The social news aggregation site Digg recently sold for $500,000. While $500,000 is still a lot of money, especially in these tough economic times, it is a paltry sum for such a well regarded and influential company. Keep in mind that before Digg, people’s interaction with news was a topdown affair. It was dictated. It was shaped by marketing. There was not a democratic feel to how people select and view news information online. Digg revolutionized all of that because the users of Digg itself would select news items and vote on these items. In a sense, the community dictated the news. This was really heavy stuff back in the mid 2000′s (around 2006). The context is very important. Facebook has only been around for about two years and it has not rolled out its news feed feature yet. Twitter was still just an experimental project that was being done on the side. In essence, the two biggest social media tools on the planet were still in their infancy.
Digg occupied a very special place in a very special time. It helped turn nobodies operating in their parent’s basement into influential media editors. Digg really revolutionized how people found information and interacted with that information. The concept is very simple. In fact, it is just a warmed over approach to how forums work. When you go to any regular forum and you respond to a discussion, your response would push that discussion up, so more people can see it. Many of the times at forums, somebody would post a news item at the beginning of the discussion and people would comment on that news item. Very simple, very straightforward and Digg took it to the next level. It made interactivity much easier and also the format was very stripped down. The focus was on the story and if you wanted to look at the discussions, that presentation was simplified as well. Digg had it going. What happened? What made them drop the ball?
The biggest problem from a user’s perspective is that Digg made content sharing so easy and gave people an incentive to share. The biggest incentive of course is that you are part of a community that had a vested interest in keeping the “purity” of the content secure. When Digg began to become a more commercialized service, a lot of these people in the community started to drift away. Also while the core functionality remained the same, the design changes that Digg really went a long way in finally pushing much of its community out into a “purer” social news play called Reddit. If you look at Reddit’s very anti-commercial slant and egalitarian ethos, you can see where the bulk of the soul of Digg went. The rest of the Digg population, also known previously as Digg nation, all went their separate ways. Some went to Twitter and others used Facebook.
Digg could have been something much bigger, but the question is could it deliver on the promise? In fact on hindsight, much of the challenges that finally pushed Digg on its massive fall from grace were beyond its control. People needed a simpler interface to communicate and share content. Twitter provided that. People needed a more effective way to network within their circle of influence and police that circle of influence. Facebook provided that. In essence, Digg outlived its usefulness and did not evolve fast enough to escape its fate. Indeed it could even be argued that the model itself is flawed because it is so community centered that any major changes aimed at commercializing the service to pay its bills and make money might be considered “selling out” by the core community and they would leave. In a very real sense, Digg lived by the community sword and died by it.