Digg Redesign Met with a Thumbs Down

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Updated: The new version of Digg launched yesterday after more than a year of development and was either unreachable or unstable for much of the day. It doesn’t seem to be winning many fans, at least not among the link-sharing site’s existing users. A scan of the most popular comments on the relaunch shows an overwhelming number of negative responses, and other users have spoken out on Twitter and elsewhere about their dissatisfaction with the site: not just the fact that some features are missing, or that it’s been unstable, but with the overall rationale.

The top most-voted comment on a story about the relaunch, which has received almost 1,000 thumbs up from other users, says: “It’s garbage. The navigation is a lot worse, who knows where the subcategories are, you can’t follow your friends as easily, commenting looks stupid now… even if they fix the bugs, it’s still worse than it was before.” Another — which also has almost 1,000 votes — says “the person who designed and/or suggested the design for this new DIGG should probably be fired,” while another comment with more than 750 votes says simply “New Digg sucks!!!!” Another says “Worst. Facebook clone. Ever.”

Others have taken to their blogs to complain about the redesign, and to Twitter. On a site called — appropriately enough — Social Media Rage, a user said that the relaunch was “a massive failure,” and that Digg had “sold out, plain and simple.” The blog post echoed some other users’ comments that the new version of the site was appealing too much to mainstream content publishers, who can now post their stories automatically via RSS, and ignoring its devoted userbase. “Publishers now have more traction than the hardcore Digg community,” it said, arguing that users had made Digg a success and now the site was selling out to mainstream content companies who wanted to promote their links.

On a recent technology-focused podcast called The Drill Down, which features a number of veteran Digg users — including Muhammad Saleem, JD Rucker and a user known as Mr. Babyman — the guests talked about their dislike of the new design and the loss of many of the features, such as timestamps on stories that have been submitted, and the so-called “bury” button (note: there is some strong language on the podcast). In addition to these kinds of criticisms, however, they also talked about the redesigned site’s focus on content from mainstream media publishers, and how that was getting in the way of the kind of alternative content Digg used to be known for.

Anyone who’s been through the redesign or relaunch of a site or service knows that complaints from long-time users are nothing new. Many people don’t like change, and instinctively react negatively, even when the changes end up being positive. Facebook knows this better than anyone: The canonical example is when it was deluged with criticism for launching its “news feed” of user’s activity, but that has since become one of the most popular features of the social network. And Digg does have its fans, who argue that the site had to undergo a radical transformation in order to remain relevant.

The risk for Digg, however, is that by trying to appeal to new users and mainstream content publishers, the service could wind up turning off many of its most devoted users. That kind of trade-off works for a company if they can attract enough new users to make up for the ones that are leaving, but if that doesn’t happen then it can mean a long downhill ride, and Digg is already dealing with a substantial traffic downturn over the past year.

Update: Kevin Rose has responded on his blog to some of the criticisms of the new site, saying “while not everyone is happy w/the new design, as of right now the usage looks extremely good” with more people registering (43,000+ new users yesterday) and participating in the site. While the Digg CEO said his top priority is “to stabilize the site, then we’ll look at the data/feedback and make decisions on what to change going forward,” the site will be making some changes as a result of user responses — including allowing users to change the default view back to Top News, and restoring some missing features such as reader favorites.

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