Way back in the day – about two years ago, which feels like a decade in internet-time – there was a thing called "The Slashdot Effect". This was usually held to be the huge squeal made by a web server when any story on Slashdot.org point towards in, particularly on one of the more controversial subjects like open source, linux, or Apple.
I always disagreed with this definition. In fact, I think it’s more accurate to define "the Slashdot Effect" as the complete erosion of all value in a site as a set of zealots begin to dominate the conversation on it. And, I’m afraid, exactly the same thing is currently happening to Digg.
Take, as an example, the story on Digg about a New Trojan for Mac OS X. This links to a story on TechWeb which notes the announcement of a discovered Trojan for OS X by Symantec. This trojan uses a security flaw that Apple has already patched to escalate privs on a local account. And that’s pretty much all the story says, other than to add details of what Apple patched, and note that exploits are rare on OS X, but that this kind of post-patch day trojan is common on Windows.
And yet, despite the story’s simplicity, some of the Mac zealots that have infected Digg (more effectively than any virus has ever infected OS X) have marked the story as "may contain inaccuracy". There’s no discussion of this, no justification made of it (except a comment that says "marked inaccurate, of course". Nothing.
There’s no come-back possible for the original author, no attempt to debate the issue, and no way for others to either question the inaccuracy or revoke it. In fact, there’s no way at all I can see for ANYONE other than the site owner to revoke that status.
Anyone can mark a story as inaccurate, for any reason, and in this case it’s simply been marked as inaccurate because of the pro-Mac bias of the awful, juvenile wing of the Mac community. This is the wing that Fraser Speirs referred to in his post on how the Mac community had moved "from Anne Frank to Ariel Sharon".
Online, every community has its juvenile zealots (although I’m honestly yet to find any Windows Zealots). And these folk are the loudest voices whenever their community and its issues are discussed. And this is the fundamental problem with the whole "wisdom of crowds" approach. It makes the assumption that online debate is largely rational, when – in fact – an awful lot of it is simply emotional. There is very little quality debate on the open internet on any topic that attracts a large level of attention. Yes, there are small communities that remain coherant and reasoned – but these are rare.
I’m reminded of something that my beloved said to me over the weekend, when we were walking through the grounds of St Paul’s cathedral. Just outside St Paul’s, there is a statue of John Wesley, one of the founding fathers of Methodism. One of Wesley’s principles was that chapels should be small, consisting of no more than 150 congregants, because this was the limit on how big a community could get while everyone knew everyone else.
Perhaps this applies as much online as off.