An Internet Tastemaker Diggs Himself a Hole

Digg.com

Top users of Digg.com can make hundreds of thousands of dollars as consultants, says reporter Marshall Kirkpatrick. hide caption

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Andrew Scorcini, known to millions as MrBabyMan, has made a name for himself with his unrivaled skill at posting stories on a fiercely democratic Web portal. But recently — and even on his beloved portal, Digg.com — the name MrBabyMan has been the target, rather than the generator, of a Web firestorm.

Some have harsh words for MrBabyMan because, they say, he steals other people's ideas. Others say worse, that he's taking money to push the stories he picks. But one writer says that behind the best Digger of all time — a Disney animator who lives in Los Angeles — is really just smarts and a lot of hard work.

"MrBabyMan is an editorial genius," says Marshall Kirkpatrick, a lead writer for ReadWriteWeb, a blog for tech news, reviews and analysis. "People are definitely jealous."

How Digg Is Supposed to Work

Digg is one of a crop of new sites where users log in to nominate and vote on cool stories and blog posts from all over the Internet. If Digg users "digg" a story, the piece shoots up the charts. The results can be powerful: The most popular of the so-called Diggs are read by tens of millions of people.

Kirkpatrick says the articles, blog posts and other postings about MrBabyMan include some serious allegations. Serious, that is, for those who take the democratic purity of a site like Digg.com very seriously.

Thing is, Digg.com is designed to thwart impure actors attempting to game the system; engineers there are constantly changing the site's algorithms to keep the voting sharp and the crop of nominators fresh. As a result, Kirkpatrick says, it has become increasing difficult for top users to succeed.

Difficult, that is, except for MrBabyMan. "He continues to win," Kirkpatrick says.

Why People Are Mad at MrBabyMan

One simple complaint about Scorcini is that he snags stories other people have already submitted and resubmits them. But Kirkpatrick says his defenders say Scorcini's just taking good stories and using smarter, better language to share them with as many people as possible.

Could Scorcini simply be young and good at heart? Passions grow more inflamed the deeper you dig, Kirkpatrick says, because there is money at stake.

"A substantial number of top Digg users are making between one and three hundred thousand dollars," Kirkpatrick says.

To be clear, however, Kirkpatrick says that Digg.com issues no checks to posters. Those dollars are coming from consulting fees, because businesses eager to cash in on the Internet seek out top Digg posters and pay them handsomely for advice on how to blog better, how to present stories so they get Dug and more. "It's their success on Digg that is the crown jewel on their resume."

In MrBabyMan's Defense

Kirkpatrick says Scorcini is no such consultant. But even if Scorcini is not earning big bucks posting stories, he's continuing to earn attention because he remains such an incredibly visible person on the site despite Digg's efforts to mix things up, Kirkpatrick says. "That's just asking for unhappy users to give you a hard time," he says.

Kirkpatrick says he found no reason to justify any of the charges against Scorcini. "My investigation points to him being a good-faith actor," Kirkpatrick says. "He's just really, really good at what he does."

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