Digg was an extremely influential site for anyone who worked in the early era of online publishing, so it being scrapped for parts is sort of weird, especially for those of us who used to beg friends to vote up Digg stories.
It’s easy to forget how important Digg was to traffic in the mid-2000s, and how Reddit was dismissed as a second-rate failure. As early as 2008, the community manager of Computer Weekly was telling me that she was seeing more results from Reddit than Digg. Sometimes the decline is well underway before we notice it. Two lessons there:
Even the most powerful social site can be rendered irrelevant
The early winner isn’t always the long-term victor
Bear that in mind as you fire up Facebook and Twitter this morning.
Leo Laporte, Sarah Lane and Kevin Rose are having something of a love-in on stage, reminiscing about their early days on TechTV, and Rose’s move from a behind-the-scenes techie to presenter through finding a bug in Windows, and his subsequent evolution into an entrepreneur. Digg came out of that – he was there six years, but has now left (but remains on the board). The early years of scaling and growing were crazy. He thinks he made a lot of mistakes – hiring, feature development. It was his “first ride on the rodeo”. They locked themselves into the LAMP stack, and once that stopped working for them, they were screwed. They had to bring in new groups of technicians familiar with new technologies. They also had a continual battle to stop mobs dominating the voting. Now it’s dropped from a peak of 38m uniques down to around 10m uniques. “You have a narrow window to get it right,” says Rose. It’s either 6 months or 10 years, if you’re one of the really lucky ones. Facebook and Twitter emerged and started easting their traffic. So they had to try some bold things – Digg 4.0 was one of those. But they didn’t pay enough attention to the hardcore users against what everyone was telling them they should do. The new CEO is heading back to those roots.
Oink, his new launch, is an app that allows you to like anything, any object or place at all. The more you rate in a particular area, the more you gain reputation in that area. The system looks for where you’re rating things, and gives you more credit if the location and the object or activity match up. He’s skeptical about gamification – he thinks it gets old very quickly – you have to build a reward system that gives genuine gains over time.
They have around 40,000 active users at the moment, and several times that in downloads.
This was an older, wiser Rose than I last saw at Le Web. Back then, he came across as arrogant, but the troubles of Digg over the last few years seem to have mellowed him, for the better. This such a new field that people who have had great successes – and then seen them go sour – is still quite small. As the industry grows, that experience must be valuable…