What goes online

In unclear times, even the coolest kids in school are likely to encounter a difficult decision.

In unclear times, even the coolest kids in school are likely to encounter a difficult decision.

When users at Digg promoted a Web story that contained a DVD-HD encryption hack, the administrators of the Web site was asked, by the creators of the encryption technology, to take it down.

This act surprised the community at Digg, a consumer-edited news site that became the poster company for business trades, as it was not used to the relatively nascent Web site censoring stories. More articles with the hack were submitted, only to be taken down in the same fashion.

When Digg decided to take down those stories, it surely must have anticipated some blowback. As Digg gets bigger and becomes a more established company, it will likely need to balance between user's wishes and its own safety in murky copyright waters.

Inasmuch as the "bloggers as pack mentality" meme is a bit facile and unfair, nothing provokes a fire storm quicker than a couple of social media enthusiasts feeling their digital rights were being abrogated. And, like that, Digg fell from Web 2.0 hero to another capitulating media property before non-users had even heard about it.

To operate a site like Digg, so dependent on user involvement, is to live with the fear of "Friendster," the once-popular social networking site that lost a drove of people to MySpace when it introduced new policies unappreciated by the community.

Whether Digg was mindful of this or just interested in explaining its rationale, both the CEO Jay Adelson and founder Kevin Rose took to the company's blog to communicate the company's response.

The first, by Adelson, was calm and predictable.

"We've been notified by that they believe the posting of the encryption key infringes their intellectual property rights. In order to respect these rights and to comply with the law, we have removed postings of the key that have been brought to our attention," Adelson wrote.

Rose's response must have come as a surprise to everyone, Rose included.

"But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you've made it clear. You'd rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won't delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be. If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying."

That's a response only a private company could draft. Digg, which Business Week appraised (to much derision) at $60 million, has declined overtures from other companies and denied the alluring siren call of the public market. Doing so, they're able to answer only to their users. Maybe their response wasn't so surprising, after all.

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