Digg CEO: We're Not Dead, I Promise (Yet VP Product & Engineering Is Leaving)

Published on March 21, 2011
by Liz Gannes

What will Digg look like post-Kevin Rose?

Exactly what it looks like today (well, with some future improvements), according to CEO Matt Williams, who said that Rose–who founded Digg in 2004–has only acted as an adviser since Williams replaced him as CEO six months ago. Williams disputed reports that Rose had recently resigned from Digg to start a new company, saying Rose has been gone all along.

In an interview, Williams said his team has been in “fire-fighting mode” since he joined six months ago, paying off in 20 percent more user-contributed Diggs, 20 percent more time on site and 50 percent more comments since the end of 2010.

Williams also disclosed that Digg VP of Product and Engineering Keval Desai, a major hire who had joined the company from Google in January 2010, is on the way out. Desai will be replaced by Ben Folk-Williams, who was most recently at Vast. The two are currently both working at Digg in a transitional stage.

Williams has essentially spent his tenure digging himself out of a failed product revamp that left Digg unstable and angered users. That long-delayed, and then ultimately rushed-out launch–known as V4–had also contributed to the departure of Digg’s original CEO, Jay Adelson. Digg has essentially only added back old features, listened to its users and restored stability, with no new features to speak of since Williams joined.

“There have been a lot of comments about Digg being dead or Digg being yesterday’s news and the reality is actually quite different,” Williams said. “We hit a wall six months ago but we’re still a top Web site and the user base is quite vibrant. Users love the direction we’re heading and love what we’re doing.”

Digg now intends to focus on community and personalized news products, said Williams. He said that Digg has never been profitable in the past, but it should be cash-flow positive this year, and has enough money in the bank to last “well into 2012.”

Part of what’s next could include extending Digg’s social ads product to other sites around the Web. Digg’s homemade advertising product, in which user voting changes the price of an ad, now accounts for more revenue than banner ads, said Williams.

After much turnover and multiple rounds of layoffs, Digg now employs about 40 people at its long-occupied office in the Potrero Hill district of San Francisco. The employee with the longest tenure is now community manager Dan Huard, said Williams, who has been at Digg 5.5 years.

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