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Digg: Its Rise and Fall and Rebirth

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The Rise and Fall and Rebirth of Digg

Since the birth of the web, hundreds of social websites have come and gone. But not many had the influence of the social sharing site Digg.

At the site's height of popularity, its users had the power to make a website go viral - or bury it.

By 2008, Digg was attracting over 236 million visitors every year. It was every website owner's dream to go viral on the site - but it could quickly turn into their worst nightmare. If your website became too popular too quickly, it could suffer from the "Digg effect," an overload of your web hosting servers that would bring your whole website down.

Back then, the site only got more and more popular year after year... Until 2010.

In April of that year, Digg suddenly lost a third of its visitors. Its decline was blamed on many causes, from power users taking over the site from the community at large, to the removal of the popular Diggbar, to many other issues.

Digg's v4 release in August of 2010, marked by numerous bugs and glitches, seemed to be the final nail in the coffin that got the last few loyal users to quit. By September, the site was dead, and the company was sold in pieces in 2012.

And that was the end of the story...

Until now.

In the time since it was sold, its new owners have been busily working behind the scenes to rebuild the digital empire. Their goal is "to create a simple, beautiful, and high-quality content discovery site," with the best curated content from around the web. While the site works very differently from the original, it's finding its own loyal audience.

Today, the new Digg userbase is growing slowly but steadily.

What makes it different from other failed social media platforms? How were they able to rise from the ashes?

See the graphic below for details of its rise, fall, and rise again.

The Rise and Fall and Rebirth of Digg

The Rise and Fall and Rebirth of Digg

Digg started in 2004 as a website where users could discover and share the most interesting content on the web. People loved it. It became one of the hottest things on the net - becoming bigger and bigger each year. And then: poof! It was cut up and sold to different companies. But recently, the site has risen from the dead to regain some of its past glory.

What Was Digg?

  • Launched in 2004
    • It was started as an experiment
    • The founding team was:
      • Kevin Rose
      • Owen Byrne
      • Ron Gorodetsky
      • Jay Adelson
    • The team wanted to name the site "Dig" but had to add the extra "g" when they learned that Disney already owned "dig.com"
  • It was a user-generated news aggregator
    • Users could submit pages to the site
    • If enough users dugg a page, it would be listed at the top of the website
      • A "digg" is similar to a Facebook "like"
    • As new pages were dugg up, older ones would move down the front page
      • Eventually, they would move onto page 2, and so on
    • Users could also "bury" a story for whatever reason
      • Buried stories would disappear from most people's feeds
  • Users could also:
    • Comment on people's stories
    • Reply to comments
    • Vote up or down people's comments
    • See who the top users were

On the Rise

  • Dig saw incredible growth through the 2000s:
    • Growth
      • 2005: 25,000 registered users
      • 2006: 80,000 registered users
      • 2007: One million registered users
      • 2008: 2.7 million registered users
      • 2009: 43 million registered users
  • This growth came with great technological improvements
    • Version 1
      • The original website
      • Features were slowly added
        • Comment sections
        • Article sorting
    • Version 2
      • It would eventually include
        • Friends list
        • Easier story digging
        • Redesigned interface
        • Ability to flag stories as "inaccurate"
    • Version 3
      • Initial release
        • Categories besides Technology:
          • Entertainment
          • Gaming
          • Science
          • Videos
          • World and Business
        • Additional features
          • "#1 Story" feature (essentially a Favorites section)
          • Profanity filters
          • Podcasts
          • Videos
          • Friends list
          • Top 10 sidebar
      • Further changes
        • Opened API for people to create tools and apps
        • Redesigned profile section of main interface
        • Allowed Facebook users to access Digg without their own profile
        • Added Ads
          • Users could vote on these ads in the same way they could with stories
        • Launched iPhone and Android apps
        • Up to this point, the site had been responsible for:
          • 14 million stories
          • 500 million Diggs
  • And then things started to go wrong...

Trouble Brews

  • Even before Version 4, problems had developed
    • In 2008, Google was negotiating to buy the website for $200 million, but the deal fell through
      • At the time, sources:
        • Laid blame on personal issues between the two companies
        • Blamed technical issues on Digg's part
    • Certain users were able to "game" the site's system to manipulate the site, boosting specific pages
      • In December 2009, the top 100 users were responsible for 56% of the content on its front page
      • The company tried to make the site more democratic
        • Tweaked the voting system to lessen power users' influence
          • Some users' votes became less heavily weighted than others
        • Deleted accounts that they felt were abusing the system
        • Removed the "Top User" lists
        • Removed user icons from the homepage
      • Many of the site's top users (who weren't necessarily gaming the system) no longer felt welcome
        • Some left for sites like Newsvine
    • A decrease in ad revenue led to the layoffs of seven people in 2009
      • This was roughly 10% of the company's workforce
    • Further layoffs occurred in 2010, causing the company to lose 10% for of its staff in May
      • It also lost its Chief Revenue Officer at this time
    • Conflict between Kevin Rose and CEO Jay Adelson in 2010 led to:
      • Adelson leaving the company
      • Rose stepping up as CEO
        • At that point, Rose hadn't been involved in the day-to-day operations of the company for nearly a year

