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Digg v4: How To Successfully Kill A Community

Late last month, Digg.com released version 4 of the popular social news site and the response was horrific. In a web poll from Mashable.com, users overwhelmingly selected the previous version as the better site with version 3 garnering 78.4% of the total votes.

I have been an avid user of Digg since 2007, spending countless hours contributing to the community and helping to make the news. I truly believe that this new implementation of Digg will be remembered as not only one of the worst re-launches, but as the pinnacle example of how to extinguish a once rampant community. To find out how Digg.com has came to this predicament, we need to look back on some history of the site.

Digg History

Started in 2004, Digg.com started as a tech site similar to Slashdot.com. Digg soon morphed into a user generated news site with the addition of voting in version 2 in 2005.  The site quickly became a popular destination for those users looking for news other than the main media outlets and Digg was the location of news for the people, by the people. In 2006, Digg used the following copy to describe itself:

“What’s Digg? Digg is a technology news website that employs non-hierarchical editorial control. With Digg, users submit stories for review, but rather than allowing an editor to decide which stories go on the homepage, the users do.”

Initially, Digg celebrated the participation of those users who were adding to the community, and even had a top users section with detailed stats on the most active and successful users on the site. However this all began to change in 2007.

In February, Digg removed the top user lists, a move that marked the slow separation of Digg and the Digg users. Through the years, Digg continued to alienate users with their actions.  From banning top-contributing users, to having a girlfriend of a Digg employee submit a slanderous cartoon of a top user and further distancing themselves from users by removing user icons from the homepage:

Digg has made it clear that the community that built the site was no longer appreciated, while competitors have taken an differing approach…

A Look At The Competition

Reddit.com is very similar to Digg in that it is a user-generated social news, but unlike Digg, Reddit caters to their community by changing their logo to hot topics on the site, making their site and mobile code open source, and responding to complaints with fixes and updates.  They have had their share of troubles with independent moderators but as a whole, Reddit embraces their community to the fullest.  The co-founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian, engages the community regularly on his blog and spoke about the importance of community and the absence of community control in a recent TED talk.

The feeling is mutual as well as the community responds and supports Reddit. When Reddit needed some cash to fix their site this summer, the community responded with 9,000 subscriptions in just 10 days.

Other social communities are thriving as well.  The 4chan (NSFW) is still leading the way in meme-making, shenanigan causing and cyber policing. This brings us to the point of where Digg went wrong with version 4 and why the new version snubbed the community.

What Digg v4 Did Wrong

Unfortunately for Digg, it is said that a first impression is a lasting one – as the first impression that Digg v4 made was that users aren’t important to the site anymore. An “upgrade” in Digg v4 is that news sources could auto-submit their own content, something that Digg had strongly opposed in the past (see Section 3 point 8.) This new version of Digg gave these publishers an extraordinary amount of power on the site and revoked the ability of users to actually create the news. Auto-submitted publisher news overtook the site killing the perceived notion of a democracy. A running joke emerged – that Digg was becoming the popular social site Mashable due to the publisher content taking over the site.

In reality, Digg changed their business model and pretended that they didn’t. That is something that is unacceptable with communities and won’t be forgotten. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian hit the nail on the head in an open letter to (now former) Digg CEO – Kevin Rose:

“You chose to grow with venture capital and you’ve no doubt (I hope) taken some money off the table in your Series C round. I say this because this new version of digg reeks of VC meddling. It’s cobbling together features from more popular sites and departing from the core of digg, which was to “give the power back to the people.”

Top user Andy Sorcini (aka MrBabyMan) made a plea to Digg to stop the madness and users revolted by filling up Digg with pleas to go back to the old Digg, then showed the hatred of the publishers’ power by ironically promoting the articles from a familiar publisher, Reddit.

In addition to muting the voice of the community and taking a new direction, the launch of Digg v4 offered no additional benefits and actually stripped users of many helpful and beloved features including:

  • The Ability to See What You Have Submitted – People tend to use social news sites to bookmark things and look back as to what they liked/disliked and Digg.
  • Favorites – Users could star items that they loved (even if they didn’t find and sumbit to Digg) and bookmark them for later consumption.
  • Categories – Digg had started being predominately tech related news, but evolved into all types of news and featured many distinct categories (and the ability to block specific categories).  The categories were condensed and users were subjected to all types of content during launch.
  • Time Stamps – Appending a time and date shows how fresh an article is and these were mysteriously missing during launch.  Time stamps are also missing in the new search feature which makes searching for current news difficult.
  • Legacy Article Vote Counts – All of the existing votes on articles were removed and had zero Diggs. Looking back on popular stories sorted by the number of Diggs helped in searches and was a way of finding if great content had already been shared.  Digg v4 broke the vote count on all stories on the site and off-site for those publishers who had implemented their buttons and badges.
  • The Bury Button – This was the most flagrant offense in my eyes as it affirmed the change in direction of the site. The bury button allowed the community to degrade content that was not fit for Digg and gave the community a voice on content that was not acceptable and self-patrol.

Who Really Loses?

Digg v4 may have appeased investors, but will be marked as the downfall of a once great site due to the lack of attention to the community and the blind disregard to inform them of the change in direction.

Drew Curtis, the founder of the editorial social news site FARK.com, summed it up best in his weekly update:

“Back when we were doing Fark TV, someone emailed in a complaint that I’ve never forgotten. They said they didn’t like the show because it was a sketch comedy show that had the name Fark stamped on top. There wasn’t really anything Fark about it. You can’t just stick the Fark name in there and expect the Fark community to just adopt it as their own, they said. Whoever sent that in was right.

Digg just made the same mistake. They just scrapped their existing site, replaced it with a new one, and told everyone it was Digg. That’s what everyone’s angry about: it’s not Digg, and they really resent being repeatedly told that it is.”

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