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Why Digg Failed (computerworld.com)
31 points by citizenkeys on March 20, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments

I'd add that it didn't succeed in creating it's own subculture. Yes, it was very popular back in the day and lots of people were excited about 'digging', but censoring content and alienating specific communities didn't let them create something Reddit did - a loyal fanbase using their product in various different ways. Redditors identify themselves with the site, while being diversified among various sub-communities of interest - that's awesome. Also, opposed to Digg, Reddit gives the choice to be anonymous - throwaway accounts are what drive one of the most successful subreddits - IAmA.

Digg vs Reddit is an interesting case, where a technically similar idea is implemented in a socially different way.

But with some significant technical advantages. That said, I'd like to shamelessly point out 2 articles I wrote (one before digg v4 launched and the other after) that sum up why I think reddit has triumphed in social news (and with only one programmer at the moment no less!).

http://alexisohanian.com/an-open-letter-to-kevin-rose http://alexisohanian.com/how-reddit-became-reddit-the-smalle...

I'm also a bit sad this article refers to these sites as social bookmarking -- delicious is/was the canonical one of those (where the byproduct of everyone storing their bookmarks online was a glimpse into good content being saved for later). Something like 1/3 of all reddit submissions are self-posts anyway (they don't link anywhere but to a reddit comments page) so the 'social bookmarking' classification is all the more absurd...

Honestly I think both digg and reddit are on cruise control now. Don't get me wrong, I love reddit, but the leadership and passion are clearly gone, and it may not take much for the community to unravel itself.

I think you're right, the top-level control of reddit is gone but the users have almost completely taken over that role. Reddit recently blogged about how IAmA is now the most popular subreddit and it was entirely a creation of the community.

Reddit even has a strong female community which is rare for any of these sorts of sites; again that wasn't created by fiat from the company but generated by the users. Reddit just needs to keep the lights on and the leadership and passion of the community will keep it going.

"All it needed to do was..."

I stopped reading right there.

Hindsight is 20/20 and this kind of talk really trivializes how difficult it is to successfully execute - especially over an evolving landscape of 6 years.

I find a lot of good insight in this article (despite the classically linkbait title).

Absolutely, execution is difficult; there a ton of difficult problems to solve on a site like this, e.g.: How can the system allow noobs to participate and advance without incentivizing sock-puppets? Are voting circles good (increasing participation) or bad (decreasing honest assessment/diversity of content)?

No site is going to get it all right, but I think it's both appropriate and useful to periodically assess: what are some of the Digg solutions that didn't turn out to work as well as alternate solutions?

On a few points, the article doesn't persuade me, including the claim that a twitter-like mostly-personalized homepage beats a community-wide homepage: maybe yes, maybe no. But several other strategies adopted by Digg do seem to be problematic over the long-term, and kudos to the author for highlighting a bunch of relevant ones. Bigger kudos to reddit for pretty consistently adopting smart solutions to these same problems.

"All it needed to do was get rid of the universal front page in favor of Twitter- and Facebook-like individual front pages, where everyone has a different front page based on who he or she is following."

If I recall correctly, this was one of several features they introduced in late 2010 that caused a mass exodus of users. Suddenly, my front page was mostly empty and unchanging since I had largely ignored Digg's friend system. You could optionally load the "universal front page" but the community seemed to have died overnight -- the top stories went from having 400 comments to 10 comments, most of which were "Where did everybody go?"

I stopped reading at "OK, I'm going to call it." As if the writer is so prescient that after several techcrunch columns saying digg is dead, wow, he had an epiphany - digg is dead! I have to tell everyone, so they'll be impressed by my keen insight!

Of course this was the whole point of digg in the first place, to "democratize the media" because the media seems to be a bunch of braying donkeys who follow the lead ass wherever he wants to go. So in a sense this story really is saying digg is dead. If you actually read it and feel that's its useful, that is.

I'm glad reddit went with a subreddit system. You see local moderators and some passionate communities about their own domains.

Discovery of these communities though is hard. Unless you are particularly looking for a community (Maybe /r/sc2 or something). you don't really have any tools to successfully find them. Most people still subscribe to the main default subreddits reddit provides. Just an issue with having subreddits without the appropriate tool to discover them.

An issue that we very much want to fix sooner rather than later.

Maybe a periodic table of subreddits would help?

Yeah, something like that. But the trick is with 60,000 subreddits and more being added every day, we'd really like to figure out a programmatic way to generate it.

