At Digg, There is Hope (and rightfully so)

Digg Logo

Did you notice? There seems to be a paradigm shift going on over at Digg that hearkens to the cries of users and publishers alike longing for the glory of old. It would appear that for the first time in over a year, Digg senior management is not only listening to the users, they’re acting upon what they’re hearing.

Anyone who has followed knows that I’ve been extremely critical of Digg from a few weeks before they launched V4 until very recently. Things have changed. For the first time in over 7 months, I’m strongly encouraged about Digg’s future.

Followers are also aware that I have been acutely critical of Matt Williams, the CEO who came in with a high level of promise but who we haven’t seen much of since taking over. That has changed as well and is likely the cause for the positive updates that we’ll detail below.

Does this sudden shift of opinion mean that I’m backing Digg’s actions 100%? Not yet. The skeptic in me is keeping me from jumping in feet first, but the last 3 weeks have shown clear and distinct changes in mindset, particularly in Digg’s biggest current problem: a lack of buzz.

While they aren’t harnessing their trumpets to cry forth their triumphant return to relevance, they are branching out and attempting to make the news. In the next month, we should be seeing more stories about Digg than we have in the previous three. It isn’t the good ol’ days when Jay Adelson buying a house would make a headline, but there are signs that point to Digg saying, “we’re still here, we’re still relevant, and we’re willing to fight for our user base by listening to their calls to action.”

It’s a great sign.

Changes

Digg has gotten much better at communicating their changes on the blog. We won’t rehash the recent changes too much other than to list most of them here:

  1. New design – more than just a tweak, less than a redesign – that clearly took the opinions of the users gathered since the launch of V4 into account.
  2. Multiple comments per story in the user profile view
  3. Historical number of promoted stories and percentages (plus a minor return of the top 20 users’ list)
  4. Optional on-site and email notifications when stories you submit or Digg are promoted to Top News

The two important changes are the ones that give me hope that Digg’s future is bright…

RSS Submissions are Dead. Thank You.

The biggest controversy surrounding the launch of V4 was also the primary reason that former CEOs Adelson and Kevin Rose made the shift in the first place. RSS submitting by publishers was intended to streamline the process and allow publishers to treat Digg much the same way that most treat Twitter and Facebook, bringing Digg into the crowd as one of the “big 3″ must-have social profiles for publications and celebrities.

It ended up having the exact opposite effect. By alienating and neutering their human user base, Digg effectively killed off much of the traffic that it once sent. They made it easier for publishers to submit and impossible for them to get any benefit out of submitting. It turned into a Chinese finger trap for most publishers – the more they would submit thanks to the ease of the new submission process, the less chance they had that any of these automated submissions would ever see the light of day on the Digg front page.

Many of the biggest accounts turned off their feeds and went back to the “power users” who were still able to promote quality content to the front page.

Now, the feeds are gone. Digg heard. More importantly, they listened.

How Much Traffic? This Much…

The biggest reason that Digg rose to relevance was because of the tremendous traffic that the front page sent to sites. Many would fall to the “Digg Effect” as servers would crumble under the weight of thousands accessing a page at any given moment from the Digg front page.

Digg V4 saw a mass exodus from the site as users thought it was buggy, unfair, publisher-owned, ugly… the list could go on. Bottom line was that people left, traffic dropped, and publishers such as Wired and Mashable who loved the traffic they got from Digg in V3 and the early days of V4 suddenly found themselves not getting the clicks. Even when their stories hit the front page, the traffic per story was much lower than before.

They and other sites that were supporters of Digg turned their back on them. Some even wrote negative stories about Digg and declared its demise. When you’re that big, I guess the mentality is, “Thanks for the traffic over the years, but what have you done for me lately?”

The move to publish the story-view counts is a declaration. It is a way of saying, “Hey, we’re still sending massive traffic and it’s getting bigger all the time.”

The numbers I’ve seen would back this up. Digg hit rock bottom a month ago but the traffic numbers have turned recently. While the story-view counts are somewhat inflated, representing clicks as well as views of the story on Digg (which publishers would not register as visits) it’s still a good indication of Digg’s potential prominence as well as a useful tool for users to see how much “play” a story is getting before clicking through to it.

The Future of Digg

Things are looking good, but it’s still a huge hole and they have to keep climbing. The one concern I have is that they seem to be of the mentality that they need to do what they can to get their user base back. This would be a mistake.

The users who are still on Digg want positive changes, and those are being made. The users who have left are gone. Trying to cater to them to win them back will not work. “If you love something, let it go…”

UI changes will not bring them back.

Digg must focus on the higher potential people – new users. There is currently a window open across the Internet because social media is at a tipping point. People who had never heard of Digg before because they weren’t into social media are now looking for sites that appeal to them. If Digg wants to grow, they must go after the next generation of social media users (which includes a good chunk of the entire planet).

Forget those that abandoned you. Keep your current users and go after new ones. You’re doing the right things to keep users. Now get the word out. Create buzz. Do not fall into the trap of recapturing your old base. As enticing as the strategy seems, it’s futile. They have moved on. UI changes will not get new users and won’t bring the old ones back.

