Home > Reviews, Technology > Digg v4 and My Thoughts on the User Backlash

Digg v4 and My Thoughts on the User Backlash

Last Wednesday, Digg launched it’s newest and most ambitions iteration, version 4, to the masses. I had been using Digg v4 for several months now, as I was lucky enough to get into the pre-release testing phases. I found myself very impressed by the new design and features, so much so that it actually got me digging again. Prior to this I would sporadically check Digg for articles, but I never logged in, nor contributed in any way. Because of this, I was mildly surprised to see such a large backlash from the user-base. Note, I didn’t say I was completely surprised by the backlash, merely surprised at the level of backlash. Change is always hard on some portion of the user-base, and it is to be expected, just as Facebook. Following the backlash has left me feeling that it’s a bit undeserved on Digg’s end, though I’m not completely without sympathy for the anger and frustration some are experiencing.

The biggest change in Digg v4 is a fundamental change to how the site works. In the past, the focus was on user submissions to generate content.  A lot of users really enjoyed the game of submitting a story then following it as it gained traction and hopefully made the front page. There was a bit of a game aspect to it, which appealed to some users (including those who would game the system for their own benefit).

Digg also had some weak social features in which you had some friends that could see what you’ve dugg and submitted. The problem here was that you had to navigate away from the main Digg stream to see these, and as such were hardly used. The core audience that Digg had amassed over the 5+ years it’s been in existence really enjoyed the way things were going.  Outside of this core audience, however, Digg was losing a lot of the more casual users. These casual users would browse for new stories and links, maybe log in and Digg, but most often simply left the site without contributing at all. Sadly, this was probably the largest part of the user-base. With Twitter and Facebook growing, these users left Digg because their needs were being met elsewhere.  This, in turn, lowered Digg’s traffic and made them less desirable to advertisers and new partners.

Digg v4 is a radical departure from the Digg of old. In creating this latest version, the Digg team sought to completely change the way people used Digg. The focus shifted from the typical user submission and pray model that some users loved, to a more automated and social stream effect. To build the social aspect Digg created a database of “taste-makers” that users could follow, much like the Twitter suggested users list. They also added a “My News” feed, which is a basically an RSS type feed of only the users that you are following. If they submit or digg a story, it will show up in their followers My News feed. In many ways this replaced the oft forgotten and unused “Upcoming” sections that Digg had implemented. These changes also radically changed the dynamics of submitting content to Digg, which is where I think a lot of users felt alienated and jilted.

Along with the new My News feed, users can now set up their own websites to automatically push content to Digg. This means websites such as Mashable, CNET, Techcrunch, etc. can all automatically push content to Digg the second they post it, without having to go through the old submission process. Because these sources are automatically fed to Digg, it means that users who used to scour these pages hoping to be the first to discover new content to submit to Digg are rendered obsolete. There’s no point in me checking my favorite blogs to submit their stories if they are doing it automatically. To Digg’s core audience, the ability to submit content and get recognized for doing so was the main attraction. Now, these users have no purpose other than to consume content. People feel that all of their effort in the past to find good content and submit it is now worthless. Most good content sources already push their stuff to Digg, so there just isn’t a need anymore.

While I understand the desire for some people to achieve recognition for their submitted content, I never liked user submissions of other people’s content. A lot of Digg users got some notoriety on the site for being the first to submit content. However, many times this content was not created by the submitter. This means that someone was gaining notoriety on Digg for submitting someone else’s work. To make matters worse, the users actively submitted content was a very small percentage of the total viewers of the site. Even worse still, the top submitters used gaming techniques to control the front page of Digg. This meant that more casual users, myself included, would often submit stories that get zero attention, until one of the “power users” re-submits the same story. This isn’t fun, and turned a lot of would-be diggers towards other sites (read: Reddit).

At the risk of making an already lengthy post even more wordy, not to mention fanning the flames, I would like to say that I feel that the changes in Digg were for the better. For me, and many other users, Digg was all about content consumption. We wanted to go through new links, discover stories, and entertain ourselves. The new Digg allows us to do just that. I can log in to Digg, see links relevant to my interests, and easily Digg anything I like. I can also browse over to the main news feed and see what is popular. I don’t have to worry about submitting other people’s content and hoping it gets more than 10 diggs (a personal record!). I can simply enjoy the content stream that is curated by not only people I follow, but by the community at large, provided they grow up and stop gaming the system with complaint threads and links to Reddit (another site I happen to love).

Despite the very vocal minority, I have a feeling these changes are going to keep Digg going. It’s no secret that they were losing users and their position as the dominant social news outlet. They were losing money and influence and had to make a drastic change to stay relevant. Five years is a lifetime on the internet, especially with no major innovations. Kevin Rose is already claiming they are seeing increases in not only new users, but user interactions with the site. Considering there are about 100 employees banking on the success of the site to feed their families, this is a good thing. The old Digg would have been dead in a year or two with no changes, as stale intellectual properties tend to whither and die.

You know, I’d rather have a new and radically changed Digg, than no Digg at all. Most of the upset users will either move on or adjust to the changes. In the end I think this is a new era of content consumption, and I’m “digging” the changes (Sorry!).

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Categories: Reviews, Technology
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