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As Kevin Rose Restarts Digg, He Faces an Unsocial Problem

New Digg CEO Kevin Rose is wasting no time in changing the direction of the site. He’s killing the DiggBar and welcoming back previously banned domains. But the big challenge he faces is to restart Digg by making it more social, real, personalized and engaging.

The DiggBar is a controversial tool that framed content with Digg branding when a user clicked through from a link on the Digg site. Though Digg had publicly defended the bar in the past, Rose was none too kind in a blog post:

Framing content with an iFrame is bad for the Internet. It causes confusion when bookmarking, breaks w/iFrame busters, and has no ability to communicate with the lower frame (if you browse away from a story, the old digg count still persists). It’s an inconsistent/wonky user experience, and I’m happy to say we are killing it when we launch the new Digg.

Further, Rose said all previously banned domains would be unbanned, another concession to Digg’s critics. The site had previously drawn fire for capriciously targeting sites for various infractions but now Rose said the only filtering will be done automatically and be targeted at malware, virus and terms of service violations. Both changes will happen at a later, non-specified date when Digg launches its version 4.0 redesign.

New Digg CEO Kevin Rose

But these tweaks are only the start of bringing Digg back to its previous heights of growth and influence. In the last day I’ve been thinking about what Rose can really do to change Digg for the better, but it strikes me that Digg’s big problem is it’s a last-generation social site. I’m not trying to be harsh, but the company is experiencing declining traffic and influence, it missed its chance(s) to get bought, and just swapped CEOs. Digg, founded in 2004, sits somewhat awkwardly between the search era and the social era.

Sure, users have friends and posses and there are popular kids, but the dynamics of the site prevent it from harnessing the kind of active link sharing that Twitter and Facebook have run away with. I’ll admit I’ve never been in the Digg in-crowd, but the closest thing I’ve seen to a community on the site is a mob or a gathering of Diggnation groupies at a live taping.

A place where you use a silly moniker as your user ID just doesn’t feel like true socializing in these days of Facebook, Google, OpenID and (to some extent) Twitter. There’s a value to anonymity, but true social interactions are the kind of powerful things that keep you coming back. Endorsing a piece of content with your own name in the context of your known interests for an established group of friends or readers is quite powerful. Digg has already integrated with Facebook Connect, and Rose could probably do more with social norms to encourage users to be themselves on the site.

Digg actually has a lot in common with YouTube (s GOOG). Both sites are plagued with crude and unproductive semi-anonymous comments (though Digg users were rather nice to departing CEO Jay Adelson yesterday). They are user-generated content sites rather than social networks. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s accentuated on Digg because the user groups have dramatically different goals. Active users control the content. Readers come to get a sampling. Publishers hope they can game the system or at least benefit from it. Neither Digg or YouTube has really been able to cultivate a community of user-generated content consumers. YouTube, however, has the benefit of hosting videos that people actually watch, while Digg users click off site to go experience linked content. Digg had previously tried to grab for departing users with the DiggBar, but now it will have to figure out better ways to keep them around.

And in that respect, I do think Digg’s big long-awaited relaunch is a good idea. It’s supposed to make the site more personalized — so each user would see a customized news feed of stories he or she is likely to be interested in. That could go a long way towards more useful and real interactions and sharing around the site. And that, in turn, would bring back the quality traffic and network effects that a modern social web experience offers. I’m not sure if a social retrofit is even possible, but at least Rose seems motivated to chuck out past efforts and, hopefully, try something new.

Related from GigaOM Pro:

Social Advertising Models Go Back to the Future

Feature image courtesy of Flickr user ojbyrne

25 Responses to “As Kevin Rose Restarts Digg, He Faces an Unsocial Problem”

  1. Richard Jones

    “But is it the kind of sticky traffic and thoughtful readership that our advertisers or your event staff is targeting? Probably not”…@Katz

    I don’t work for nor frequent Digg much anymore but I don’t understand the above comment which I tend to see often. These are usually trick not or affiliate links. The people who are clinking the digg links are people who have an interest in the topic or story featured..because they are not sticky or “thoughtful…wtf” maybe says more about your site or whatever it is you are selling. Are you producing content people want to consume ( must be if Digg readers are clicking) or trying to sell something to someone who has no interest in buying.

