Yesterday Read/Write Web, the Internet blog (is that redundant in the way "landscape gardener" is?) linked to one of the Assignment Zero interviews published by Wired.com. The interview was between JPG Magazine founder Derek Powazek and Ragnar Danneskjold, the founder of Subvert & Profit, a site that claims to represent the "crowdsourcing black market." Subvert & Profit pays people to vote for it's clients stories on social media sites like Digg.com and StumbleUpon.com. S&P, claims Danneskjold—a pseudonym swiped from Ayn Rand, the patron saint of sociopaths—"will operate a full-fledged marketplace for clandestine actions on the Internet." All together now: Ewwwwwwwwww.
And Subvert & Profit is not alone. A company called User/Submitted employs the same strategy, which is, in a few words, to stuff the ballot boxes on enormously influential sites like Digg, Reddit.com (owned by Wired.com) and Stumbleupon. Here's my somewhat contrarian reaction: Yawn—I hear they're gambling in Monte Carlo too. I find script kiddies and other species of black hat vermin as loathsome as the next guy, I'm about as surprised to see them as I am to see slugs on a mushroom. So long as there's been systems, there's been people who will exploit their weaknesses. In some cases, subversion serves the common good. In other cases it serves up splogs and spam.
This isn't to excuse Subvert & Profit. Rather I want to discourage the finger wagging and encourage social media sites in their attempts to build a more fool-proof voting systems that are less prone to being gamed. God knows that our government has had its challenges stamping out voter fraud. For most of the country's first century, gaming the system was simply how municipal officials (and perhaps a few presidents) got into office. The feds' attempts to ameliorate the situation has, and continues to be, pretty darn slipshod.
But then, that's government. We expect more from private industry, what with the free-market incentives and all that. If Digg proves itself to be one big link farm, I'm confident someone else will come up with a social media site with teflon protection from "the dark side of crowdsourcing." And it will work, at least for a while. As Assignment Zero interview notes, "let the arms race continue."