Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Digg: Digging their own grave

Digg is a name any blogger should know. In fact, according to Quantcast, digg pulls in about 30 million views a month, so a lot of people should know what it is. That is a massive amount of people, ESPN pulls in 13 million and is a far more common name with the power of Disney behind it.

There is one issue with digg though, it sucks.

Now, it didn't always suck, this is a more recent thing. The suck is growing though, festering like bacteria in a wound of the Internet. And Kevin Rose seems to want it. But I am getting ahead of myself, time to take a step back.

Digg was founded in 2004, ad free and small. By 2005 the site had gained popularity and ads were added. By 2008 they were getting over 230 million views per year and were in talks of selling the site for a reported $300 million. The site had gone through a few make overs and is the clustered mess of links that you know and love today.

In the early days nearly everything posted to digg was worth reading and clicking through. Like any social networking site though, after enough time passes and it becomes popular enough, it gets filled with crap. Anyone been to Friendster lately? It is all porn and spam.

Every day I search digg for Chicago news stories, the stuff that slipped through the cracks that digg used to pick up and make sure it wasn't forgotten. Now, I have to sift through dozens of advertisements and crap that stays at one digg until it dies. The service of digg is gone for the user that wants to see content and has become a free advertising platform. This is because there are so many people contributing to the site now, which anyone would think is a good thing, until you see it in action.

What good is an aggregator without lots of people to submit links and lots of traffic to send off to other sites? Well, the Internet has shown that two sorts of sites work. There is the massive site that covers everything like CNN or ESPN, or there is the niche site. Digg began as a niche site almost, or rather a gathering of niche sites that wanted to reach a small audience that was hard to target. It then blew up into a massive site and the niche quality of it was sacrificed for the ability to link to all the content on the Internet.

So, digg sounds pretty amazing right now, not a lot of suck. But digg let people add buttons, and lots of people did. So a lot more stuff was shared. And more people came to digg and used it and wanted their video or blog to go viral and be the next Tron Guy. So now, real, quality material is often looked over or the audience just does not care because there is a cat doing funny things over there.

Go to the Chicago Tribune site, every single story has a digg button in the corner. And how many do you see with a single vote, or even 10? And how much on there do you actually care about? Digg has given everyone the ability to advertise with the strategy that if you throw enough shit at a wall that something will eventually stick. So the more content you pump out, regardless of quality, increases your odds of inflating your traffic.

Here is where digg starts to suck more. The traffic that comes from digg is all hot air. According to a report on Mashable, a study by TubeMogal showed that the average user would view a video for 58 seconds, compared to nearly two minutes from a referral by Twitter.

That is just the tip of the digital iceberg though. Jacob Nielsen has a great piece on site traffic.

Low-value referrers, such as digg. People arriving through these sources are notoriously fickle and are probably not in your target audience. You should expect most of them to leave immediately, once they’ve satisfied their idle curiosity. Consider any value derived from digg and its like as pure gravy; don’t worry if this traffic source has a sky-high bounce rate.
Digg visitors make quick judgments when they click on something. Some may like it and stay, but odds are most just close out of your site. This not only inflates your “unique views” (which is it a view if they only see a few pixels for a second or two?) but also shoots your bounce rate to the planet formerly known as Pluto.

Back in 2006 Jason Clarke had already figured out that digg traffic was akin to the calories in beer, empty.

But how valuable is digg traffic, really, and is the digg community one that we should even care about? Unfortunately, after observing the digg community for about a year, I'd have to conclude no, it's not.
Advertisers are getting smarter about where to advertise online now too. A high bounce rate is a very bad thing. People don't want to pay you money to advertise based on a million views if 99 percent of them leave in under 20 seconds.

A piece by Ian Smith just about nails what digg is now.

In short, like most real world Democracies, digg is becoming nothing more than a rubber stamp for the powerful, the prominent, and the well funded.
These are all understandable side effects of a popular site with user submitted content. But digg did not stop there! Recently more and more rumors and numbers and reports have been floating around that digg is failing. Bing in its first month stomped digg views, but with $100 million advertising campaign that isn't much of a fair comparison. Yahoo buzz has passed digg though, essentially dethroning digg as the king of sharing sites.

So, in what I speculate as an attempt to boost their views for a while, mainly from those lost to Twitter, all digg links go to the digg site first and not the real content. Digg went ahead and basically told their audience that they are more worried about their own page views and not the service they provide.

Digg is now full of crap, links back to the site that is full of crap and sends views to your site that are worth... well, crap. Sounds like a site that sucks to me. I wouldn't be shocked if in the next few months digg is sold. And if Kevin Rose and gang don't sell it, they basically just dugg their own grave.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the system with so many viewers doesn't work anymore and can be manipulated by a very small number of people.

It has been reported that the top 100 Digg users posted 56% of Digg's frontpage content, and that a niche group of just twenty individuals had submitted 25% of the frontpage content.
Also, if the digg moderators don't like your story, but lots of other people do, doesn't matter. The moderators will bury anything they don't like.

It turns out that this article was submitted to digg, and has been amassing diggs at a steady rate in the Technology / Industry News category for the past two hours. At this moment, it has enough diggs that it should be listed 3rd 1st with more than double the number of diggs as the next highest entry on the list of most dugg upcoming stories in the Industry News category, but mysteriously it doesn't show up at all. It seems that this can only be attributed to digg's quiet use of moderators.
Digg sucks, it really does.


  1. FWIW, I agree.
    I used to frequent Digg, when it was a place to find interesting stuff, but those days seem too be over.
    And the mod-bury thing is really annoying as well.

  2. The Mod burying goes against everything the site is meant to be. It is a service for people that is created by the people. Without the content the audience submits digg would be worthless. If the audience hates how digg is being run the mods should learn a lesson, not hide it.

  3. Has there been any reporting on the fct that Digg dropped their "shout" function recently?

    Far be it from me to be a raving lunatic paranoid right winger, but it seems to me that this happened fairly shortly after something of a tight-knit conservative digg community grew up this past spring and taught each other how to game the algortihm somewhat to get articles to the front page, something the largely left-wing digg community seemed to find infuriating.

    Quite a lot of moderater-burying and even account banning surrounding all that.