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Summary:

Digg is trying to make a comeback of sorts – one that involves marrying social signals with high-quality and calm reading experience. And while it is still early days, the new Digg plan seems to be working. Up next – an Android app that can turbocharge its efforts.

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During the latter half of the naughties (2000s), Digg was one of the premier destinations on the web. If your story ended up on the front page of Digg, then you were rewarded by hundreds of thousands of page views, quite a bounty considering publishers big and small made (and still make money) for page-view based advertising. The traffic bump came to be known as the Digg effect (much like being Slashdotted.) Digg, obviously fell on hard times and it was just over a year ago, it was acquired by New York-based technology and media company, Betaworks.

Johnborthwick

John Borthwick, chief executive of Betaworks, had a plan  — Digg still was a good brand and was an ideal vehicle for his vision of a social-data powered recommendation service and news reader. The early attempt at that social news reader, News.me, hadn’t really gone anywhere and they were ready to shut it down. Digg, however was a chance to restart.

The group would later buy read-it-later app Instapaper, and suddenly Borthwick’s plan of a quality reading destination that took its cue from the web and social networks made sense. But before that happened, Borthwick’s plan was to build an editorial team that picked out the very best from around the web and build a front page worth visiting. Since I have seen many similarly logical plans come apart at the seams, I have tempered myself with a healthy dose of skepticism.

My skepticism has started to erode a little, however. Pretty well twice a day, I end up on Digg’s homepage, and end up clicking and reading articles shared by Digg’s team. The quality hasn’t disappointed and someone clearly is doing their job — and doing it well. I thought maybe it was just me, since I love to read on the web, as often as I can, as much as I can. But last Sunday that notion of “just me” was dispelled. My colleague Signe Brewster wrote about the science of Breaking Bad. It was picked up by Digg and by end of the day it was the top referring site for that story — higher than Google, which apparently had “Breaking Bad” as one of its top trending terms.

I checked on Compete.com and Quantcast, two popular web measurement services, and they are both in agreement – after sinking for most of 2012 and early 2013, things have improved and around 300,000 people are coming to the site every day.  And while the veracity of their data can be questionable, the uptick which started after the relaunch in June 2013 at least gives us an idea that things are trending up.

So what’s the update?

All this made me wonder — how big has Digg become? Is it gaining steam? I picked up the phone and called Andrew McLaughlin, who till recently worked for Tumblr and joined Betaworks earlier this year. As senior vice president at Betaworks, he has been running Digg in recent days. And my question to Andrew was pretty simple: what is going on at Digg and how big is the service now.

The company has about three million unique visitors a month and many are dedicated enough to come back once a day, McLaughlin said. “Our plan for Digg is to not hoard your attention, but to send people away to read stuff.” And the way to do it is by featuring quality on the front page, the sole task of the the editorial team which highlights between 60-to-70 posts a day. “John wanted a calm and clear place that is not noisy,” he added.

Mobile Web

McLaughlin believes that things are stable and moving in the right direction for Digg, but the long term vision is to grow the user base of Digg Reader and “build out more features to sort and filter.” The concept of new Digg is build a reading experience that goes beyond the “Netflix style of recommendations” and instead “build a real playlist of what is more interesting and could be interesting, one that can be shared with friends and family,” much like the Spotify playlists. McLaughlin doesn’t think Flipboard’s magazine metaphor is the answer and neither is the Prismatic approach, which is why they are building the new Digg.

And while the long term goal is to charge people subscription fees for the service, for now the focus is on building the user base for Digg Reader. So far, Digg Reader has been an iOS only app, but a new Android app could come relatively soon and that is going to help the company expand their user-base. And like me, many of those newcomers are going to be pleasantly surprised by what they find on Digg. Who knows, we might soon see the return of the Digg Effect!

  1. I used Digg every day for around three years, preceding the election of Barack Obama. Digg was overrun by leftists, and the moderates and Republicans left to never return.

    The majority of the stories on the front page and in politics were controlled by groups that were set to promote page views by the likes of the Huffington Post, FireDogLake, Daily Kos, Crooks and Liars, Think Progress, Raw Story, Media Matters, and more.