Buzz, on the other hand, can go after both. Let people who have no idea what Digg is learn about the site. Let old users know that you’re making the move back to prominence and quality. Recent history has proven that changes, even major ones, do nothing if the basic PR isn’t done properly.

Two prominent examples are Mixx and MySpace. Mixx added new features a couple of years ago that were amazing, including communities, empowered moderators, and Twitter integration. They didn’t generate the buzz and they never got bigger. MySpace made a wholesale change in the way they operated but only after they lost the attention of the publishing world. They’ll be sold off for parts by the end of the year.

Focus on current and new users. Pretend like the old users that left are gone for good. If they return, great. If not, forget them.

This is an extremely delicate time for Digg. By May, they will either be all over the news as the comeback kids or they’ll be sunk. For the first time in 7 months, I’m leaning towards the prior as the likely case. It all depends on what happens next.

Update:

One nice change that is subtle but definitely more present than any time in the past is interaction by the staff. As MrBabyMan has been saying for 4 years, we want to be able to talk through issues directly and publicly, not just via email. While there’s not forum system yet, staff presence in comments is exceptionally encouraging, particularly in cases like this where issues are being worked on in real time:

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And now, a word from the CEO:

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Learn more about Digg on this social media blog.

About JD Rucker

+JD Rucker is Editor at Soshable, a Social Media Marketing Blog. He is a Christian, a husband, a father, and founder of Dealer Authority. He drinks a lot of coffee, usually in the form of a 5-shot espresso over ice. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Comments

  1. Great article JD. I’m one of the few users that has stuck around with Digg since the exodus and you’re absolutely right. Even though I long for the old users to come back, even if they did, I don’t think it would be the same. It would be like, getting back together with an ex-girlfriend after a nasty breakup. There’s baggage involved now. So yes, it appears the future is in the hands of attracting new users. It may be a good idea to try to re-brand themselves, like the car industry, in the way Lexus is to Toyota or Acura is to Honda.

  2. Better simile: It would be like getting back together with your ex-girlfriend that cheated on you while you were dating after having his baby.

  3. @Rob – Excellent point, and I believe that is exactly what we’ll see in the next month. Digg is planning on rolling out features that can redefine what the site is and how it interacts with the world. We’ll see if they are dramatic enough to make the news.

    Oh, and great simile! It fits perfectly.

  4. SpangoRango says:

    I think that looks like some pretty cool stuff.
    http://www.being-anon.eu.tc

  5. Hope for what? The page views have not come back. Therefore the revenue has not come back. (And it was too low to begin with.) So they will still run out of money.

    And give me a break…stop giving them credit for “listening to viewers” becuase finally after HALF A Y)EAR they added some features that obviously should never have been taken away to begin with. 99.999% of good sites on the internet would have put them back by September. Digg waited until February? Why? Becuase it has NOTHING to do with listening to users. It was all about the fact that after 5 months, they had enough data to see that it was hurting their revenue, not helping, so they changed.

  6. @Lakwaka – They made a tremendous mistake with V4 and they knew within a month that they were losing money. The challenge wasn’t in listening to the users, it was with determining what was true, constructive, and actionable criticism that they could apply without scrapping altogether and going back to the model that had kept them financially in the red for years.

    Once you hit the halfway point in a swim across the lake, turning back is futile if you start to lose stamina. They felt that they had to push forward.

    While I’m not defending their actions so far, I will say that these recent improvements are a far cry from where they were 2 or 3 months after launch.

  7. Digg is Dead

  8. There’s another opportunity – disaffected Gawker media-ites. I ditched Digg after the release of V4 (it was a final straw after I realized I was clicking on one too many Top Ten Lists). Shortly thereafter I fell into the Gawker Media black hole.

    Until they absolutely hosed any concept of usability on their redesign. Their improvements have been band-aid bug fixes, they need to take a large portion of the redesign and burn it.

    So, I ended up checking out Digg again.

  9. I was one of the users who left during the V4 fiasco. I had been a loyal Digg user for many years (not a poweruser, just a regular guy who used the site). I think Digg is dead. Not because they can’t improve, but because they have fallen WAY too far behind now.

    People use Digg to get to timely news and information. If you look at what has happened to the Digg front-page since the exodus. The news trickles up much, much more slowly than it did before. The people contributing links stayed (at least a lot of them did) and the people who randomly read stuff stayed. But the middle group who mainly did the Digging and Burying are the ones who left.

    I wouldn’t go back to Digg now because I’ve found better options. I won’t suggest my friends go to Digg because I will steer them to those better options. other sits will continue to get faster and improve while Digg will most likely languish behind until becoming defunct.

  10. What are the better options? I’d love to try some of them :)

  11. @PK – Maybe. The verdict is still out, I believe, but how they act in the next month or two determines everything.

    @lamename – That’s an area that, oddly enough, I believe Digg has considered in the past. I don’t see them doing it but it’s a good idea.

    @DDayDawg – Great point. The middle peeps are definitely the ones missing (as can be seen by the low Digg counts). As a group they were as much (if not more so) the curators of the content as the submitters.

