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Digg is a social news website where users can submit links and vote on stories submitted by others, which brings the top voted submissions with most “diggs” to the top of the homepage. One of the early adopters of news aggregation model in online publishing, Digg’s voting and submission system went onto inspire many other similar sites, most notably Reddit.
Digg was developed in November 2004 by American entrepreneurs Kevin Rose, Jay Adelson, Owen Byrne and Ron Gorodetzky. The name “Diggnation” was initially suggested but Rose settled on the name “Digg” after he unsuccessfully attempted to purchase the domain names dig.com and digdig.com. After Rose invested $6,000 into the site that was meant to be a down payment on a house, the site launched on December 5th, free of advertisements. The initial goal of Digg was to focus on news stories rather than of sharing bookmarks for static sites people would visit regularly.
Since its launch in October 2004, Digg has undergone numerous redesigns. In May 2005, Digg 2.0, featuring friends, one-click voting buttons and non-linear promotion algorithm, was implemented. In January 2006, Digg 3.0, featuring expanded categories beyond its tech-related news section, was unveiled. In August 2007, Digg introduced another redesign to the homepage and profile features.
Development of Digg v4
As early as 2009, Rose said that "it’s time for Digg to get a little bit more real-time in nature". He hinted that Digg was working on what he considered as "the biggest overhaul to how everything works behind the scenes", and he expected it to be completed "some time in the next six months". However, the launch date was pushed back to as far as late April 2010.
On March 9, 2010, John Quinn, VP of Engineering, announced on the digg blog that they are "rolling out a new client and server architecture". According to him, the most significant infrastructure change is abandoning MySQL in favor of Cassandra, an alternative NoSQL database management system. He cited "the increasing difficulty of building a high performance, write intensive, application on a data set that is growing quickly" as the cause of the change.
On April 5, Rose returned to his post as the CEO, replacing Adelson, who has been CEO since the beginning. Despite Adelson wanting a quick launch, Rose opted for further testing and set the launch date two months further. On May 28, a list of new features was released, as well as previews of the new interface.
On August 25, 2010, Rose personally announced the launch of Digg v4 on the official Digg blog. Its launch was marked with a two-hour downtime, increased latency and periodic errors when connecting to Facebook. The downtime also led to the introduction of the "Fail Ox" error message that shows up when the site becomes inaccessible.
Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore, through his weekly column on CNN, spoke in favor of the new version and declared that Digg "might be on to a winner". Further, he said that "it's in the company's [Digg's] interests to cater to this group [publishers]" because they "are able to generate significant traffic for Digg by using the site's widgets and buttons". Despite Cashmore's statement, a poll conducted by Mashable among 24,821 respondents indicated that 83.22% preferred the old Digg, compared to 7.62% in support of the new Digg.
Power users like Muhammad Saleem and Andrew "MrBabyMan" Sorcini felt excluded from the feedback process and complained about the changes. Although they have acknowledged that the site loads faster than before, they noted that the focus was shifted to mainstream publishers at the expense of smaller publishers. They also disliked the new design and the loss of features like the time stamp on previously-submitted links and the "bury" button. Sorcini, in particular, warned, "…If they launched this version of Digg, the regular usership would abandon the site." Rose responded through his personal blog on the issues raised by the power users:
- Mainstream outlets and power users have been given more power over the front page.
All diggs are still equal, nothing has changed there. Our directory of recommended users will eventually open to the entire world. We will sort users, not on popularity (followers), but based on how good you are at finding/digging content (similar to wefollow.com). This will remove the popularity contest and put the focus on quality diggers.
- Timestamps have been removed. This is a bug, hope to have this fixed soon.
- The bury button is gone. By removing the bury button we have put a stop to the bury brigades. The "hide" button next to every story also acts as a "report" button, if enough people hide a story a site moderator is notified and we review it for TOS violations.
A later analysis by power user JD "0boy" Rucker revealed that Digg's front page was dominated by 6 publishers and Leo Laporte for the past 3 days, which, according to Rose, resulted from "the users' diggs."
