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USocial CEO: “We’re gaming Digg”


Among Digg’s and StumbleUpon’s tens of millions of users, the social bookmarking sites have successfully dealt with numerous troublemakers who try to “game” the voting systems. But one company may be putting the entire organic voting approach in jeopardy.

usocial-logoUSocial lets advertisers buy votes on popular social bookmarking sites to catapult their links to sections of Digg, StumbleUpon or AOL’s Propeller services that get the most visibility.

In Digg’s case, a submission that receives enough votes from its users (or with a little help from uSocial’s dozen employees) will reach the coveted front page, which can drive tens of thousands of visitors in a matter of hours.

It’s no wonder that a handful of organizations — including a Darfur foundation, the U.S. Marines, the Mormon Church and … the Korean Department of Tourism (the latter of which has spent more than $5,000) — are on board.

Clients pay $105 to $200 to kick-start a Digg submission, ensuring 100 to 250 votes. Digg is by far the top target, attracting about 60% of purchases, uSocial says. StumbleUpon gets 35% and Propeller (the least trafficked but cheapest option) gets 5%.

USocial plans to expand to other social news sites in the future, including Reddit and Yahoo Buzz.

“We just finished testing with Yahoo Buzz,” said uSocial founder Leon Hill. “We’ve been getting amazing results with that — better results than what people are getting with Digg.”

That’s probably because Yahoo sometimes promotes popular links on Buzz to Yahoo.com.

uSocial screenshotBut in the meantime, Digg is still a unique source for a Web traffic jolt. With Digg’s prominence comes the desire to keep its operations organic. Which is why the company has gone after uSocial, trying to lock out its accounts.

Digg sent a cease-and-desist letter to Hill in December. The Brisbane, Australia, resident concedes that what his company does is against the site’s terms of use, which he agreed to when signing up for his Digg account. But he plans to continue to use Digg to plow in revenue for uSocial.Social

“I’m not in their [Digg's] country of operation, and the people that I’m employing are scattered across the world,” Hill said. For these reasons, he believes Digg won’t succeed in bringing a case against him. Hill calls the letter noting more than a “scare tactic.”

Digg is not taking the issue lightly, said Beth Murphy, Digg’s head of marketing. In an e-mail, she wrote: “Digg is always evolving our systems and processes to combat gaming and abuse on the site. In addition to these ongoing measures, we may take additional action to ensure Digg remains a level playing field for all members of our 35 million community.”

Many of Digg’s users are understandably less than enamored of Hill’s infiltrating their hangout.

“As you can understand, there are a lot of people out there who aren’t happy with what we’re doing,” Hill said. “We’re gaming Digg.”

Digg is no stranger to users who try to abuse its service. Digg bans users who show traces of unusual activity, such as employing computer scripts to alter the website. But thanks to the software Hill developed for the company, he says, uSocial accounts are immune. Since perfecting the software three months ago, he says, he hasn’t had a single account banned for misuse.

For now, Hill says, uSocial is backed up on orders. But Digg is hoping it can shut down the operation, and put the editing power back in the hands of legitimate users.

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