Almost a month ago Digg released v4 of its interface; I’ve been holding out commenting on it to see how the situation unfolded. I guess on the whole the majority of users won’t have heard about Digg, so to quote wikipedias definition:

Digg is a social news website made for people to discover and share content from anywhere on the Internet, by submitting links and stories, and voting and commenting on submitted links and stories…

I believe the whole furore surrounding the release of version 4 will inevitably influence the direction other internet sites will take.

Ever since the term ‘web 2.0′ was coined to describe how social media and user interaction would take the internet into a new era there has been a surge toward user generated content. Control has shifted from the establishment to the individual. Any user with access to a computer can publish content and broadcast to as many people as say a traditional newspaper columnist. This in essence defines the modern era of the internet – opensource, sharing, user generated content and feedback. Inevitably, the ‘suits’ have been hard at work trying to figure out a suitable mechanic of harnessing the massive outreach and converting this to revenue. To date this has been achieved through advertising, and later individually targeted advertising.

Take Facebook as an example, the premise: its a social utility site that allows users to register, then insert their personal details as well as likes and dislikes, and connect to other people they may or may not know. The real business model is somewhat more ingenius; as opposed to the potentially hit-and-miss method of printing an advert in a newspaper or magazine (or even plonking an advert on a popular web site), facebook is a precision marketing tool with surgical-strike accuracy. As users we supply our own market information: our age, location, what we are into, what films we love, what music we are into, what groups we are part of – this data they hold is completely accurate as we ourselves put it in. Hence Facebook holds a database of all our personal details, and just so happens to offer an advertising facility that can pinpoint any range of individuals within this source. Unprecedented market reach combined with precision accuracy is a potent mix. Now all of a sudden the owner Mark Zucherburg is richer than Steve Jobs of Apple — that’s how much leverage that mix achieves.

Back on topic, Digg is a social news website — users don’t personally know each other, what people say or post is much more important than who people are, so there is no necessity to divulge your personal information. In Digg v3 users found the stories or threads themselves either through searching or most commonly through ‘up voting’ articles they found interesting, they could also ‘bury’ stories from advertisers trying to tap into the user base. The ability for users to stop advertisers in their tracks combined with the miniscule user data (and targeting)  presented a weak business model with little leverage for advertising fees.

So came the deal with the Devil: the release of Digg v4, which saw the removal of the Bury button – users can still hide the stories after seeing them, but cannot prevent the promotional content from reaching other users. The biggest sin is that you now follow channels submitted by ‘the establishment’, rather than from grass roots users; this is a regressive direction not in tune with the current era. Digg’s answer to the problem was to ram the advertisers messages as pseudo news stories down their users throats, and to neutralise user controls. Furthermore Digg took a thriving community and sold them out wholesale to advertisers. The immediate backlash was palpable, which led previous CEO Kevin Rose to duck out and hire someone else to take the flack.

I fully expect the Digg community to dwindle. I also think that the desperate business decisions of the founder have led to the alienation of their basecore. The only positive to take from this scenario is that if Digg does indeed  fail — or in the very least scramble to undo the damage, then other companies will not be so keen to make the same mistakes.

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