I’m not a Digg user. I got tired of seeing LOLcats on the front page. The inherit weakness in the “old Digg” was that it relied solely on users to do the work. Users had to submit stories and vote for them. The model puts what’s popular right on top. That is, of course, if the users do the work they’re supposed to do. The thing is, users never do.
We live in a society of consumers. Most of us still drive cars even though we know we should walk because someone else will take care of global warming. If I’ve learned anything in building websites, particularly ecommerce sites that require user input, it’s that a.) users never do what you think they will and b.) a small number of users actually engage a product, most just read it and move on.
Then there are the power users. These are the people who are hyper-engaged. Over the years they’ve become the Digg masters, voting up what they want to see on the home page and, in a sense, becoming the curators of the community. They are responsible for elevating stories to the top ranks because they are the only ones engaging the product. The problem with that model is that the average person does care what a TV editor in Los Angeles (aka MrBabyMan) thinks is important. If we did, we’d follow him on Twitter, Facebook, a bookmarking site or even ask him to email us his favorite LOLcats.
That’s what went wrong with Digg. By relying completely on user interaction it created a situation where a small group of hyper-engaged users could create a community *for them*. The content wasn’t balanced and thus not appealing to a wide demographic. Advertisers need a bigger audience than people who laugh at LOLcats.
Kevin Rose clearly believes in voting. At the last TechCrunch50 he remarked as a judge that the Citysourced app would be better if people could vote up the problems (like potholes) that were important to them. He created Wefollow, a user-powered Twitter directory. I get it, give users a voice. It’s an admirable belief. But after his years in this business he should have learned that people don’t want to work for their content. To be successful, you need to be able to tell people what’s interesting to them without making them tell you. Visit amazon.com, notice the product recommendations system doesn’t force you to vote, it just tells you what to buy. And it works.
So the launch of a more automated platform elevating more mainstream news using a similar algorithm as Techmeme was inevitable. So too was the inevitable grumbling of the power user community. After all Digg took away their power and, in a sense, their community. But frankly it’s their fault for using the Digg platform as a tricked out Delicious.
The genius of Digg, namely Kevin Rose, is how masterfully the Digg brand has prospered. Diggnation created a loyal group of followers (think of it as the original Tosh.O but with more than video.) This is just a guess, but I think the Diggnation brand could exist even if Digg went away. It’s a fun show to watch.
I’m hopeful that Digg will find a balance between satisfying its core users and making Digg a more appealing product for more people. The power users will be loud, they’ll scream and most tech blogs will declare Digg dead, but if they can attract a real demographic, one beyond a small group of basement dwellers, then they’ll have a business.