According to SEO Todd Mailcoat, getting three stories to the homepage of Digg puts you in the top 1% of Digg users, and it takes “months” to build up a what Todd calls a “reputable” Digg account. Those statistics struck me as stunning, so I decided to dig into Digg’s top user data (which loads painfully slow, as if Digg want to discourage people from digging around.)

It turns out that only the top 2,457 Digg users have gotten 3 or more stories to the homepage, putting them in the top 0.35% of Digg’s 707,593 registered users. And only the top 1,662 Digg users have gotten 4 or more stories to the homepage, putting them in the top 0.23%. Even more telling is what you get if you graph even just the top 250 Digg users — can you guess? Of course, it’s a long tail:

Digg's Long Tail

So let’s see, being successful on Digg is hard work and only a small fraction of those who try ever succeed — remind me again what the difference is between New Media and Old Media? Wasn’t it supposed to be the end of all that awful “elitism”? Or could it be that all the old rules still apply, i.e. if you work hard, your chances of success are much higher although far from guaranteed, and most people will be inclined to just go along for the ride.

The “community” doesn’t determine what goes on the home page of Digg — it’s a handful of de facto “professionals” (who don’t get paid, but that horse has been beat pretty hard already). Sure, they leverage their network of “friends,” but then getting ahead has always been about who you know, right?

If I set up a Digg account today, I’d have about as much influence over what appears on the homepage of Digg as what appears on the front page of the New York Times — which is as it should be. I am no more qualified to judge what’s newsworthy for the home page of Digg than for the front page of the Times.

If Digg has revolutionized anything, it has been by allowing handful of people who might never have considered being professional editors to “edit” the Web for their peers (or maybe the top Diggers were all aspiring editors). But they achieved their Digg success not through any egalitarian, democratic entitlement — they got there by my making a commitment to do a good job, work hard, abide by standards, and serve their community. They earned the privilege.

You could argue that Digg’s long tail is also a revolution — but then it was always possible to get a letter to the editor published in the newspaper without actually being the editor of the front page.