Digg is Dead. Long Live the Digg.

The pursuit for the all mighty dollar has led many down a frustrating, windey road; fraught with pitfall and exhilaration and often times, compromise.

Success can be elusive, especially for two similar sites
Success can be elusive, especially for two similar sites

Such is the case with Digg. When its recent iteration of its website hits the internet it will be quickly be known as what it is – another Twitter, NetNewsWire, or Google/RSS Reader – unfortunate for Digg investors and fans, it is too little, too late. Kevin Rose never found a way to monetize the site, and now at the pressuring of investors has sold out.

I say this as an avid, enthusiastic user of Digg. Check my stats here. I spend a lot of time on Digg: reading stories submitted by friends and others, commenting [poorly] on stories where appropriate, and submitting stories that I enjoy and feel are of value.

Some of the stories that I have submitted have gone to the front page. Which is the ‘Holy Grail’ for articles submitted to Digg. Getting visibility for a small blog those that are national publishers [i.e. CNN, Yahoo, YouTube] is a difficult task. Going to the front page has [soon, had] the potential of generating thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of hits.

For the past years Digg rose to prominence as it gave “small” blogs a chance at a wider audience. Often the posts that made it to the front page of the Digg site were quirky, funny, odd and political – articles that would not be seen any place else.

Problems Arose

Two problems arose as the Digg community coalesced and started spreading content across the internet. These ‘problems’ were embedded in the Digg culture and algorithm and become ‘accepted’ behavior for the site and set it out from other social media and news aggregate sites. For better or worse these tactics helped propel Digg to being the most widely known media news site.

1. The rise of social media decreased traffic forcing investors to panic.

For too long, Digg ran with their head in the sand
For too long, Digg ran with their head in the sand

According to The Guardian from a article [interestingly] entitled Digg to Users: Don’t Leave, v4 is Here:

After ticking along at about 37 million and as many as 44 million unique visitors for the past year or so, user numbers dropped off a cliff – from 38 million in March to 24.7 million in April – a 35% drop, and below the 26 million it was claiming back in June 2008, the paper said. [see more detailed chart here]

Previously, the model was about monetizing the existing traffic. When the dip occurred investors, who previously had not been a part of the model, panicked. Here is a brief look at the finance history – coincidentally, the larger monies have come later, when the most radical changes to the site occurred:

Digg received $2.8M in Series A funding. (10/1/05)
Posted 7/3/07 at 8:56pm via ecnext.com
Digg received $8.5M in Series B funding. (12/1/06)
Posted 7/3/07 at 8:52pm via marketingvox.com
Digg received $28.7M in Series C funding. (9/24/08)
Posted 9/24/08 at 10:17am via techcrunch.com
Further, there were changes in management with Kevin Rose coming back in April and their employees going through a 10% staff reduction in early May.
Let me see here: staff reductions, increased outside financing = someone looking at the bottom line, rather than user experience and value.

2. The potential for so many hits led to many learning how to ‘game the system’ so that their submissions would be ‘guaranteed’ a shot at front page glory.

This is the primary counter-point to the Digg community – that the power of the few out number the power of the masses. So, as good as it was, changes needed to be done as the rise of Twitter and Facebook as news sources and sharing usurped their clout.

It appears as though Digg is taking the demise in users, the increased importance on social media AND the problem with power users and attempting to solve all these problems at once.

I’m not sold, and here is why.

My Five Points Against the New Digg

1. I already have a Twitter account and RSS Feeder, I don’t need another.

The is what you get with Twitter, do you need more on Digg?
The is what you get with Twitter, do you need more on Digg?

The new Digg offer users, new or old, the opportunity to ‘follow’ major publishers and key individuals and companies within certain categories – sound Twitter-ish? Yep.

Plus they are allowing these publishers to RSS their stories. Are publishers going to blast everything? Cull through their trending materials and send those to Digg?

I’ve spent countless hours following and unfollowing people on Twitter. I’ve tested some out. Liked them and they stayed. I tried some out and hated them. So I unfollowed them. I have time invested in my Twitter following and I like them.

As a result I have niche people within niche industries who provide me the information and news that I need, typically in advance of traditional news sources.

Which leads me to a problem with Digg – it is not real time. Though I predict in the future it will be more akin to Twitter and Facebook updates. Right now it takes time for a story to ‘pop’ and to become noticed. When publishers are allowed to RSS their stories, it can become overwhelming in the sea of stories.

2. I don’t care what my Digg friends have Dugg, I care about what they have submitted.

Graph depicting the difference topics chosen between bloggers and publishers
Graph depicting the difference topics chosen between bloggers and publishers

I trust my mutual friends on Digg to find the best and most interesting stuff on the web. They know what works on Digg and what doesn’t. They help to control the community by keeping spam off the front page, and submitting cutting-edge humor, political, celebrity and tech stories. I learn something new each and every day from the subs I read.

The new Digg interface allows for customization and personalization of the information but it places too little on the submissions from my friends and more on what they recently ‘dugg’ or what is the most popular of the recently ‘dugg’.

3. The traffic isn’t there and I don’t think this version will correct the downward trends.

I use social media to drive hits to my sites. I believe I put up quality content, and I’m willing to have the masses comment/vote as to whether it is worthy or not.

These new changes don’t allow my small blogs to compete against the monster publishing houses. I’ll put up the fight, but I think it mostly comes down to using Digg like another Twitter account.

4. It ignores small bloggers and gives power to the publishers.

Having the largest and most powerful publishers being the most recommended places inherent value on their content over what others may submit. Right off the bat, they have the most followers, based on brand equity.

Further, what will be the algorithm for submissions to make it to the new front page called ‘Top News’. I may eat my words here, but based on what I perceive it disproportionately favors publishers over the smaller, niche blogs.

I think that Digg will have to evolve to have the similar social buttons as Twitter and Facebook – as in, come join my Digg community!

5. Product should be a dictatorship. Not consensus driven.

There are casualties. Hurt feelings. Angry users. But all of those things are necessary if you’re going to create something unique. The iPhone is clearly a vision of a single core team, or maybe even one man. It happened to be a good dream, and that device now dominates mobile culture. But it’s extremely unlikely Apple would have ever built it if they conducted lots of focus groups and customer outreach first. No keyboard? Please.

Digg is sort of on the opposite end of the spectrum The company has been standing still now for years as Facebook, Twitter and others have run laps around it. But the company is famous for listening to its hard core fanatical users. In 2007, for example, Kevin Rose surrendered to a mob of Digg users who were upset that Digg was blocking stories publishing the decryption key for HD DVDs. He wrote:

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.

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