Blog Post

Digg Backlash Reinforces the Risks of Social Media

Digg has undergone a number of revisions and feature additions over the years, but nothing approaching the magnitude of the relaunch that took place recently, a comprehensive redesign and restructuring that had been in the works for over a year. The launch triggered a wave of dissent from Digg users that founder Kevin Rose — who recently stepped down as CEO in favor of former Amazon (s amzn) executive Matt Williams — continues to try and subdue.

Some see the revolt by hard-core users of the service as yet another sign of how fickle social-media users can be, or how poorly many people tolerate change. But there are two even more important points worth looking at: one is just how vital it is that user-driven services such as Digg communicate with their users when undertaking fundamental changes on the scale of this relaunch. And the second is that the Digg backlash has forced the company to confront the same critical question many other similar networks have struggled with, including Facebook — namely: how do you expand your reach and appeal to new users without irritating your existing fans and losing their support? I looked at some of the implications of these two points in a recent report I wrote for GigaOM Pro (sub req’d).

The negative reaction to Digg’s changes occurred in part because of the loss of some traditional features (such as the “bury” button, which users could click on to vote a post down) as well as some other irritations, like changes to the commenting system and the loss of the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” icons. But those weren’t the only things that irritated die-hard Digg users — many were upset with what they saw as changes to the Digg ranking algorithm, and other new features for professional publishers (i.e., mainstream websites such as Mashable and those from Time Warner and other media companies), such as the ability to publish straight to the site via RSS feeds.

A number of users said that they felt these changes amounted to the site turning its back on its core user-base. From Digg’s point of view, however, most of these changes were deliberate — even necessary — in order to make the site more appealing to mainstream users, and reduce the influence that “power users” exerted through the bury button and other group-voting behavior. In a world where Twitter and Facebook are now the social-media tools of choice, Digg had to change, or risk becoming irrelevant.

Kevin Rose eventually responded on Twitter to some complaints, as well as in a blog post, saying many of the lost features would be restored and apologizing for bugs and other site problems. He also said the changes were designed in part to “remove the popularity contest and put the focus on quality diggers.” In other words, to try and defuse some of the influence that “power users” of the site had managed to accumulate. The biggest problem with Rose’s response, however, is that it only appeared after the revolt was well under way. For more analysis, please see the full report.

9 Responses to “Digg Backlash Reinforces the Risks of Social Media”

  1. I am disappointed about how Digg revised their system. Social Media this present times is in demand for every site in order to gain that reputation in terms of Search Engine Ranking position and Page Rank, however, G loves digg as one of bookmarking site but today the new digg is useless for me. I really love the old digg site than the new one. It is not the way Rose apologize, what matters most is how and when they can fix the site.

  2. I am surprised that you don’t give more prominence to the core issue – Digg has always been a social news site, meaning that it is supposed to be about user-submitted and user-generated content. Allowing traditional publishers to submit content straight to Digg is in total violation of the ‘social news’ principle. The excuse that they had to do this to reduce the influence of ‘power users’ is total b.s. They had to do this to satisfy the greed of people like the VCs. Sites like reddit avoid the power user dynamic in simpler and better ways such as not displaying either the submitter’s ID or the popularity socre on newly submitted articles for a certain period of time. It would have been all too easy for Digg to implement similar changes if all that they wanted to do was reduce the influence of power users.

  3. Your readers may be interested in a Digg alternative that continues in the “follow” user model, but with a bit more power. quippd allows users to make stories editable, enabling high quality content curation based on a single story or topic, not focused on a single publisher.

    See this story about the recent cancellation of the Qur’an burning in Florida:

    Instead of linking to *one* content provider for this information, *many* are linked to, as the story unfolds.

  4. Digg’s problem is not tied to a redesign. It’s cute to play he angle but it isn’t true. The real problem is that Digg was built “pre-social”. We are now in a “post-social” world. Most sites built before Social really happened are at risk. DIGG is a big loser.

  5. I was an avid user and supporter of Digg until the Big Change… Digg Was a good way to get traffic and subscribers… and for Now, I see no Advantage for Content promotion or Marketing. Change is a constant, but you cannot abandon your core value.

  6. “Digg had to change, or risk becoming irrelevant”

    This may be true, but the change they made will make them irrelevant anyways. By promoting large publishers and RSS publishing, they lose the individual voice that made them unique in the first place, while simultaneously making them more equal to all the other information aggregators that are social – Google Reader/Buzz, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Why would anyone migrate to the new Digg when they can and have been doing the same thing on those other sites thus far?

    • Dude that is an awesome piece. Thanks for sharing. Man — he was spot on in his analysis. It also is a good piece to read to understand why FB is not a social network, but a service that wants to social enable everything. Key distinction!