Something extremely weird is going on over on Digg.com. Today for the third time in a short period, a story got promoted to the front page where a blogger raises a baseless rumour about Google buying Sun. And as is explained further down, it appears that this is the result of a coordinated effort to fool Digg into promoting the story.
The blog author has no sources, zero credibility and most importantly his reasoning is completely erratic.
It all kicked off when author Daniel M. Harrison on 26 February put up a post discussing Google's stock price, and then out of the blue predicts that Google will acquire Sun Microsystems. As proof, he points out that Google CEO Eric Schmidt is a former Sun employee. Secondly Sun CEO Scott McNealy has recently "received 10 million dollars in Sun equity". The blog author fails to explain how that proves a pending sale, and leaves out the fact that McNealy cashed in his stock options and sold the stock the very same day, as SEC filings show.
On 7 March, a second posts goes up referring to a Forbes article in which a financial analyst predicted the departure of Sun CEO Scott McNealy. Google played no part whatsoever in the Forbes story, yet the blogger connected those non-existent dots.
In a third post Harrison used the fact that Sun employees read his second post to claim that there is credibility to his theory. Amazingly, the post makes it to the front page on Digg.com. Apart from the ridiculous assertion that Sun employees reading the posting is proof, the blog author makes a fool of himself when again points to McNealy recent stock transaction but now attributes it to an "anonymous source" instead of an SEC filing.
Today in a fourth post he notes that Sun stock has been up slightly, adding a mere $500m to the company's $16bn market capitalization, and again sees that as proof for his theory (as in: insiders are spending their life savings to strike it rich when the deal is announced. Except that the SEC investigates all insider trading around major mergers). He also points to the fact that a blog on the New York Times' website (which he amusingly claims is "the most authoritative source of financial information on Wall Street") picked up his posts. He conveniently leaves out the fact that the New York Times blog concludes: "according to people involved in the partnership, the speculation is unfounded — at least for now."
Regardless of the credibility question, it's very odd that all these blog posts make it to the Digg.com front page.
The first blog post never makes it to the Digg.com front page, but with 33 diggs, it gets close. The blog author also tries submitting an identical posting on his personal blog to Digg.com, but it only got 9 votes. It's also the very last story that he submits and diggs - with that account at least.
The second post does significantly better, with 312 diggs.
They found the story even when it wasn't on the Digg front page, and decided to deem it Digg worthy. Or more likely: they have teamed up to manipulate the Digg voting system and get these posts promoted to the front page. Once there, any story will receive plenty of votes. Especially if it has one of the magic four in the headline: Apple, Microsoft, Google or Linux.
Eric Olsen, it turns out, is another author on the Blogcritics.org website - so there is definitely some teaming up going on.
I can only guess about the motives of this group. Hopefully they are just trying to prove that Digg is easy to manipulate – in the worst case, they are speculating against Sun's stock price for financial gain.
UPDATE: Just spoke with Digg CEO Jay Adelson. He said that there is no indication that anything extraordinary happened with the way that these Diggs got promoted to Digg's front page. He also said that: "I don't think it's possible to game Digg because it requires such a mass of people who have been vetted through our algorithms."
UPDATE 2: Talking to more some more folks and it seems unlikely that Harrison manipulated the Digg system to get his stories promoted. But they all agree that the theoretical threat is real (contrary to what Adelson says).
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