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Why Will Upstage Digg

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Yesterday, New York-based startup incubator Betaworks raised $2 million in funding for its URL-shortener project,, and spun it out as an independent company. The funding raised some eyebrows, with some speculating if, one of the dozens of link-shortening services, was worth a rumored $8 million. I fall in the camp of those who think is worth the money.

Here’s why: The most important aspect of is not that it can shorten URLs. Instead its real prowess lies in its ability to track the click-performance of those URLs, and conversations around those links. It doesn’t matter where those URLs are embedded — Facebook, Twitter, blogs, email, instant messages or SMS messages — a click is a click and counts it, in real time. Last week alone, nearly 25 million of these URLs were clicked.

By clicking on these URLs, people are essentially voting on the stories behind these links. Now if collated all these links and ranked them by popularity, you would have a visualization of the top stories across the web. In other words, it would be a highly distributed form of, the social news service that depends on people submitting and voting for stories from across the web. Don’t be surprised if formally launches such as an offering real soon. This will help them monetize their service via advertising.

And because it would be much more democratic than Digg, and span across many verticals, it could become a potent competitor. Digg has been trying to expand beyond its tech roots and recently teamed up with Facebook for vertical expansion, but a quick glance at data provided by, a web-traffic tracking service, shows that San Francisco-based Digg’s traffic has started to plateau. (Data from Quantcast, another such service, shows that the unique monthly visitors to have plateaued as well.)

In comparison, has only started to ramp up, much like Twitter itself. And the fact that it’s the default shortener for Tweetdeck, a desktop client for Twitter, is only helping’s cause. Both and Tweetdeck share common investors. Most importantly, what’s working in favor of is that it personifies a much bigger trend: the complete disaggregation of the web in parallel with the slow decline of the destination web.


Like, another service that could become a challenger to Digg is It also provides analytics about your URLs. And it creates a unique URL for every link a user inputs. is the default shortener for another Twitter desktop client, Nambu. The reason these URL-shorteners are getting popular is because of limited space — 140 characters — on microblogging services such as Twitter.

I’m pretty sure the rise of short URLs is causing Digg some serious concern. After all, why else would the company be launching its own URL-shortener, perhaps as part of a toolbar or some kind of a browser add-on, as soon as this week.

And just when you were wondering what the damn point of those URL shorteners — which were originally invented to make sure that MS Outlook/Exchange didn’t destroy the links — was anyway…

Update: A couple of points I forgot to add in the original post: [digg=]

1. will have to keep up its hyper growth and attract a lot more URLs in order to ultimately become an authoritative resource for top links on the web.

2. By submitting a link and then sending it to friends or followers, I am actually acting as an editor, thus replicating the role of folks who submit stories on Digg. In other words, I am doing a kind of validation. Similarly when I email or IM a link involves pre-sorting thus making data more valid.

33 Responses to “Why Will Upstage Digg”

  1. would be SO much more useful if Tweetdeck integrated with directly so it would tie my account into tweetdeck. Too much dancing around still.

  2. anonymous

    Wouldn’t this whole area be a natural for Google to enter? The URL shortening part is trivial to code, and they probably already have some of the back-end click tracking stuff already.

  3. Howard

    I find the graphs a bit misleading. For you show unique visitors go from 0 in Aug to 180K Jan. Over the same time period digg goes from 22M to 35M. That’s hardly plateauing and seems very healthy for an established site.. For you show not unique visitors but clicks, hardly comparable.

  4. Here is a comment, I made at AVC related to this..

    If really becomes popular, our concern is the one point of failure, and the structure of the web. Our web search engine creates two short URLs [including] to make it a little more fail-safe. We found out there are 50 more such services, and will use two of them in a random manner to reduce the chance of one point of failure.

    Here are the list of all such services that we have discovered. We hope internet will remain open and diverse with all of them..

  5. kortina

    Om, you’re spot on with your points about disaggregation and a distributed mechanism for viewing popularity and context. One of the first places we’ve begun working toward this is in our Firefox extension ( ), which provides contextual and click data from our API for short links you come across on any web page. So if you’re browsing your Twitter stream or reading a blog post and see an interesting link, you can just hover over it to get context (page title, full URL) and popularity estimate ( number of clicks it has received ) before deciding to visit the page. Here’s what it looks like:

  6. Interesting stuff.

    Hypothetically speaking– what would happen if Twitter decided to:

    1) Allow people to link to sites in the same way that you can in a gmail message (i.e. select, click a link icon, paste link– voila. A good old fashioned hyperlink!)


    2) Launched it’s own URL shortening service

    Either way, all of a sudden Twitter has all of this valuable click/link data. Also, it seems to me that the instant that Twitter does this is the instant that URL shorteners die.

