Oregon Reddit: Now slightly less broken!

by Steve, May 6th, 2008

For a while now, I’ve been using Oregon Reddit, a local version of the social bookmarking site hosted by OregonLive, the sort-of Web front for that dying dinosaur of Portland media,The Oregonian.

For a while when it first started, before people really figured out what it was or even that it existed, a handful of bloggers discovered that they could get links to their blog posts on the front page of OregonLive. As originally configured, the current top link — as voted on by the then-small user community — would be posted on the front page of OregonLive.

This kind of linkage could really bump traffic. You’d be amazed the kind of traffic OregonLive gets. Traffic to this blog would typically triple when linked like this. But the visit depth would go flat, and there was no increase in comment traffic. The traffic referred by OregonLive was not the kind of traffic I’m used to, and when they did comment, they often didn’t seem to even realize they’d left the OregonLive site.

Witness the Metblogs post I wrote about how to buy a new car, where one commenter on that site says:

I just want to say Congratulations to the Oregonian!! What hypocrites!! You print an article basically outlining how car dealerships screw everyone over…Yet you’ve happliy taken millions of their dollars to run their ads. THE DEALERSHIPS SPEND MORE MONEY THAN ANYONE IN ADVERTISING TO YOUR NEWSPAPER! Not so smart biting the hand that feeds you….

It was all fun and games, and even led to some hilarious links on The Oregonian‘s putative “front page” on the Web (such that it is). I had some fun posting a link to my criticism of the paper’s weak coverage of the blog movement. Nice to see the headline “Oregonian: a Day Late and a Dollar Short” on the Oregonian’s Web site. It stayed there for a quite a while, too.

But, like all good things, this had to come to an end. There was the case of one user in particular using Oregon Reddit to pimp his client’s commercial Web site. Then came the political operatives trying to game the system to keep stories about their candidates on the front page of OregonLive.

To do this, it was a simple matter of submitting a link, having all your cronies vote it up, and voting everything else down.

A vigilant group of three to five people (or one person voting from multiple logins on multiple IP addresses) could keep a link on top for a day, easily, with the side effect that interesting links got buried quickly.

What has followed this is a general sense that pretty much everything gets voted down immediately upon submission. There have been a number of flurries of posts about how broken Oregon Reddit is, and whether some users somehow cheated the system to get higher “karma.”

Interestingly, a significant portion of the Oregon Reddit community is made up of OregonLive employees, yet most of them don’t seem to know much about how the Reddit algorithm works.

Finally, they did something that should settle things down and make the thing work a little more reasonably: they stopped putting the “top” submission on the front page of OregonLive. Now there is no motivation to vote other posts down, since having the top post doesn’t buy you the traffic from the front page anymore.

It’s still a brutal world. I submitted three links today, and lost a couple karma points. (I think I’ve pissed off most of the OregonLive staff, not to mention the guys who pimp commercial Web sites and all the politicos.)

They guy who runs Silicon Florist asked me what I think the true utility of Oregon Reddit is, which is why I started writing this post.

Reddit is social bookmarking software. It is a place where you can submit links that are of interest to you, and through collaborative filtering, find other interesting links. Everybody gets to vote on every link or comment submitted. You gain (or lose) karma based on votes on your submissions, and submitted links get more points based on up votes and rise up the “hot” list where they are presumably seen by more people.

You can configure it so that when you vote down a link, it no longer shows up in the list. This allows you to keep a list of only the links you liked or haven’t checked out yet. In the best case scenario, there would be hundreds of links submitted daily, and you could quickly filter based on your own past preferences (you can add “friends” and see all their posts in a list) or you can see what the community as a whole has liked.

The current user with top “karma” is “hawth,” who gained his seemingly insurmountable karma dominance by submitting a ton of interesting links. He stopped posting links after an OregonLive employee accused him of cheating the system (but later apologized). Since he stopped posting, things haven’t been nearly as interesting. OregonLive staff continue to post links to stories on OregonLive. Most links get voted down immediately, and links rarely get more than two or three points.

There have been some new users with a flurry of posts recently, so hopefully that combined with the removal of the front-page listing will contribute to a more friendly atmosphere at Oregon Reddit. The key to making the system work is to increase the sheer number of submitted links, and increase the number of people voting. The facts that posts rarely rise into double-digit points and that the top post often has only one or two points are clear signs of this problem.

But the recent move to take the top post off the front page is a definite step in the right direction. Things are clearly slightly less broken than before!

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