How Digg Became Unsocial: A Potential History of How It Happened

Posted by Michael Pinto on Aug 26, 2010 in Tech |

reddit vs digg

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After many years of joy today was a sad day for me: My ranking as a power user on the website Digg has killed. I didn’t do too badly as I was in the top 300 — although since the elimination of shouts on the site I found my interest in Digg going down hill. And today the nail in my coffin was the launch of version 4 of the formaly social news website. Many power users have now been given a online version of a fatal dose of Kryptonite, so for my own sake I’ve attempted to reverse engineer why Digg ditched their community once and for all:

2004: Digg comes out and it’s mostly aimed at nerds, i.e. it’s a slashdot killer. Thanks to a plug on The Screen Savers TV show the site gains a huge audience overnight.

2006: Digg is adding features like mad and it’s the high point of the web 2.0 boom. If Digg was going to be sold to a Google or a Yahoo! this would have been the best time to have done it.

2007: Hackers post and Digg then bans a HD-DVD encyption key. There is a riot on site and the users post the key inalmost every story submitted, Digg caves in and allows the key to be published. As Digg got popular they started to get a spam problem, but the users would always try to police the site: But on May 1st the encyption key put the users and the management of Digg on different sides.

2008: Election mania is at a fever pitch — the site is no longer just tech, and thanks to the election it’s getting a great deal of traffic. However the community is no longer monolitic as various non-techies have moved in to promote their blog or point of view with the site. While the traffic is good I suspect that the management of Digg didn’t like the contentious aspects of the audience as it may have not been too advertiser friendly: It’s hard to get Fortune 500 ads when your content is not very mainstream media focused. This was also the year that Digg got a $28 million dollar investment which raised the stakes.

2009: Digg kills shouts: This was the first step to removing the social media aspect of what was a social news site. Also with the recession in full swing Digg needs to focus on profit and a loud community will just get in the way. It’s during this time that they launched Digg Ads.

2010: Version 4 of the site is launched and “power users” have been eliminated for good: Individuals can no longer submit a story and get credit for it. So the core user base of coolhunters is eliminated and in their place Digg creates a suggested user list which is based on Twitter. This list is made up of mainstream publishers whose content will always be adveriser friendly. For Digg this is a win/win: Mainstream publishers can embrace the site without needing the permission of power users while advertisers no longer had to fear offencive content.

By the fact that Kevin Rose is bringing in a new CEO signals to me that he is dead serious about selling the company. And frankly if you look at what happened to Friendfeed there’s still a good argument that a company like Twitter or Facebook might grab the site — and if not that it would be the perfect property for an old school media company to buy. But to do that the site needs to be cleaned up and made friendly, and that’s what Version 4 is about.

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