    • Agreed. Technically it is not difficult to create a shortening service; you just have to manage scaling well.

      I’ve always found it interesting how easily these services are trusted. It would be simple enough to replace a mapped URL with another, lets say point the full URL at another site on the same topic but which is part of an affiliate program. Most people wouldn’t even know that they were sent to another site than the original desitination.

      In fact their might be all kinds of interesting tracking, advertising and monetary implications by adding extra parameters to the original URL’s by the shortening service.

  7. What does bitly do if you create a short URL out of a link thats already been shortened? Does it give you back the one that its already got in the database? Or does it create a new one anyway? Seems like it would be harder to get metrics based on clicks if it is always creating a new one. That is something that Digg excels at, alerting you when a story has already been submitted.

    • Well, I am betting that since this would involve a high degree of human touch, the service will have good value. Of course, you are raising a valid and important point. I don’t have any answers :-)

    • Compared to digg is still small. When spamers will realize that people go to to find stories and not use it just as an url shortner they will start gaming the system.
      Now digg knows a lot more about their users/voters then will know about those that click the links so detecting the gaming might be harder for

  8. Om,

    I completely agree that Twitter and URL shorteners will have a big impact on sites such as Digg.

    My question here is what is going to be the catalyst to drive users to a particular service? I have been using BudURL for a while now and don’t see a real reason to change to another service.



  9. How is this a business? Where would they even run the ads, and who would click one? Let’s see, I go to to shorten a link I want to send to someone…I see an ad… I’m going to stop in the middle of what I’m doing and click it?

    What am I missing?

    • Peter

      I think the best way to think is or as pages for getting top/hot stories around the web. these are destination sites and they can attract contextual advertising. It is all predicated on growing real fast though.

  10. MSO and Telcos have been looking at Voting/Rating/Sharing systems for their video middlewares. I cannot say about this because while I use it (with Tweetdeck) and I have not had a chance to play with it.

    Digg, may be able to innovate & expand by integrating itself with platforms such as Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-Verse (MSFT Mediaroom). One could “Digg” shows with the added advantages of it may be able to act as a “Nielson” type rating systems.

    Then again, it may be possible with as well…. time to go look at the API to see if it can fit in as well as Digg for a demo application!

  11. Shoeb Ahmed has always been around, even before and has analytics better than that of, along with other features. I just think was in the lucky bucket at the time Tweetdeck dev was looking for a shortener.

    • sure that might be the case, but i really do believe that now the wind is behind their back and as a result is going to get some serious traction. as a result, we can expect them to build some value added services out of the aggregated data.

      now that said, it is a market with incredibly low barrier to entry and can be a frothy place to be. One thing is for sure – Digg is in some deep trouble.

  12. I understand the logical connection that a click should be considered a vote, similar to how Google’s PageRank and Techmeme consider a link a vote. But I think one could also make the argument that Digg’s “vote” data is much cleaner than that of

    Using Digg, the user has the opportunity to read the article (or at least the headline) before digging. However, with, the user clicking the link often doesn’t know the actual site behind the shortened URL and rarely, if ever, knows the quality of the content on that site. So, I think clicks tell you more about the influence of the person disseminating the link, than the quality of the content behind the link itself.

    And, if I’ve read the article correctly, this would benefit the most, as it creates a unique URL for each user/underlying URL pair.

    • Eddie

      Great points. Just to elaborate – I think when say I tweet an article, I am doing some kind of validation for you and acting as an editor for you. Similarly when I email or IM you an article with a link, I am already doing the pre-sorting for you and tell you that this article is worth reading. So from that perspective, data is cleaner.

      I am pretty sure has some innovations coming vis-a-vis

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      • mashaziva

        If you are acting as the editor, than the click that is tracked isnt predicated on the content since I dont know what hides behind the link; I open it because you sent it. It seems to follow twitter’s model that it is not what is said but who says it that matters. The comment” By clicking on these URLs, people are essentially voting on the stories behind these links” therefore isnt accurate; people will be voting on the popularity of the original ‘editor not on the article.

        • Yes, You are right about this – twitter model of who says it matters. Is it that offensive? After all you do click on emails/urls recommended by friends/co-workers and family. Why would you trust me as an editor if I kept feeding you crap links. Someday you are going to say – to hell with this guy and not click on anything me (aka the editor) recommends!

    • Robert Dewey

      I like your points Eddie.

      However, I think links that lack valuable content won’t get as much of the network effect.

      For example, if someone posts a link and I click it, if I think it sucks, then I’m not going to share it.

      Just a thought.


    • This may be true for the first time someone posts a link. However, once people start re-tweeting or sending it to others, thereby leading to greater clicks, you can assume the link is popular for its content and not for its author.