    The moderates and Republicans were attacked and their accounts closed a number of times before they gave up on the site. You would amass a number of followers and if you posted your views, your account was attacked and shut down.

    The founders were asked time and again to balance the stories but they refused because they were in the bag for Barack Obama.

    After the election of Barack Obama, Digg was abandoned. I’ve never been back. I heard that it was sold, and I am shocked they got anything for it.

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  2. Craig Tumblison Sunday, August 18, 2013

    I may very well be a tiny bit bias (having reached this article via Digg Reader), but I do believe you may be on to something. I was a user of the former Digg, and I moved to reddit shortly after. While I love the real-time, breaking news features that only crowd powered sites can provide, there is definitely room for a curated option as well. I’ve found that Digg’s homepage is increasingly the articles I want to read, while reddit serves as more of a time filler. Google+ also gets a fair amount of my time, especially their community system. As much as reddit loves anonymity, there is something to be said about platforms like Google+ that enforce real name policies as well. Ultimately I think each platform has something special to offer, and the value of said platform ranges based on your personal workflow and expectations. I’m simply thrilled we have so many choices at the moment.

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    1. Craig

      Great points you make in your comment. I think the articles-i-want-to-read is the universal sentiment. I am going to try and keep using the front page and monitor quality. Calm-and-quality work for me. That said, Reddit is pretty wonderful at surfacing things quickly and has a special utility in the ecosystem right now.

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      1. Om, care to give any insight or your thoughts to Tommy’s comment above?

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        1. It is not a comment about current Digg and it is mostly about the politics of the old Digg community. I don’t care about their (or any) politics and things in the past. My politics is private and is for the voting booth and not broadcasting. I am happy being focussed on the present and hoping that future will be better/interesting.

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  3. Mark Druskoff Monday, August 19, 2013

    I can attest to Digg Readers value. I tried multiple readers to find a new home for my GReader feeds, which I monitor as part if my job as a joirnalist. After much disappoinent with the offerings, I tried Digg reader and have been pleased. The fact that they are supporting that platform with new features makes even more comfortable.

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    1. I am finding it pretty useful as well and I am actually looking forward to using it more often. That said, I still miss the ability to read my RSS feeds on Reeder.

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  4. I haven’t been to digg.com in probably a year now, it used to be my number one destination. That has since been replaced my RSS reader of which Digg is just a part of. Since the feed has direct (redirects) to the actual article I don’t even notice it’s via digg most of the time.

    Digging stories has no actual impact on the stories, it’s all curated. There are no comments. The layout is to go insane from. Going to the site itself has no point anymore.

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    1. Sam

      Respectfully I disagree with your characterization of Digg as it is right now.

      Well, if you went to Digg.com more often on a tablet, you would see the value of that design and how easy it is for you to go somewhere. The point of the site is for us to go somewhere. I think you need to use the service before to say that layout is insane or the site doesn’t have a point anymore.

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      1. It is far easier to do so via their RSS feed. My issue isn’t with the content. I simply dislike these kinds of layouts, many sites I used to actively visit have switched to these types of layouts. Stories are randomly placed, haphazardly appear and disappear in no coherent order. And I have switched to RSS for all those sites, it makes reading what they publish and link to so much easier for me. On top of that comes that ‘digging’ doesn’t really matter anymore and their is no community like the one that lived in the comments of the old digg.

        For me the order the RSS feed gives far outweighs whatever the site provides. My RSS reader makes me go somewhere just the same, but I can actually use it. And, hell, I could get that grid like layout in my reader if I wanted to.

        What does the ‘service’ aka the site provide me with that their RSS feed doesn’t?

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        1. Sam

          Your personal RSS reader habit means that Digg has no value for you – nothing wrong with that, except you can’t pass judgement on the service others like me find valuable.

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          1. So no actual arguments then. That’s okay.

            Digg has value for me, it’s their content. Their site doesn’t.

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  5. I’m very pleased by Digg Reader, which keeps improving, and which I am using as a replacement for Google Reader. It doesn’t quite have enough social sharing yet, but I can wait. I like the UI.

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