Quit Digg Day
On August 30, 2010, Digg's users staged a revolt that was soon called as "Quit Digg Day", where they began to vote up all links that are automatically submitted by Reddit through RSS, causing the Digg front page (shown above) to be dominated by links to Reddit. On that day, according to Reddit, they gained almost 9000 new users and 250,000 visits from Digg (which contributed to 1/7th of their traffic). In response, Reddit changed its logo to resemble Digg's (as shown below) and immediately released an announcement for new users.
Comments from competitors
Soon after Digg released previews of its new version, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian posted on his personal blog an open letter to Rose, where he speculated that "this new version of digg reeks of VC meddling", and that it is "cobbling together features from more popular sites and departing from the core of digg," which, as he quotes Rose's statement from Digg's debut in 2004, "give the power back to the people."
On August 31, 2010, Fark founder Drew Curtis commented:
They just scrapped their existing site, replaced it with a new one, and told everyone it was Digg. That's what everyone's angry about: it's not Digg, and they really resent being repeatedly told that it is.
On August 28, 2010, comic artist "nComment" published an allegorical comic (above) entitled "Repaired is Broken" that compared Digg to a soda machine. The old Digg was portrayed as a "broken soda machine" that "often ate your change" but "would sometimes spit coins back along with free soda", while the repairs represented the changes between the old and the new Digg. In the end, nComment, still using the soda machine analogy, dismissed Digg as "just another soda machine and no one really liked the soda anyway". Sorcini later posted a link to the comic at Reddit and got 644 votes (68% positive) before being archived.
On October 6, 2010, Randall Munroe released his 802nd xkcd comic, entitled "Online Communities 2", as an update to his previous map of online communities. A portion of the map (above) shows lifeboats from Digg approaching Reddit.
Shortly after the launch of Digg v4, Digg's staff was reorganized. Rose chose Matt Williams of Amazon to take over his position as CEO after two months of searching for a replacement, allowing him to return to his previous role as Chief Architect. Meanwhile, Quinn, the main proponent of Digg's adoption of the Cassandra database management system, was fired.
On October 2010, Williams announced that Digg has laid off 25 of its 67 employees (among them Chas Edwards, Digg's Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer) and hinted on "a new strategy for Digg".
Decline in traffic
According to data from Google Trends (above), Digg's relaunch caused a brief boost in search queries for the site. However, it also caused an even bigger boost on the amount of search queries for Reddit. Two weeks later, the search queries for Reddit have outnumbered the search queries for Digg.
Similar trends have been reflected on data gathered by Alexa, Quantcast, Compete and StatCounter. Also, Alan "MrGrim" Schaaf, creator of Imgur, reported during an IAMA session that Digg went down from being the second most active referrer to Imgur (just after Reddit) to either fourth or fifth.
On July 12, 2012, it was reported that Digg sold its assets for $500,000 to the New York City-based tech firm Betaworks, which owns bit.ly, news.me, Chartbeat and a number of other online services and products. Many tech business news articles about the acquisition described the deal as less than ideal for the pioneer of social news aggregation, especially in comparison to BusinessWeek magazine’s valuation of $200 million in 2006 and the $45 million funding it has raised since its launch in 2004.
Differing explanations have been raised for Digg's downfall. CNet, citing the rise of Twitter, Google, and Facebook, declared Digg to be dead as early as 2009. However, one Forbes blog post attributed Digg's fate to the migration of its users to Reddit, and another viewed it as suicide.
Rose, in an AMA interview at Reddit, admitted that the site's traffic was already in decline before the launch of Digg v4 yet identified it as "the catalyst that caused a major decline". Further, he said that "[they] should have focused on [their] existing community and not tried to be someone else (Twitter, Facebook)."
Digg Blog – Digg4 is Alpha. Really Alpha. Don't worry, we got this. (Archived from now-lost original)
Owen Bryne's YouTube channel – Kevin Rose shows off digg.com on The Screen Savers
Huffington Post – Angry Users SLAM Digg With Links From Rival Reddit
Reddit Announcement – reddit 101, or: click this if you're new around here! [updated]