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Wednesday, February 08, 2006 Das Experiment

As an experiment, yesterday I submitted 7 links to our postings (the bottom 7 on this page) to reddit, a site that filters bookmarks based on users' approval or disapproval.

Within hours, three things were clear:

  1. Reddit users don't care for our style and interests. 6 of the 7 links had heavily negative scores within 12 hours. Only one had a positive score.
  2. Even though they don't like it, just having links on reddit drives traffic to a site. That big spike is the result of listing just 7 pages.
  3. If users do like a page--they seem to mildly like my post about marshrutkas--then it can generate 100+ pageviews.

I like using reddit; it's fun to indicate my opinion of the various links, and to watch memes rise and fall. But it has some serious problems:

  1. Many links point to the same story. They don't point to the exact same link--reddit detects that and prevents relistings--but they indirectly point to the exact same link: Andrew Sullivan linking to a NY Times story, or Slashdot linking to a NY Times story, etc.

    Some links actually do point to the exact same link--but because so many websites include varying info in the url (user session id, for example, or a code for day and date), two or more submissions of the same page will often all appear.

    The reason this matters is that after following links and rating them, instead of seeing all new links I will generally see the same links over and over again.

  2. Filtering system isn't good enough. You rate links by clicking little arrows to indicate approval or disapproval, an elegant and quick system. This is fun because it trains a filter that learns what you like and dislike, and shows you more of what you like... at least in theory. In reality, this kind of collaborative filtering is pretty hard to get right; even movielens, the movie rating and recommending project that is the best collaborative filtering implementation on the net, doesn't do a spectacular job of figuring out your tastes (if a movie is highly rated on average, like Star Wars episode 3, it can't figure out based on my low reviews of episodes 1 and 2 that I won't like it).

    If I hate reading about Apple, then my disapproval of Apple-tagged links will probably keep me from having to see more such links. But what about if I approve of "Intriguing Apple user demographic statistics" and "Analysts predict Apple's next 5 years", but I disapprove of "Intriguing new speakers from Apple" and "Apple: highest brand cache ever"?

    Reddit's direct competitors are Digg, and Slashdot, and memeorandum. But in another sense, its competitors are all of the blogs that have humans aggregating news. Even if I don't always see eye to eye with my favorite bloggers, I don't think an algorithm will be able to compete with them for a long time.


Blogger JLP on Wed Feb 08, 10:39:00 AM:
I think the problem is that readers don't like you linking to your own material. I know this from experience. I can see their point since linking to your own stuff can be considered spamming. However, I do try to link just to the stuff I think other people would be interested in but may not be able to find on their own.


Blogger Ben on Wed Feb 08, 10:53:00 AM:
That seems fair enough. Is there a market opportunity for a service that would seed traffic -- not through search engine "optimization" or spamming, but through listing and ratings that are rewarded with micropayments of some kind? There's lots of good stuff that would benefit from a tiny investment in traffic, but which don't really make sense to put in adwords-style advertising.
Anonymous Anonymous on Wed Feb 08, 10:54:00 AM:
Nice one. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy...
Anonymous Anonymous on Wed Feb 08, 11:56:00 AM:
Try just one link, or pace them apart several hours. Seven in a row will be seen as spamming.
Blogger Kai on Wed Feb 08, 11:59:00 AM:
If you'd like to gently promote your content, I'd recommend bookmarking and tagging your own links to

I did a similar experiment with my blog, FeverishMind and found that Digg and Reddit gets you a big spike in traffic, but little lasting effect. However people who find your posts from tags on are more likely to be interested in what you have to say.

Anonymous Anonymous on Wed Feb 08, 03:55:00 PM:
What's a "brand cache"?
Anonymous Anonymous on Wed Feb 08, 04:28:00 PM:
Do you know there is another cool news service, Megite, at
Blogger spif on Wed Feb 08, 04:38:00 PM:
Thanks for the tip, Kai. That is such an excellent idea, and yet so obvious in restrospect that I'm kicking myself for not doing it sooner.
Anonymous Anonymous on Wed Feb 08, 04:57:00 PM:
I submitted a few links to my blog on Reddit, one hit the number two spot and I had hundreds of visitors. The authors don't consider it spam nor should they. That's what the down arrow is for.

What if you have a great idea but nobody reads your blog? Should you just wait and hope someone else submits it to Reddit? Was my post still spam even though it was ranked #2 on Reddit?
Blogger spif on Wed Feb 08, 05:24:00 PM:
Anonymous, I absolutely agree. That's why I posted a link to a new blog entry of mine about reddit on reddit just now. It's a follow up to another blog entry I made about reddit yesterday, which I had also posted to reddit. It also refers and links to this piece, which I enjoyed immensely (like the comments too).

Is that sufficiently meta and self-promoting for you? ;-)
Anonymous Anonymous on Thu Feb 09, 07:54:00 AM:
Anecdotically, I rate down all the blog posts I see unless it's amazingly interesting. Even then, I rate it down if I think it's posted by the blog owner.

(I'm not the same anonymous as above)
Blogger spif on Thu Feb 09, 03:33:00 PM:
So you just dislike blog posts on principle? Why does it matter who posted it, if it's interesting? And what interests you?