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How Digg killed itself?

Digg is a social news website, or rather a news aggregator. If you have worked in the early era of online publishing, you would know how big Digg was back then. People would actually beg with friends to Digg their articles, and if the article reached the front page of digg, the website would send millions of visitors to the story in return. In fact, webmasters would prepare themselves for such the sudden burst of traffic, or rather Digg Effect, but news of Digg being sold in parts is rather saddening, but not surprising though as it had to happen.

Betaworks, the company behind bought the core assets of for an estimated $500,000. This is what Betaworks had to say officially:

“We are turning Digg back into a startup. Low budget, small team, fast cycles.
How? We have spent the last 18 months building as a mobile-first social news experience. The team will take Digg back to its essence: the best place to find, read and share the stories the internet is talking about. Right now.
We are going to build Digg for 2012. More to come…”

It was shocking that a company that was previously valued at $200 million was sold for just $500k, however, it was later clarified that the total Digg acquisition was around $16 million, still a small amount compared to its previous valuation. According to sources, Washington Post paid $12 million for the Digg team. LinkedIn, a social networking website for people in professional occupations, paid between $3.75 million and $4 million for a total of 15 different patents owned by Digg, including the patent for “click a button to vote up a story”. The remaining assets, like the domain, code, data and all the traffic was sold to Betaworks for somewhere between $500k and $725k. So what brought digg to this state where it is being sold in parts, like scrap in junkyard, from a status where it one of the most influential sites on the internet? Why this painful death? Let’s analyse.

Digg and, two sites which are functionally similar, have been in a war ever since they were born. Digg used to send millions of hits to stories which hit its front page, while on the other hand, Reddit used to send relatively much lesser traffic, but Reddit is still charming and in fact growing out of proportion in past few months! Does that mean Reddit stole Digg’s traffic? Not exactly, because Digg did that to themselves. If you don’t offer users what they want, they will look for a new place to land. Facebook or twitter isn’t responsible for Digg’s death either, as both of these sites do have the similar functionality like sharing, but they aren’t a news aggregator like Digg or Reddit for that matter.

Why is Reddit still growing? The answer lies in how the site is managed. Digg had a nice web 2.0 interface when it was launched, as opposed to Reddit having a plain page with subtle design and links on it. What kept Reddit going is that they haven’t changed the design and their loyal fan base is still with them, and growing as you read this. Digg on the other hand have redesigned the site several times, and the update Digg v4 back in 2010 was the worst and gave them a major blow. The new design removed core features of Digg, such as bury, favorites, friends submissions, upcoming pages, subcategories, videos and history search, and assailed people with adverts. The new version of site was such a disaster, both visually and content wise. There were more sponsored links on the front page, and it gave the loyal users a feeling that they were being sold to the corporations indirectly, and nobody likes when that happens. The site began to become unstable and in an open letter to Rose, Alexis Ohanian, founder of rival site Reddit, said : “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.”

Digg users who were against the changes declared August 30, 2010 as the ‘quit Digg day’ and began digging up stories that was submitted by Reddit’s auto submitting publisher account, which was also one of the main features of Digg v4. The ‘quid Digg day’ movement was very successful, in fact Reddit also temporarily added the Digg shovel on logo of their website. Digg’s traffic dropped ever since and it was just downhill from there.

If you take a look at picture comparing traffic received by two websites and you can see that Reddit drew more traffic than Digg for the first time in December. Also, you can see that at the start of graph, the graph of Digg took a steep nosedive, and apparently Digg v4 was launched on August 25, 2010, so you can see what happened there. When users requested Digg to get those missing features back, but Ian Eure, a former engineer from Digg explained why the update couldn’t be reverted. Some of the features were however ported to the new platform, but it was too late. Data from December shows that 34M unique visitors with two billion page views, which means Reddit not just “surpassed” Digg, but also beat them to ground, and it was all uphill for Reddit since then.

The mistakes which Digg committed were something that a company of its size just would never even risk to. There are companies like Facebook for example, which keeps updating and adding new features to its site. The users will complain about each update, and despite having the new competing product from Google, the Google+, Facebook users just won’t leave because they don’t have enough reasons to, and that’s what I mean by how the company knows to retain its users.

Where did all the users migrate then? Well, most of them have head to Reddit. While Digg shrunk, Reddit expanded its user base. Reddit hasn’t changed since its inception, and loyal fans just like the way it is. The design may not be anything fancy, but it does the work very well and it doesn’t assault you with sponsored links and adverts. Let’s face it. Digg’s Cassandra algorithm, apparently for which they have a patent too, was a tragedy which lead to company’s death and loss of loyal users. Some users may have also migrated to Stumble Upon.

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