up my B.A. in Economics and a minor in Slavic Languages and Literature (with a focus on Russian).
I spend most of my free time on various social bookmarking and networking sites. I started participating on Digg a little over a year ago and before I was hired by Netscape as a “professional social bookmarker” in August, I was ranked #9 out of 500,000 users. I also enjoy writing about social bookmarking and socially driven content at The Mu Life, The Blog Herald, and have recently joined newassignment.net, which is an experiment in open source journalism. I love exploring trends in social media and writing about what social media does right, as well as its shortcomings, from an insider’s perspective.
In fact, I notice that you are one of only a handful of individuals who is highly active in both social bookmarking and blogging. I did my own back-of-the-envelope analysis and, at Digg anyway, there are very few “elite” diggers that bother to blog regularly. Why do you suppose this is? And do you think doing one makes you better at the other?
You know, in my lifetime I have had upwards of 11 blogs. I would blog on a topic for a little while, then get bored with it and shut the blog down. Not until “socially driven news-bookmarking” came along did I really find a topic that I can see myself enjoy writing about at length.
I think one of the main reasons why most “elite” social bookmarkers don’t blog regularly is because of time constraints. According to an article I read a little while back, the average top 30 digger spends ~3 hours a day on Digg. Trying to manage 3 hours of Digg everyday, blogging original content on a regular basis, and having an offline life (not to mention a day job) can be hard to do.
Another problem that I have come across, that would have deterred me from having a blog if I was still active on Digg.com is community reaction. If you are going to provide objective commentary (especially if you are saying something negative) your prospects on the site start looking grim. People have often responded to my content that gets dugg with unreasonable hostility.
More than it helps you, I think blogging about the community that you are a part of, ultimately helps the community improve itself. But if people aren’t going to respect the insight that one gets from being a top 30 digger, why bother writing about it?
The contention between Netscape and Digg is legendary dating back to when Jason Calacanis first offered a bounty on top diggers (which, to my knowledge, exists to this day). Having the experience of being involved with both communities, how receptive would you describe the Netscape community to blogging about itself – and blogging about social bookmarking issues?
One of the main differences between the two communities when it comes to blogging is that if you submit content from your own blog, Digg will bury the content instantly as self-promotion. One time I was so annoyed by a post of mine (an original article from my blog) that got buried that I emailed Digg support to ask them why it was buried. The sent me an email saying that too many people were marking it as a duplicate.
So far Netscape doesn’t do that. I have actually enjoyed people reading my content on Netscape and often posting some quite insightful comments and criticisms of my writing. At the same time, to be fair, one of the reasons that this doesn’t happen at Netscape very well may be because Netscape doesn’t have a “Mark as Lame” button on the site. The addition of that button may take Netscape in the same direction as Digg. So far Netscape only removes stories from the queue if they are in violation of the TOS.
Another reason for this may be the difference in age demographics of the two sites. Because the average Netscape user is older than the average Digg user, this leads to a more mature and focused discussions.
The Mu Life, your most recent blog, is not that old, but is doing pretty respectable numbers. Would you attribute all of your blogging’s traffic “success” to submitting posts to social bookmarking sites? And is that something you would recommend now, given the existing climate towards submitting your own posts?
Social bookmarking sites give you a temporary surge in numbers (i.e. as long as your article is on the front-page and in the RSS feed) but what I have seen is that most of those numbers don’t translate to regular readership. What does happen though is that out of the 8,000 or so people that read your blog during that time, maybe 10-15 will blog about it and link back to you. In my experience, the regular traffic to my site has come from these other bloggers that read my blog and did follow-up posts or when my site was picked up by Techcrunch and Techmeme.
Ultimately, submitting to social bookmarking sites benefits me only because it gives my blog that temporary exposure to other bloggers who maybe writing about the same topics.
And yet, if you look at some bloggers, notably John Chow (who blogs at JohnChow.com), his readership and traffic has skyrocketed through Digg – even though he doesn’t blog about social bookmarking. First of all, do you know his blog – and second, would you care to comment on his successes of using Digg to drive traffic?
I think part of the reason that he may have been so successful at using Digg to drive traffic to the site is precisely because he doesn’t blog about social bookmarking. When you start blogging about social bookmarking, you start writing articles like [these are titles of posts Muhammad has written]:
- Should You Still Contribute To Digg?
- The Digg Economy: Socialist Bookmarking
- Open Letter to Kevin Rose
- Why The Wisdom of Crowds Fails on Digg
Although they are all perfectly legitimate commentaries on Digg and the state of social bookmarking, it is also a list of articles that is sure to get your name on the Digg blacklist.
Also, the fact that John Chow was Ultimate Fighting Championship contestant may have something to do with his traffic numbers.
Would you ever recommend any bloggers out there submitting their own content to Digg or Netscape (or any others) to boost their own traffic? And any thoughts about joining communities to “spike” your votes?
What I would like to say is that “if the content is good enough, you won’t need to spike votes and it will naturally rise above the rest,” but what I am seeing more and more is that people are voting without actually reading the articles, and marking articles as spam or duplicates or lame, without even reading the articles. I was just talking to a top 30 digger and he said that he actually has a screenshot of digg/spy of dozens of his stories marked as spam/dupe/lame in a row. Someone clearly went to his profile and mass buried his content.
That being said, I would never recommend that you go and “spike the vote”. If you have good content, of course this is a subjective judgment, but if you think your content has mass appeal, submit it to social bookmarking sites and let the people decide. I think one of the most under appreciated resources for making your content accessible is StumbleUpon. Submit your content to StumbleUpon!
Also, don’t submit your own content to Digg.com. The Digg community considers it to be self-promotion and will mark you negatively for that.
So, would you say there is no role to organized voting? Some would say it’s “gaming” the system – and that others are trying to do it anyway.
“Stuffing” or “spiking” the vote is definitely against the rules. And most sites are developing (or have developed) mechanisms to detect organized voting. At the same time, sharing a story that you have submitted with friends over IM doesn’t have to be “gaming the system”.
If I stumble upon something interesting that I then submit to a social bookmarking site, I definitely tell people about it. At the same time, I don’t tell them to vote on the story, rather I tell them to check it out (and if they enjoy it, they can decide to vote or not vote themselves).
On the other hand, if you are setting up IM groups and email listhosts for the explicit purpose of mass-voting to promote content, you are definitely violating the best practices for social bookmarking.