Manhattan News Startups

Digg Conversations and a look back at the company’s rebirth

On Thursday, Digg announced in a blog post that the company would begin introducing comments into the site sometime this fall. More on this below. This move highlights the rise of the newest iteration of the platform. The company has risen from the ashes of the early Digg.

Digg has had one of the oddest runs in recent history. It rose to one of the world’s top websites, fell dramatically, and has since begun to rise again. The company, way back in the mid to late 2000s, defined and launched the social-news space that Reddit has since come to dominate. Users submitted links, and these links were either dugg or burried by the community. From around 2008 to around 2010, Digg was one of the most visited sites on the internet. However, in the early 2010s, after a botched acquisition and a massive site redesign, the company fell apart. Though there were trouble immediately preceding the redesign, it would prove to be the final straw. Within a few days of the redesign, the community abandoned the platform en masse, by some accounts losing as much as 25% of their traffic within one week. The Reddit user u/-banana posted a good rundown of the events leading to the demise for more info.

The redesign ultimately doomed Digg. In July of 2012, Betaworks – an NYC-based startup studio/incubator – announced their purchase of the Digg brand, website, and technology. The $500,000 purchase price shows just how far the company had fallen; just a short time before, Digg was valued at around $160M.1 What followed was one of the greatest brand revitalization of the past few years. Betaworks launched a new version of Digg – quite similar to the current Digg – at the end of July, 2012.

The new Digg was a major departure from the original platform. Rather than completely relying on the crowd to submit links, and simply presenting that information, the new Digg put a team of human editors at the helm. This effort was aided by Betaworks’ experience in helping to build Bitly, Tweetdeck, and Chartbeat to name a few. This editorial team, aided by a vast repository of analyitics data, began to sift through the inbound links and presented the best, most shared, most read stories on a single front-page. In 2013, Inc. ran a story that highlighted Betaworks’ ideas about the old and new Digg:

The Betaworks team had its own theory–that giving users the power to run Digg also helped drive it into the ground. Spammers gamed the system by artificially inflating the diggs of a story. That brought stories of ever-poorer quality to the top, says Justin Van Slembrouck, design director for what became the new Digg. The comments on the site also became more mean-spirited, adds current Digg CEO Andrew McLaughlin. On top of it, Web dynamics had shifted dramatically since Digg’s moment in the sun. Now most news conversations and sharing happen on Facebook and Twitter.2

Digg1 Digg Conversations and a look back at the company's rebirth

The new Digg – aided in part by its development of an RSS reader in the aftermath of Google Reader shuttering -has once again risen to prominence, though nowhere near its peak levels. Perhaps a less prominent Digg is a better Digg. Just look at the recent Reddit backlash against then CEO Ellen Pao. The amount of vitriol and hate that filled Reddit after the company shut down several offensive subreddits is as strong of an argument against community driven platforms as exists. Digg, it seems, is better off without the community being the primary driver of the site. That is not to say that Digg does not need a community.

Until Thursday’s blog post, the community voice has been absent from Digg. Yes, users could submit links and “Digg” stories, but there were no conversations or comments on the website itself. This fall, Digg will begin rolling out a new comment system aimed at civil, topic-driven conversations:

We think there’s space for conversation on Digg – conversation that’s focused on stories (or “links” if you’re old-school). A place for discovering great content and a great place for conversation. That’s the next phase of Digg…We’re planning our first iteration of conversations on Digg this fall. Here’s an outline of the features we have so far:

  • Conversations will be based around a story
    Not just about anything or anyone
  • The author(s) of the story are encouraged to participate
    (Or “content creators” if you’re new-school)
  • It’ll be open and high-quality
    Our aim: conversations that are just as interesting as the stories themselves
  • Clear community guidelines will be in place
    We’ll define these in our next blog post
  • We’ll be moderating
    It’s definitely not our long-term goal to moderate every comment, but we’re going to err on the side of civility to start
  • You can digg comments
    We want help to surface the best of the community3

There has been a concerted effort to revitalize the best parts of the original Digg. Rather than just throwing in as many features as possible, Betaworks has been very calculating about what they include. This announcement is a great example of just that. Digg, it seems, is better for taking a step back from the community.

  1. Joseph Walker And Spencer E. Ante, The Wall Street Journal, “Once a Social Media Star, Digg Sells for $500,000,” 13 July 2012  
  2. Jennifer Alsever, Inc., “Digg Makes a Comeback (Sort Of),” July 2013  
  3. Justin Van Slembrouck, Digg Blog, “What Digg Is Building Next,” 13 August 2015