The Collapse

  • Version 4 was launched
    • This version moved the site substantially away from its traditional mission
      • Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian said the new site
        • "Reeks of VC meddling"
        • Departs "from the core of digg, which was to 'give the power back to the people.'"
    • Focused more on publisher's content
      • Publishers could auto-submit stories to the site
        • The older system made pages appear because enough users dugg them
    • Removed and reduced features
      • Favorites
      • Categories
        • Dramatically condensed
      • Time stamps
      • Older diggs
        • All articles before V4 had their votes reset to 0
      • The bury button
        • Users could no longer downvote articles to remove them from the front page
  • After the launch, the company laid-off 37% of their remaining staff
  • Those who used the site because of their ability to influence the website became upset
    • Power users submitted letters to Rose, asking him to revert the changes
    • Digg was quickly filled with pleas to change the website back
    • In a Mashable poll of 24,821 people, 83% preferred the old website
  • Users left Digg for websites like:
    • Reddit
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
  • In 2012, Digg collapsed
    • The company was sold off in pieces
      • Their patents to LinkedIn for $4 million
      • Their engineering team to The Washington Post for $12 million
      • The website itself to Betaworks for $500,000

What is Betaworks?

  • Betaworks is a New York-based startup studio
    • A startup studio is a company that uses a central team to manage several startups at once
    • When a product or service becomes profitable, it might spin off into its own company
  • Betaworks is responsible for:
    • Giphy
      • An animated GIF search engine
    • Bitly
      • A URL shortener
    • Chartbeat
      • Web analytics software
    • SocialFlow
      • SEO software
    • Instapaper
      • An app that allows users to bookmark stories to read later
  • When they approached Digg to buy the site, Betaworks partner Andrew McLaughlin said, "We made an emotional appeal that we would build something cool that they would be proud of"
    • Digg likely could have received more money for the domain name had they sold it to a content farm
    • Instead, Betaworks successfully purchased the name and website, and worked to bring it back

Betaworks and the New Digg

  • Betaworks had about 6 weeks to make a new version of Digg due to costs constraints
    • It cost $250,000 a month to run the website's servers
    • Digg intended to shut those servers down on August 1, 2012
      • Betaworks bought Digg.com in mid-June
  • Since 2010, Betaworks had been working on a content-curator program called News.me whose engineers could help rework the site
  • Digg was rebuilt
    • Scrapped the voting system
      • The Digg button has since resurfaced
    • Created software to find interesting things to post
      • The software takes social media signals into account, such as Facebook "likes" and Twitter favorites
    • Used human editors to moderate the articles
    • Simplified homepage to avoid overwhelming readers
    • Made sure the site didn't focus as much on mainstream media
      • Instead, the site brings interesting lesser-known pages to people's attention
  • To manage lingering negative feelings about the old site, the company used humor
    • New Digg couldn't hope to do something like Reddit's Ask Me Anything (AMA) with President Obama, so they tweeted:
      • "We asked Dukakis but he turned us down... :("
  • In January, 2015, New Digg had grown to nearly 12 million monthly users (from 8 million in September 2014)
  • The team behind the new site has also added:
    • Original content
    • The "Digg Reader" for RSS feeds
      • The site launched the reader shortly after Google shut its own down

While Digg may never become quite as popular as it was at its peak, Betaworks has managed to salvage the company from the brink, and converted it into a website that people actually like to use again. It's not quite the e-newspaper of the people anymore, but if its goal is to bring interesting content to people who want to read it, New Digg seems to have succeeded.

Sources: mashable.com, gawker.com, diggtheblog.blogspot.com, hcp.com, webdesignerdepot.com, vox.com, techcrunch.com, searchengineland.com, wired.com, medium.com, chartbeat.com, socialflow.com, venturebeat.com, news.me, compete.com, forbes.com, betaworks.com, blog.digg.com


KeriLynn Engel

About KeriLynn Engel

KeriLynn has worked as a freelance writer for various websites. She is an advocate for domestic abuse victims and has way too many hobbies.


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