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Digg's Great Geek Revolt: When Huge, Rich, and "Powerful" Can't Win

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It's official. "The Man" cannot win. Throw millions, or better yet, billions of dollars at the problem and it will matter not. Send the Revere-ian email to every lawyer within reach of his Blackberry and watch futility define itself. Attack as He may, the Geeks will outsmart the Man and the Geeks will win.

You can almost see the movie montage playing out...

Dramatic music cues; a hot shot lawyer straightens his red tie before buttoning his suit, perfecting the part in his hair, and marching boldly into the court room. Conversely; a skinny huddled figure, face illuminated by the din of a computer screen in an otherwise black room, pushes up his glasses, slurps from the soda next to his keyboard, cracks his knuckles, and begins typing at breakneck speed. The lawyer and judge wait for a defendant who never shows. The traditional icons of power order a legal injunction and pound the gavel, but the Geek - the heroic protagonist - only keeps on typing. The camera cuts to a thousand other figures just like him joining the fray.

Earlier this month, a similar (not quite as dramatic) scenario played out in what is a pivotal point in the centuries-old battle between The Man and the men...err...umm...the persons. The battle started when Digg.com (one of the most innovative user-generated/voted-content websites on the planet) users voted a story which included the new HD-DVD decryption key to the top of the Digg homepage - effectively exposing to the world the necessary code to pirate new HD-DVDs. When the company representing 230 HD-DVD video producers issued a cease and desist order, Digg complied by censoring or deleting any articles with mention of the key, and banning the users who posted the articles. Thousands of Geeks revolted by continuing to post and vote; ultimately overwhelming the system. Digg relented and resumed the allowance of the articles.

Many of the blog posts and articles about the events thus far have focused on Digg and its response. They use headline phrases such as "Digg brought to its knees." Others have focused on the user generated "backfire" that temporarily handcuffed the website/company. I don't think that's the story here. Digg lives on and Kevin Rose has lost only a handful of his adoring fans. For people like me, he actually became even more admirable when he posted his 'come what may' reply to the impending legal battalions. Furthermore, the whole incident has essentially elevated the traffic and notoriety of Digg beyond its typical daily users. I had visited Digg one time in the year before all of this, yet here I am writing about it after also making it a favorite on my web browser.

And here's the main thing: I am most decidedly a dork, but I'm not a Geek. I'm not cool enough. I majored in psychology not computer science. Because I'm not a Geek (just like the majority of the population) - because my social and online networks don't overlap this kind of information - it should never have been brought to my attention that there is net battle over a decryption key. I don't own an HD-DVD player and hardly knew (and suspect most of the people reading this did not know) what a decryption key was prior to last week. Now, because an outsider/non-Geek like me knows, it is clear what the big picture story of the Digg revolt really is: the multinational corporations who make/sell/promote HD-DVDs are screwed on this one. There is no positive outcome for them.

The MNC's have already lost because someone like me not only knows about it but cares about it. The decryption code can now be painted on building walls, posted on store front marquees, written in countless blogs, and I can even join a Facebook group with the decryption key as the group name. Or for that matter, I can type a meaningless alphanumeric chain like 09-F9-11-02-9D-74-E3-5B-D8-41-56-C5-63-56-88-C0 right here on my own blog. No matter how many legal and financial resources are devoted by the HD-DVD group to keeping the key under wraps or punishing websites like Digg, it's too late. In fact, any action the companies take at this point will only bring more attention to the key. Consequently, more people like me who shouldn't know about it, will. Even if litigation did somehow end up taking down Digg, 10 more sites copying Digg's model would simply spring up in its wake, and inevitably one or two would become the standards with traffic and content comparable to what Digg currently has. Remember Napster? Take a guess whether unauthorized music and video file sharing has increased or decreased since its shutdown.

We've reached a point in history when The Man, for all His wealth and supposed power simply can't win these battles anymore. The Geeks and those who rely on them (which, by the way, is anyone reading this) will prevail if they so choose.

Thinking about it another way, the Digg/HD-DVD scenario would, hypothetically, almost be similar to a large, wealthy superpower nation with a half-trillion dollar annual military budget and a force built to take on another superpower trying to engage and take down a global, country-less, decentralized insurgency. Hypothetically.

One can almost see the movie montage playing out...

Men in perfectly pressed desert fatigues with names like "Franks" or "Petraeus" alongside red tie, power-suit wearing - or maybe even flight suit wearing? - men with names like...oh, I don't know...Wolfowitz, Cheney or Bush getting into their M1 Abrams tanks, Humvees, and EA-6s before swaggering into a Middle Eastern city. Conversely; a heavily bearded man - face illuminated by the sun beams through the windows of a nondescript, sand-swept desert mosque - prays alongside many others, stands solemnly, refits his ghutra snuggly to his head, and straps a C-4 filled vest to his chest. The suit-clad Men fly a banner declaring "Mission Accomplished." The camera cuts to the bearded man walking into a crowded market...and then to thousands of other bomb-vested men just like him.

Nahh... surely the Man would know He can't win something like that...