I heartily agree that the "meta"/hive/aggregate approach is prone to all kinds of abuse, inaccuracy and other unpleasantries. Unfortunately I don't see the prevailing alternative (general mass media) doing a necessarily (or consistently) better job. There are a few good tech blogs that point out cool stuff like Digg and others do, but amusingly enough many of those writers are now citing Digg, etc. as sources. And how is this terribly different from Slashdot (where the crap-to-quality ratio is also questionable)? There are "editors" at Slashdot, but it's not like they're looking for "quality". They too are looking for what will be of greatest interest to their audience. So why not go right to the source and let the audience themselves decide directly?
Another thing to ponder in this whole consideration is "what is quality/worthwhile"? A reviewer of anything is generally only worthwhile to an individual if they know the reviewer's style and preferences. No one can truly "review" something without personal bias. So any given individual's assessment of what's interesting is only as reliable and useful as each person deems. One person's "must read daily blog!" is another person's snooze fest. Some people like the New York Times, other people think it's a trashy rag.
So how does this relate to the aggregator/"meta" sites? Well, if a reviewer is inherently biased, "the public" is inherently generalized and, in some sense at least, less "biased" as a result. With a news story's top billing being the result of a 1000 people's votes it immediately becomes interesting for that fact alone. Why are these 1000 people so interested in this thing? Does that imply everyone *should* be interested in it? No, but at the very least it's something to pay attention to for anyone interested in sociology.
And chances are if you're interested in the same topic, you'll be interested in the story too.
Anyway, do we really imagine any other news outlet really does things differently? How is it determined what will be front page or even be run at all? Groups, editors, etc. The size of the group is the main differentiator here? Or that they're "experts"? Are these people qualified to better inform us as to what is interesting? The whole idea of an expert being better at *that* than a larger group of people voting directly seems kind of illogical to me. And ultimately such editors and editorial committees answer to the readers anyway, so directly or indirectly the results are similar.
Besides, I don't think anyone is making any claims that Digg, etc. is giving you anything *but* what is popular, and in that they are succeeding admirably. If someone is interested in popular, then they know where to find it, and that's perfectly valid. Most of these sites also pare it down a bit, narrow the target from just "popular" to something popular in a given area - popular tech news for example. So if I'm interested in technology we are looking at the aggregate results of voting from other people who are also interested in technology (presumably). In theory many hands make light work, so 1000 people putting their most interesting stories of the day into a big hopper and seeing the best float to the top has genuine appeal. It seems to me it means we waste *less* time experiencing content that isn't useful or interesting. And isn't that a potentially positive thing?
So then if the results of these sites *are* of legitimate interest and use, if there really is nothing wrong with the aggregate approach to content rating (as long as you see it for what it is), then what is really at issue? It seems like it's the potential for corruption. But virtually any "system" is vulnerable to bribery, fraud, etc. A single reviewer can easily be bought out, an editorial committee can be bribed or blackmailed, a voting site can be hacked and votes can be spoofed.
Ultimately it's up to everyone to see a given "media outlet" for what it is - know its methods for collecting, categorizing, and prioritizing content - and then use it according to how useful it seems to them. This is true of any source from which you get your news. So, given that, what I'm mainly interested in with all of this is why there is a big backlash against it. Frankly I feel there are far more insidious things going on in terms of information dissemination that are worthy of our discussion and efforts to improve.
All that being said I'm not surprised to see people so bothered by this "most meta" thing. I expect the fervor will die down in a few years, both for visitors (and voters) of these sites and for critics. They'll either become a legitimate part of our culture and be accepted, warts and all (or hopefully be improved, at least to be the best at what they are intended for), or they'll fall by the wayside. Either way people will probably forget what all the hubbub was about. And perhaps that's the real danger - that people, in general, are not critical and conscious enough of their media outlets and the methods they employ; that when things like this happen they are generally forgotten about sooner or later and the potentially legitimate issues that existed are swept under the rug. The real question is whether the greatest threat is on our table now in the form of meta content sites, or if it is already well integrated into our culture...
 Ooo! P.S. Let's not forget the fact that a lot of the tendency for otherwise nice people to be a-holes online actually comes from the unfettered anonymity, not the "crowd mentality". Crowd dynamics do create similar effects sometimes, but in general those dynamics are most in effect in real life, real crowds. And again in that case perhaps it is partly the anonymity afforded by a large group of people, the difficulty of picking one person out of the crowd. So perhaps the root is the same. But I think it's important to note that it is not simple "crowd mentality" that allows for these disturbing personality switches. It's also important to note that anonymity affords many people the ability to express positive or insightful things they might not otherwise say or do. [/edit]