Jun 20 2011

Can Digg Put the Pin Back in the Grenade?

Category: social mediaTom Shivers


An interview with David Leonhardt

So, how did Digg rise to wild popularity, fall to mediocrity and give birth to numerous social voting sites?

Digg really was “The Great White Hope”, so to speak, but they blew it with Version 4. They made a classic mistake that so many companies make. When they tried to reinvent themselves, they did not play to their strengths. Coca Cola made that same mistake with New Coke.

What did Digg do with Version 4 that caused such a backlash instead of giving us New Digg?

The big thing they did is that they disenfranchised the “power users” – those people who were most active. They started “popping” less. Popping means being voted popular onto the front page, which is the ultimate goal of any submission a Digg player aims for, whether the submission is self-interested or just for sport.

The idea was that by limiting the power of just a few (actually, a few hundred), they would open it up to so many more people to participate. Over the years there had, of course been complaints from power-user-wannabes: “How come they get all the votes?”

Levelling the playing field somewhat might have worked, but Digg took a different approach. Instead of making it easier for those who truly wanted to compete but did not know how (like reinstalling “shouts” that had been removed a year or so earlier), they gave big name publishers a fast track to the front page. Much of the time, I can tell you before you submit an item whether it is likely to pop, just based on the domain. Not the quality of the content. Not the efforts put in by the Digger. Just by whether the domain has been whitelisted in some way.

Digg also changed the look, which had a lot of people grumbling – but I suspect that was not what really was bothering them. 😉

So, Digg favors big name publishers, and the power users leave the scene. Wow, sounds like the exact opposite of how Digg got so popular to begin with.

Many power users are still there. Some left and returned, for lack of a better home. Others are gone forever. There are many that right now are teetering. As long as there is a sizeable audience, those with blogs, video sites, etc. will continue to play the game. But there is a lot of grumbling. A lot of users who are there to promote their content – not spam commercial pages, but real content – are no longer sure that Digg is worth the trouble. Those whose sites have been whitelisted are not about to stray, but those whose sites are not whitelisted may not stay much longer. Consider this…

  • Total traffic down.
  • Power users get less of a share of that traffic.
  • Digg no longer gives SE)-friendly links.
  • Hoards of bloggers are no longer roaming Digg for content.

That last point is crucial. A front page story on Digg was a golden ticket to bloggers picking up you content, talking about it, linking to it, etc. Go back to any how-to article on Digg from 2009, 2008, etc, and the number one piece of advice was before creating content to be submitted to Digg, make sure your servers are ready to handle the load. Some power diggers even spent time devising work-arounds in case the server could not handle the load. Anybody today would laugh if you warned them of server overload.

I do remember hearing stories about Digg traffic shutting down servers back then, but not today. I guess Digg’s business model isn’t dependent on bloggers.

I think they are much more advertiser centric. That is good, in that they have a business model that includes revenues. But if they lose too much traffic, the advertisers won’t be there.

What about the Digg power users who left, where did they go?

Interestingly, Digger Phil Mitchell had been toying with the idea of setting up his own social bookmarking site. He saw http://www.zoomit.ca (for Canada) and was exploring setting up something similar for the UK. Then Digg V4 came crashing down, and he sprang into action to create a home for disenchanted diggers. He really worked faster than the speed of light; it was amazing. And a whole bunch of diggers headed over to his new http://www.OldDogg.com. Shortly afterward, Propeller shut down, and I helped let folks there know about OldDogg. Over time, most of the Diggers gravitated back to Digg, and OldDogg is now a compilation of ex-Diggers, ex-Propellerheads and new folks. I wrote about it at http://www.seo-writer.com/blog/2010/09/30/propellers-funeral-is-olddoggs-baptism/

However, I think long-term the power diggers and the others who are still abandoning Digg find that they can get more or better headlines and links through Twitter and other niche social bookmarking sites like BizSugar.com and Fwisp.com . As one Digger recently put it, “If Digg only serves up the big media headlines, what’s the point of Digg? I can get that stuff anywhere.”

I should note that Digg made a big mistake (IMHO) well before V4. I referred to it earlier. When they ended the shout feature, whereby a Digg user could “shout” to his followers, it forced diggers onto Twitter. I recall the mad scramble of Diggers setting up Twitter accounts and trying to find their Digg followers to get them to follow them on Twitter, so that they would have a means of letting their followers know about their submissions. At the time, I remember thinking, “This is crazy. Digg is forcing people to go off Digg to communicate about their submissions to Digg? Why even submit to Digg then? Why not just post the link directly to followers on Twitter?” And over time, I think that is what has been happening. Digg V4 was just a wake-up call of sorts, tipping a few more people overboard.

Since I’ve been using OldDogg, I’ve found that it caters to political conservative topics, while BizSugar is all about startups, entrepreneurship and business. I’m not as familiar with Fwisp but it seems focused on financial topics. Of course Zoomit is strictly for Canadians, what other social bookmarking niche sites are there that are useful for marketers?

That is an amusing comment. In fact, OldDogg seems to be overrun with political folks, particularly US-based, right-leaning political folks, because they felt squeezed out of Digg just prior to V4 being released (you can search Google for Digg Patriots) and they lost a home on Propeller. But there are also a lot of finance types on OldDogg and a few “gossip” marketers. Fwisp, PFbuzz and TIPD all cater to finance (investing and personal finance).

If your site runs a blog – and what good marketer does not run a blog, there is also BlogInteract and BlogEngage. I am really liking BlogEngage these days, and I even reviewed their RSS submission service (which reduces your efforts) at http://su.pr/9847sV . There is community, a fair number of participants, good link juice (especially with the RSS service) and I have initiated several relevant link exchanges through meetings on BlogEngage.

You mentioned community on these sites and some relationships that have come out of your interactions. What are your thoughts on building relationships with “power users”?

Absolutely. That is how they became power users, by building relationships with each other. Look who typically pops in areas of interest to you and follow them. Vote up their submissions, comment on them, and follow them on Twitter (and RT their tweets) to get their attention. When they see you are serious, they will take you seriously.

Ok, anything else you want to share?

Yes. Vote for Amabaie’s submissions everywhere please. 😉

Actually, my top piece of advice to anyone who is interested in exploring social sharing and/or bookmarking is to get active on the sites. Don’t just submit your stuff and run. There is no value in the submitting process; the value is in getting your item promoted, and that takes teamwork.
One more thing. Stay ethical, within the terms of the site and avoid trying to get too tricky. Right now on Digg, there are hundreds of sock puppets out there (duplicate accounts). Both the left and the right are throwing around the accusations, and I know many marketers with duplicate accounts. Frankly, I am totally stunned that Digg is still allowing this to happen, but I expect that one day soon a lot of power Diggers will be losing two accounts at once. I could be wrong, but I’m never afraid to make a prediction based on what makes sense.

David Leonhardt is an SEO consultant who understands the connection between social media and high search engine rankings – and how the two together can build a website’s traffic and reputation.

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2 Responses to “Can Digg Put the Pin Back in the Grenade?”

  1. A. Tatum Jr says:

    Very good post. It’s really hard to say if Digg can come back. It may end up like Myspace. It had all the glory at first, but it soon became played out.
    A. Tatum Jr recently posted..Year of the Dragon-BloggerMy Profile

  2. emory @ clickfire says:

    Love the title of this post. I think a lot of the digg refugees fled to reddit. I wonder if they’re still camping out there.
    emory recently posted..Logo Design Guru ReviewMy Profile