  2. Digg’s biggest enemy is itself, no one else. Most of the internet marketers see Digg as their enemy and not friend. You need to work really hard to build your profile in Digg (as in any other social media like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, StumbleUpon), and one fine day Digg bans you. They hardly give reasons for ban too.

    Many people I had talks to told me the strict behavior is keeping Digg clean from spammers. But I find it hard to agree. Most of the Digg front page hits come from top 100 diggers. Does this mean SPAM free?

    If 200 friends of mine share an article in FB, Facebook welcomes. If 500 followers RT my tweet, Twitter welcomes. But if same happens in Digg, it is likely that Digg ban you! OMG! Is this a social network?

    I feel, Digg is neither democratic nor social. It has a close network of powerful diggers (who might be paying to Digg), they control and rule the entire Digg world. Readers just get some good content that these people like.

    Its just the lack of alternative that Digg ruled sometime. Now with Twitter and Facebook, Digg days are gone. Kevin has major challenge in his hand to turn this losing trend.

    I am not very hopeful but the unbanning of sites seems a good step to me. Hope they unban all users too. Best way to control spam is restriction, not ban. Digg can learn it from LinkedIn, Facebook and SU!!

  3. With a perspective of a long time member, Diggs limelight has come and gone. When the founders started messing with the original recipe, the quality of content declined. Its still pretty good stuff at times but not as high grade as it once was. It also lost credibility trying to mix in sponsor content with member stories! Its now more like the weekly world news than the enquirer. Too much fluff.

  4. Nick Kilo

    I believe digg’s biggest problem was the community.

    I was a regular digger but I moved on. I have gotten much older but the community just did not seem to be getting any mature.

    I completely agree with distortedloop and Jimmy34. Reddit today stands for something real, something that digg does not anymore.

    Plus the MrBabyMan effect. I don’t want to see dupes coming to the front page just because MrBabyMan(or any other uber-digger) posted it.

    • johnabbott

      Agreed. I got tired of the infantile community and moved on. I don’t miss not visiting Digg regularly any more. The web has tons of aggregators.

    • It is really hard to generalize millions of users. I also think it is stretch what Liz said about digg and youtube: “plagued with crude and unproductive semi-anonymous comments”. I spend a lot of time reading digg and youtube comments and for the most part negative comments are a small % of the comments (it really varies with what the content is too).

      Digg is a mixed bag of mature and immature users.

      Also MrBabyMan is one of the “uber-diggers” that goes out of his way to not submit dupes. I have seen him resubmit stories that are days old, but why not resubmit a good story that did not hit the front page. It is also easy to make a mistake and submit dupes. I will admit it would be nice if unknown diggers had a chance of hitting the front page of digg.

  5. DIGG can R.I.P. as far as I’m concerned. It allowed itself to be overran and controlled by cabal-like factions and nasty user comment threads. I can stand toe-to-toe with the best of them in a flame war, but if you’re past puberty, who wants to waste their time with that kind of site, especially today when there are plenty of other aggregators to help you find the interesting stories. I haven’t used it in a couple of years more than once or twice, so I’ll grant that my opinion may be outdated, but I haven’t missed not using it.

  6. Jimmy34

    If you want to see Digg’s future, look to Reddit. Check out the sub-reddits — living breathing moderated communities. Check out IAMA. This is where Digg will have to go — creating real communities (using real names or not doesn’t matter) under the banner of one over-arching community. Seriously, if you aren’t following what Reddit is doing and how it interacts with its users, you are missing out on a big part of the future of social on the net. There’s hundreds of millions to be made in learning from Reddit — and Rose might just be smart enough to put his ego aside and blatantly copy it.

      • jimmy35

        Liz – It’s been a long evolution and the founders didn’t leave until last October. I’m not sure who’s responsible for letting users make and curate sub-reddits, but it’s a fascinating mix. Sometimes veering a bit towards 4Chan, but still very smart. And I don’t work there…