Mike Isaac

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Digg’s “Blank Slate” Approach Could Hinder Its Journey Back to Relevance

Once the darling of Web 2.0 enthusiasts the world around, social news aggregation site Digg fell from grace over the past three years.

The final death rattle of the Digg we once knew sounded last month, when tech development firm Betaworks purchased the site for a price much lower than the $160 million dollar valuation the company once heralded.

Betaworks’ plan: Rebuild Digg “as a start-up: Low budget, small team, fast cycles.” That included a complete redesign, which launched earlier this month, in hopes that a fresh start will give the site a new lease on Web life.

Though noble in its aim, Betaworks’ first efforts may have crippled the new Digg before it has a chance to leave the starting line.

In order to remedy many of the costly issues that the former Digg team suffered, Betaworks shuttled a number of features once prominent in Digg’s past iterations; the commenting system has been nuked completely, and all of the past articles and activities shared by past users have been wiped clean from the site.

The upside is, we’re left with a clean design and some nifty new sharing features that sync between mobile and desktop devices. The larger issue at hand, however, is that Digg’s existing user base — however dwindling and meager it was — is left with no virtual footprint on the site whatever. Profile history, submissions, comments — all gone from the new Digg.

Philosophically, this cuts to the heart of what a social, community-based sharing site needs in order to thrive. Digg is essentially only as successful as the volume and quality of content that is shared by its users; users who want to talk with each other about the items they’ve submitted, to riff on and build off of each new link in the network. This concept of community building has been crucial to competitor sites like Reddit — which is currently flourishing, trafficwise, with more than two billion pageviews served in the month of December 20122011 alone — which still retains all of the items that the new Digg now lacks.

Take a look at the latest stats from online ad network and data analytics firm Chitika, which show a drastic drop in traffic shortly after July 30, the day Betaworks launched the new version of Digg. Chitika measured hundreds of millions of ad impressions across the Web to determine referral rates from Digg and a handful of its competitors. The chart below relays that information as an index, with the highest level of traffic assigned the value “1.”

As you can see, Digg’s brief spike came in the wee hours between July 31 and Aug. 1, then went on to plummet and not return for the remainder of the week. That’s rough, especially in the early days of a highly publicized redesign, when Digg should be getting the initial traffic that it needs to foster the growth of its shattered community.

Compare it to the traffic index of competitors like Reddit and StumbleUpon, and Digg has a heck of a lot of ground to make up:

Now to be fair, Betaworks says it still has that old trove of user data, and wants to make it available for the old Digg’s patrons to access. “We believe that users own the data they create,” the company says on its Web site. It’s dubbed the Digg Archive, and the company is working on a way to unearth user data from the previous Digg infrastructure so that users can access it. By the end of this month, Betaworks aims to “open up an archive website to help users find, read, and share a history of their submissions, diggs, and comments.”

Problem is, how compelling is it to open what essentially amounts to a museum of old data from a network that truly doesn’t exist anymore? Sure, it’s nice to have access to what I did when I was an active user, but if that information has no bearing on the new site, it becomes less relevant and interesting to me. That’s a distinct disadvantage against a site like Reddit, which relies on a “karma” system, with points distributed amongst users based on their link and comment-submission history. It’s what makes some users stand out among others, and what keeps many coming back to the site regularly.

Will Digg’s new approach find legs over time? There’s no telling, but in a time where Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are far into their maturity, the new Digg sure has its work cut out for it.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik