Digg Logo

If you’d come up to me just a couple days ago and asked if Digg were going to survive for the long haul, I’d have sadly opined, “No.”

After lobbing a few hand grenades in the form of questions at (relatively) new CEO Matt Williams the other day, I’m happy to report I can upgrade that to a Magic 8 Ball-like response of “Cannot Predict Now.”

By way of background, here’s the 50-cent version of my Digg story: Account since 2007, active user since early 2008. 130,847 diggs, 18,960 comments, 3,466 submissions and 1,054 popular stories. You could say I’ve been a healthy user of the site.

I won’t belabor the story about how Digg totally screwed up the site with Version 4. One thing I can say is that the current administration at Digg is far more responsive to the questions, complaints and compliments of its user base than any were previously.

So I was pleased to get an invitation to a pre-Diggnation meetup here at SXSW with Williams. It was promised to be a small, invite-only event with some actual facetime.

I was even more pleased when I arrived and saw it was a good mix of hardcore “power” users and regular users of the site who may have never submitted a story, but had spent months or years checking out the front page, voting up stories and clicking through.

What’s often gotten lost in the debate over the future of Digg are these users – the REAL reason Digg was successful. Power users would never have existed if it were not for the great mass of users who cared about what was hitting the front page.

And numbers don’t lie: Whether traffic to or on Digg itself is up or down isn’t really the important thing. Whether power users are still submitting in great numbers isn’t key.

Are people clicking through from the submissions on Digg to external sites? That’s the truly important figure. Those numbers had been down for a while before Version 4, but were still decent most of the time. After version 4? It fell off the cliff.

It’s increased somewhat now and again, but publishers who used to beg, borrow and steal to get posts submitted to Digg now barely even notice if something hits the front page.

And it’s those regular, everyday users who brought that traffic.

Williams is painfully aware of this, and he’s been talking to these users just as much as he’s been talking to power users.

Problem is, he was handed a site that was completely FUBAR and has had to spend an inordinate amount of time on the basics – making sure it doesn’t crash every three seconds, for example. Now that it’s stable again, he’s been working with the team on other short-term fixes: user stats are back, top news is higher up in the sidebar, the design is less cluttered again.

Bringing those regular users back, though, is a much tougher nut to crack: They were there for the news, for the stories, for the memes. There are so many other places for them to find these things now, that convincing them to come to Digg for them is harder than it once was, when Digg was a pioneer.

And a truly tell-tale sign: Last year, the Diggnation party was THE ticket. Everyone went, the crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder packed, the line snaked around the block and never ended.

This year, attendees never lacked for elbow room and you could even find some wide-open spaces

Like I said earlier, if you’d have asked me last week if Digg would still be around in a few months, I’d have said no.

Now, well …

Maybe it was the free drinks.

Maybe it was the free lumps of fried dough that were super-yummy.

Maybe it was the way Williams unflinchingly answered questions I lobbed at him like hand grenades.

Whatever it was, I’d have to say, there’s life left in the old lady  yet.

Written by Guest Post