Digg worked in a very simple way – users could submit links to articles, videos, pictures, and other interesting web content. Users could “digg” the story (equivalent to liking it) or “bury” the story (equivalent to down-voting). Popular stories would be featured more prominently on the main homepage; unpopular content would go nowhere. Many publishers added “digg” buttons to their pages, allowing users to vote as they browse the web. The end product was a series of wide-ranging, constantly-updated lists of popular and trending content from around the Internet, aggregated by a social network.
Digg recently was sold off in three parts – the Digg brand, website and technology were sold to Betaworks for $500,000; 15 staff were transferred to the Washington Post’s SocialCode for $12 million; and a suite of patents were sold to LinkedIn for around $4 million. How did a company like Digg fall from such grace? Here’s some of the key reasons why.
- All-or-Nothing Redesign – All data points to the release of version 4 of Digg as the tipping point of the sinking ship. The new version of the site launched for all users on August 25th, 2010 – with minimal beta testing or tiered rollout, all users complained about bugs, missing features, and general confusion. The user base planned a protest and quit en masse, causing the traffic to drop significantly.
- Underestimating Competetion – Reddit launched around the same time as Digg, but separated itself in many ways. Their biggest advantage was offering an open source platform that developers could use to create their own sub-categories within the site. This freedom allowed more niche-specific content and discussion to be curated by the users themselves, which lead to more brand loyalty. Other important differences included a paid level of service (Reddit Gold), and adoption by key demographic influencers (like Stephen Colbert). Reddit became a beacon to ex-digg users, and the data correlates between digg’s decline and reddit’s surge in popularity.
- Attraction to Spammers – New features in the infamous v4 redesign were clear signals to content spammers that the floodgates were open. Users could automate the submission process through RSS feeds, leading to massive amounts of low-quality and duplicate content. The emergence of services offering to sell “diggs” for a fee reached critical mass. Less and less content that defined the Digg community was reaching the front page, and the users knew it.
- Departure of Founders – Digg always had an amazing roster of talent as part of their staff. Through Digg Labs, new and interesting concepts were always being created and tested, and receiving praise throughout the tech industry. When co-founders Jay Adelson and Kevin Rose both stepped down from Digg in 2010, it was a clear sign to the talent that they would need to make power moves, and take their pet projects to higher levels.