No, Digg is not dead. Not yet. Recent lack of certain actions have prevented the site from growing at the brisk pace it needs to regain relevance, but it’s not too late. Not yet.
As I posted on FastCompany last month, Digg has until May to get the help (which we’ve offered on multiple occasions free of charge) they need to get back on track or they will miss their last window of opportunity to keep from going the way of Propeller, MySpace, and Yahoo Buzz. That’s it. If they do not get help, statements such as RIP Digg and Why Digg Failed will prove to be spot on assessments of a site that should have been skyrocketing in 2011.
Stagnation in the press is the key to failure for sites that are on a popularity slide. Of late, no news is the norm unless something juicy and bad pops up, such as Kevin Rose leaving. That helped to prompt the recent round of Digg-hate from the blogosphere.
There was a time when minor tweaks to layout were enough to warrant stories. Digg has been changing the UI significantly over the last 3 months. Nobody seems to care that much. It isn’t getting the play it needs.
One thing Digg must do if they ever want a positive headline written about them is that they have to take a risk. They have to shock the heck out of us with a feature that changes the game. They have to be ambitious, revolutionary, and they need to demonstrate a sense of urgency indicative of their current situation.
The times of minor UI changes are behind us. Do something huge.
Rumors of an upcoming “Communities” update is intriguing, but it will be panned by the cynical blogosphere and ignored by mainstream media. That sort of additional feature will only highlight the greatly-reduced engagement on the site and will not cut to the core of their real problem: they just aren’t cool anymore.
Here are some things that would qualify as “shocking” enough to generate headlines:
- Buy something. Delicious, rumored to be on the verge of a liberating sale from Yahoo, would have been a perfect acquisition in the low millions. The buzz surrounding such a melding of former powerhouses would have drawn skepticism, but there would have been many positives surrounding the potentials that would have generated positive buzz.
- Integrate. In a discussion with one of their VPs, we told them that integration with Twitter and Facebook AS their commenting system would be a way to bring views and potential new users to the site. No, we didn’t suggest adding buttons, which they (and every other site, it seems) already have. The concept we offered would give people reasons to share Digg content. Currently, there is no reason for anyone to Tweet or Share a Digg link because it would be better to simply share the source link instead. However, if they were able to comment on Digg and transmit that comment onto Facebook and Twitter, and conversely attach Tweets and Shares directly into the Digg story comments, they would have something unique and extremely intriguing. People would finally have a reason to bring their friends to visit Digg – it suddenly becomes about them rather than about Digg itself. People Tweet and Share their own opinions, not links to pages that require you to click to another link. “Look at what I wrote…” – now that’s something people would share. The idea was enjoyed by the Digg VP, but I haven’t been asked to elaborate or help with it in a month. That’s a pity, as it could be built and integrated in a couple of days.
- Create. Digg has no content of its own. It relies on people finding content. Digg should allow people to have their own venue to post even if there is no link involved. Self-Reddits are extremely popular and have proven to be some of the most discussed posts on that site. Digg could do it much better with a much stronger interface. Instead of sending users to other sites’ content, why not give people a venue to post their own content?
There are plenty of other concepts that would be groundbreaking for the site without risking further negative buzz. The rumored communities will not do that unless Digg is able to do it exactly right. Hopefully, they are consulting with users smarter than us if they plan on rolling it out anytime in the near future.
Take (or give) Control
One of the strengths of emerging sites like Buzzfeed is their willingness to take control of the content. Digg is a “democratic” site and has never (admittedly) hand-picked the content other than their Staff Picks section where they enjoy highlighting and rewarding sites that don’t appreciate them (such as CNN, YouTube, and HuffingtonPost, the three sites being promoted by Digg staff at the time of this article).
User-moderation has been controversial yet effective over at Reddit. If and when Digg rolls out moderation in some form, it will be viewed controversially. Unfortunately, it will not be viewed as effective if they don’t get input from the right sources. Today, many qualified users who are still using the site do so with an agenda in mind. Those without an agenda have either moved on or do not have the “eye” for content that a MrBabyMan or LouieBaur have.
Digg must tread very, very carefully if they want to go down this path. Reddit has made it effective because the agendas are limited and the need is strong – they simply don’t have the staff nor the resources to outsource content curation. Digg does and should.
By taking control or giving it to an organization that is qualified, Digg would have the ability to have 24-hour coverage. It would allow the site to generate buzz based simply on the ability to find the best content on the Internet. That’s the key to getting buzz from a quality-perspective – be a source for the latest and greatest, not a venue for news that’s hours, even days old.
If you break it, via-links will come.
Had we’d been allowed to consult with Digg, the first thing we would have suggested would have been to create a campaign geared around the building of version 5. Turn a negative into a positive, just as any good PR firm would recommend:
“Yes, V4 sucked. We’re ready to start working on V5 and we want your input. Michael Arrington at Techcrunch, we want your input. Pete Cashmore, Jason Calacanis, JD Rucker (who?), Marshall Kirkpatrick… we want you to help us build the next big thing.”
Fly/drive them in, wine them, dine them, and then brainstorm with them. Let them get you excited, then build upon it and get them excited in return. Turn the press around. Turn the buzz to your favor. Get someone other than me posting hopeful articles. Get the extremely charismatic Matt Williams in front of them, shaking hands and humbly asking for help.
Win back the buzz.
It just seems to be a low-priority at Digg right now. PR is less important than… something. At this point, we’re not sure what exactly is important to the site. Their lack of action is not the way. Plans are worthless if they roll out too late.
I love Digg, but I’ve been telling them this stuff since January.