Using /all/ means subs appear to front page if a thread is popular enough. Far more better than the /random/ sub feature that looks in the whole set instead of the popular ones.

The funny part is that quite a lot of us out here wouldn't mind "failing" at Digg's current traffic levels.

That sounds like a very 1990s dot-com boom mentality.

Really? When I think of the 1990s, I think of calling a site with decent traffic a failure and needing to be in the #1 slot or bust. I think with Digg's current levels you could make a good business of it while refining the site or starting a parallel site. You need to keep costs down, but that is something learned from the 90s.

You can make a good business at virtually any traffic level. I'd rather be hiring and expanding at a lower traffic level than laying off and shrinking at a high traffic level.

Yeah and everyone wants Facebook traffic, but you deal with the situation you have a try to make back everyones money.

You don't want Facebook traffic if you can't make anything off it. In some situations, investors might prefer a company fold than spend all the remaining money trying to rescue the situation.

I'm not sure we can say it 'failed' as it was a pioneer of many sites today. It's also still very strong going and could easily sort out its mess.

To me, the major reason I got annoyed with it was the 'mob'. You had this constant mob of people linking the same 'top 10 things something rather'. It became a sensational headline front-page with no substance and no soul.

My problem with Digg was that the community became hugely negative, at least it was when I got out. Nearly 2/3 of comments were getting knocked below 0 and like 9/10 submissions got downmodded to oblivion by (I'm guessing) bots. I knew people who would self-upmod using junk accounts simply to get their submission to stay at 1 long enough to actually get genuine mods.

I can state unequivocally as an ex-IDG employee (IDG = Macworld, PCWorld, ComputerWorld, InfoWorld, etc.) that Digg was a highly coveted yet nearly 99% failed tactic to turn tech news into instant traffic "success". But that 1 in a million chance of a "win" made everyone repeat that classic line from Dumb and Dumber, "So, you're saying I have a chance!"

Once a new story went out, particularly anything Apple related, all friends of the editor would be IM'ed within minutes to Digg It. Some editors had enormous posses at their disposal that they would leverage "occasionally" to get their story at least in the Hot Story block in the right-hand-column (which was probably the equivalent of being on HN's front page for 30 minutes or so).

You can understand why so many editors grew to hate Digg. It made them feel cheap about their "art", which had really become consumed by all things Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Digg was the drug dealer. That elusive front page was the ultimate high few could ever experience, but everyone kept trying to take a hit.

It failed? Last I checked the jury is still out.

Indeed. It wasn't so long ago that Apple had "failed." Maybe the new leadership will turn things around.

The founder doesn't have to come back (as Steve Jobs did at Apple); look up what happened with IBM starting in 1993 (when they brought in Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. as the new CEO).

It's all about getting large groups of people. If the largest groups think you've failed, you've failed.

What a great example of everything that is wrong with tech journalism today.

If you title something "Why XXXX Happened," I figure you've got about 3 grafs to get to start your explanation. This article jumps from Arrington to Rose to Twitter without even starting to dig into how such a hot product "failed."

Stop obsessing over celebrity and focus on information and analysis.

It's interesting to read that 'collusion' to game the system is one Digg's weak links. Many crowd-sourcing sites face the same issue. My guess is that dealing with collusion requires balance between absolute crowd-sourcing vs. some oligarchy. A balance which can be left to the user.

Or smart detection. :)

Yup, but it's not an easy issue as research, e.g., those in P2P, have shown. A bit like the arms-race in anti-virus. Some examples of manipulation include Jon Skeet on StackOverflow (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=784257). Letting users tune their trust has an advantage (hopefully) because given enough configurability and a good UI, every user will different trust configuration making the old adage true to a great extent; for an attacker, "she can fool all people some of the time, some people all the time but not all people all of the time".

Digg's fatal flaw seems to be their lack of an exit strategy. Digg avoided being acquired, didn't go public, nor did they take any serious risks to diversify their product offerings.

With the amount of traffic that Digg had I don't see that as failing.

What was the harm of leaving it up anyway? (my apologies in advance for not following the changes with Digg)

How come Digg still has a lot of hits despite a slow decreasing huge audience and virtually no participation from such audience?

Inertia? Try taking a break from a website you visit at least once a day. It's really difficult.

It has been many months so far and Digg, much like Reddit; changes daily. Both pride themselves on daily dynamic content. So to see people still going back when there's virtually no activity doesn't make sense.

Digg != Wisdom of Crowds

Stopped reading after the first page--Sites that separate their articles to different pages to increase their pageviews ughhhhhhhhh

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