The social site application of scripts and bots have been around as long as their have been social sites. There are scripts and bots available for MySpace, StumbleUpon, Facebook, YouTube etc. All have very different applications for very different purposes on each site. In 2007 MySpace was involved in a publicized battle with the commercial marketers of Bot programs such as Friend-Adder and Badder-Adder These programs automated friend adding and commenting protocols bypassing the captcha safeguards. MySpace sent cease and desist letters to these companies briefly shutting many of them down. As the scripts circulated and were improved upon, new companies popped up as fast as the old ones shut down. With the exception of suing spam king Scott Richter and instituting some onerous captcha and sophisticated I.P.tracking they finally gave up chasing after these bot developers. The MySpace pursuit logic was that these bots violated state and federal anti-spam laws as they allowed people to bypass the captcha spam safeguards and send tens of thousands of comments to its membership base. What are bots and scripts?
Bot – A software program that imitates the behavior of a human, as by querying search engines or participating in chatroom or IRC discussions. A bot is a program that performs various computer protocols automatically without human intervention. For ex GoogleBot is a application that surfs the internet and collects all the websites for Google and saves it in a database. Email Extraction bots surf the internet and scan pages for email addresses to spam. With regards to Digg, Promote-My-Site provides bot services that allow a person to digg without being at his or her computer.
So what about Digg? What is the big deal with the external development of certain scripts and bots that do not impact the Digg servers and do not have any impact on the Digg algorithm? If you listen to DiggBoss his two external scripts fit the following criteria: They do not enable spamming or any other illegal activity. They do not allow faster digging. They do not remove or add Digg buttons. They do not bypass any protocols. They do nothing more than enhance the Digg community user experience. Should not these types of applications be encouraged maybe even rewarded as they are often encouraged and rewarded in the Open Source community? Why can’t Digg do likewise with API? Digg allegedly encourages the creating of these programs through its “Application Programming Interface“(API).
The Digg Application Programming Interface (API) has been created to let users and partners interact programmatically with Digg. The API returns Digg data in a form that can be easily integrated into an application or a web site. While the API is available to everyone free of charge, its use is subject to acceptance of our API License Agreement.
The API license reads as follows:
1. GRANT OF LICENSE – Subject to your (“Licensee’s”) full compliance with all of the terms and conditions of this API Agreement (“Agreement”), Digg, Inc. (“Digg”) grants Licensee a non-exclusive, revocable, nonsublicensable, nontransferable license to download and use the Digg application program interface and other materials provided by Digg (collectively, “APIs”) to develop, reproduce and distribute non-commercial applications that interoperate with Digg.com or any other web property owned by Digg (“Digg Applications”). Licensee may not install or use the APIs for any other purpose (including without limit any commercial purpose) without Digg’s prior written consent. For the sake of clarity, the sale of advertising on a website where a Digg Application is hosted shall not alone constitute a commercial use under this Agreement, provided that the advertising is not integrated within the Digg Application itself. Licensee shall not use the APIs in connection with or to promote any products, services, or materials that constitute, promote or are used primarily for the purpose of dealing in: spyware, adware, or other malicious programs or code….
Digg’s data is open to all under creative commons license. Digg has a systematic way of delivering its data to anyone who is interested in having a look at it as long as they agree to the terms of access. They provide API or “Application Programmers Interface” Rather than write bots a programmer can legally view data that is made available by Digg. The data is read only in nature i.e. you can only view the data, you cannot submit back, edit or delete the data using APIs.
Former Digg power user “DiggBoss”, real name David, used the API program to create two very useful Digg add-on applications that became extremely popular with the Digg community. He was banned from the site when his applications became known to Digg. They had become more popular than the ones Digg had developed to enhance the user experience.
The two DiggBoss scripts made use of the API to check if your Digg friends were digging your submissions by making API queries to the digg server. The script would display the result such as 10 / 15 against the friend’s user name. The would mean the friend had dugg 10 of your last 15 submissions. A very useful feature and a feature one would think would interest Digg. They have a much more basic feature that is extremely cumbersome and time consuming to use. There was also a feature that allegedly reduced shout spam. The feature was called “Shout To Friends Not Dugg”. This feature allowed a user to shout only to friends who had not previously dugg a story. There is certainly an argument that this did not reduce shout spam at all. A person may not have dugg a story because he/she did not want to. When that person got a re-shout it would be considered spam. The script worked by sending a query to the Digg API server to find out friends who had already dugg and select the friends that had not this way reducing multiple shouts.
It was not possible for Digg to determine who was using the “who dugg” or shout management feature. The script made calls to the free Google server where the application was installed and from the Google server to Digg API server. The user computer with the script made the call to free Google server from Google server to Digg API sever and then back. The user was was never exposed to Digg server. The Digg APIs do not require any authentication i.e. passwords to operate. If David’s script had stayed under the radar, he may never have been discovered. All Digg API data is open creative commons free for everyone. It did not incorporate any of the “Easy-Digg” buttons or bypasses used in the scripts that allegedly resulted in his ban from Digg as well as over 100 other “power diggers”.
In March 2008 David did update the “Digg Friends Easy” script. He was then warned by Digg that such scripts were prohibited. He was asked to remove the script immediately. He was asked not to promote the script. He immediately removed it from the server. What was left was the “who dugg” application and the shout management application. The “Digg Friend Easy” scripts themselves were not developed by David and are widely available on the web. The most popular one can be found at http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/12708. This script that adds “Diggit” or “Digg This” button on pages where Digg has not provided for them. This script has been on the internet as open source code since Oct 2, 2007.
In the end it appears getting rid of David was more about protecting the Digg business model and less about evil “Darth Vadar” scripts. The “Who Dugg” and shout management scripts did not even access the Digg primary servers. In addition Digg has recently released its own Firefox add-on touted by Kevin Rose on the Digg Blog. The Diggboss script was a much better developed and more popular form of competition. Maybe they were in no mood for dealing with someone who had developed a better product showing up their developers. This seems strange since the the license agreement gave them ownership of the Diggboss program. The API license contains the following language:
“Digg shall own all right, title and interest relating to any and all inventions, works of authorship, designs, know-how, ideas and information made or conceived or reduced to practice, in while or in part, using the APIs. Licensee hereby agrees to make all assignments necessary to accomplish the foregoing ownership.”
Digg may have taken a lesson from the MySpace bot market and feared that David would market the program to his own benefit. Once the script was out in the open, it could be refined, improved upon and mutate into a Godzilla like creature devouring Digg profits with each digg. The problem there is that is that the program needs their API server to function. You would think Digg could simply shut down the API server to anyone trying to attempt the same thing?
In the end petty turf internal politics and turf wars won out over a better Digg experience. Better to boot David for whatever reason or no reason at all. They can take his development for later use as their own when he is long forgtten. Even if it was simply a knee-jerk reaction to the use of the clearly illegal scripts it shows once again that the Digg model is becoming less and less about user experience or community satisfication. It is all about bucks. That is assuming Digg can ever be monetized to the extent anyone wants to give them bucks. Google sure didnt.
WHY ARE COMMENTS CLOSED?
Comments are closed because all anybody seems to want to talk about is how I write about Digg because I am a Bitter Banned Digger or about the two”Easy-Digg” Scripts that got people banned. This blog is about neither. It is about two Diggboss API add-ons that have nothing to do with those two scripts. It is about whether they should be allowed as user-enhancement add-ons. If nobody wants to talk about that there is no point in opening comments. If anyone does want to talk about that please email me and I wll post your comments.