It seems like the software isn't very good at determining the difference between a "voting ring", and a small-ish subcommunity that's interested in a specific technology niche.
I'd be surprised if I wasn't one of these alleged puppets. Of course I'm more likely to vote up something that someone mentions to me in IM, because I have to see it before clicking the button.
I can see how this looks like sock puppets. You've got a few dozen users that always upvote the same articles from a few dozen other users, and are much less likely to upvote other articles. I'm not sure the best way to know that we're all humans. If there were fewer people using/excited about/writing about ruby on rails, then the behavior would appear very similar, I suspect.
The term "gaming" is really vague. It's not at all clear how "this is something interesting that I'd like to share and discuss" is much different from "this is something that I'd like to get people to look at." It seems to me like the ultimate purpose of a site like this is to be gamed in a particular way by a particular population.
Great point. It'd be interesting to be transparent about rings of people who frequently upvote on the same post. I'm sure they have that info. It might actually be interesting and open up some level of transparency -- whether among the YC companies (and the ability of their job posts to somehow make it to the top) or among other subsets of the coding community like node.js I have nothing against YC companies; I'm friends with lots. I have nothing against promoting a link you post on HN.