    @James – The “better options” all depends on what you want out of a site. Various sites do particular things better than Digg.

  12. I dunno….Digg screwed its users SO BAD before. The outcry over the v4 change was SO loud, and so widespread….Why did it take all this time to get back to almost where they started? Obviously the people at Digg were so arrogant, that THEY were right and everybody else was wrong, that it wasn’t until the whole thing was almost flown into the ground that they FINALLY submitted to their users needs and wants. Haven’t they ever heard the saying “the customer is always right”? For weeks, I waited for them to come to their senses. Hoping and praying that a site I spent over an hour a day on would return their devotion. They didn’t change a damned thing worthwhile until almost everybody was gone. Now…what? They want to be forgiven? Forget it, assholes. Rucker is right. Don’t bother trying to get your users back from Reddit. We will just chuckle and shake our heads at your vain attempt to fool us again. You may be getting it together today, but any promises you make will be met with great skepticism, because we’ve had our heart broken and bloodied before and our cries were met with arrogance and indifference. As I would say to any woman who did that to me, “We’re done, bitch.”

  13. I love Digg!

  14. DIGG sucks, just use REDDIT!
    most of the good content that goes on Digg can be seen on REDDIT a day earlier!

  15. @J. Wing – Wow! That’s so true. They messed up and it took too long for them to believe it, which is why going after old users is futile. Love the last quote, btw – so true again.

    @Don – That seems to be the sentiment of many lately. If it weren’t for the interface that so many hate (which I personally like, btw) I think many more would have given Reddit a shot. And stayed.

  16. I saw the same problem with using RSS Submissions. Luckily spotted the problem with in a week and stopped. Immediately my hits went back up.

  17. I have enjoyed Digg, I do enjoy Digg and it’s the willingness of Digg to listen to its users that will allow me to keep enjoying Digg in the future. People like you are more than welcome to leave the site if they so choose.

    Or perhaps you like posting insulting comments ABOUT a “s**tty” site on the very same “s**tty” site you claim to hate.

  18. I rarely use Digg anymore. I use http://www.subbmitt.com instead. It has a much cleaner design and you don’t even have to login to post articles and comments. Also, as long as you post a article that isn’t spam, it will make the front page so there’s no gaming the site.

  19. I dont believe anyone who says that Digg is dead. Yes the numbers have significantly fallen but a very reasonable number of power users are still there.

    I for one have been going to digg on a daily basis for the past couple of years. :)

  20. Is this the last gasp of air for a dying dinosaur or the rebirth of a valuable resource. Only the content will tell.

  21. ViewFromTheWest says:

    JD,
    Great article, particularly your observations on the futility of chasing down the old jilted user base. It was also informative to see your example of the staff participating in the comments section.

    A couple questions: first, do you see a real need for a Digg forum? I’ve always found Digg to have a two-fold value; an interesting place to find new content curated by a community, as well as a rich and vibrant comment section. It would seem that creating a forum outside of the traditional comment paradigm could create an unnecessary competitor to this half of Digg. I’ve seen many user-usability complaints in many different comment threads, and found myself in agreement with the posted complaints. Seeing an in-thread response lets me (as an end user) know that there are staff actively addressing problems.

    Secondly, I have a more general question about Digg V.3 vs V.4. My own Digg objections started with the Digg Patriots story arc, and I have given V.4 a lot of leeway for errors and usability issues, believing that this was the lesser of two evils compared to the censoring of content by a minor portion of the overall user base. I have also been under the impression that with Digg’s loss of “power” resulting from the V.4 user exodus, the temptation to game the system has been reduced; i.e. there are bigger sites to attack, now that “Digg is Dead”. If Digg does in fact rise from the ashes, should I have concerns about the return of censorship issues?

    VFTW

  22. This article reads like a paid brokerage for Digg reputation. How much time and atten$hun did Matt give you to write about some new hope. The article doesn’t even address the real dirt between power users and management – and then glosses it with this nomnom about RSS traps?

    If the RSS disenfranchised publishers – then why did the powerusers feel it was unfair and publisher-owned? Your mind powers will not work on me, boy…… Let us know when you plan to share some news.

    J Wing speaks well.

  23. A great Article. I have also written one about “The Golden Secret of being NEVER unfollowed on Twitter”. Check it at http://4twittertricks.blogspot.com/2011/02/golden-secret-of-being-never-unfollowed.html. Thanks.

  24. Interesting article but I recall the author was an apologist for the Digg V4 changes before and during their early rollout. Don’t recall his ever saying the obvious, that ceding large power to mainstream media companies would never work and would alienate many users not just the power users. He actually supported it, saying the changes were necessary to digg’s survival. No so much eh? I don’t mind people being wrong but it would be nice for social media folks to admit when they’re wrong.

  25. Good article, very helpful for us!

  26. Yes, Digg is always a revolutionary medium. But I have a few reservations for this.

  27. Excellent piece on your insight to Digg.

  28. But prejudices only make the matter worse.

  29. This still doesn’t fix the most annoying thing about Digg…their users.

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