Once upon a time, Digg was a social media powerhouse that could do no wrong and boasted some of the healthiest traffic numbers a startup could hope for. Its social news model was at least in theory a fresh new way of disseminating information and staying current on news, breakthroughs and industry gossip. Digg was one site that actually created a real buzz among regular web users in all sectors of the economy. So how did Digg go from being Internet wunderkind to runner up in the social news race? Read on to get our take.
Digg began life in November 2004 as a pet project of tech media personality Kevin Rose. The original Digg was a spartan, ad-free affair but it quickly became more popular with each passing month. Digg v2.0 was released in July of 2005, and things continued to roll along smoothly. The height of Digg's popularity came during the v3.0 era between the summers of 2006 and 2010. Digg was so good at boosting visits to independent websites that the term "digg effect" was coined to describe the crashing of a site from a sudden influx of traffic.
From the beginning of Digg's popularity, a crew of power users known as the Bury Brigade exercised their influence in ways that hurt the site overall. The Bury Brigade mercilessly downvoted stories they didn't agree with or like, pushing their favored content to the top. One particular study found that 56% of Digg's front page content was contributed by a mere 100 users in 2006. The system was flawed in that users could manipulate the site for profit and for ideological purposes. Though making money is one of the primary reasons the Internet exists in the first place, it can potentially wreck a site if that's the sole focus.
The Bury Brigade and the site's susceptibility to gaming the rankings of content and submissions were hardly the only problems with Digg that developed over the years. In addition, there was the infamous AACS encryption key controversy that resulted in many users having their accounts closed. Furthermore, there was the Digg Patriots scandal, lousy moderation and weak organizational architecture. In a nutshell, Digg was inferior to rival social news site Reddit in just about every way that mattered.
Over the summer of 2010, Digg's domination of the social news scene was waning. The aforementioned issues with Digg had begun to impact the end user experience, and an increasing number of users were defecting to Reddit. Though traffic had been slipping for some time, the disastrous release of Digg v4 was the final straw. The combination of mistakes and pratfalls ended up being Digg's undoing. By August 30th, 2010, Reddit had Alexa ranking of 187 globally as of this writing. They may even be able to mount a comeback with a little luck and some help from Facebook. If there's a takeaway from the rise and fall of Digg, it's that you can't ever take anything for granted or rest on your laurels. It's a timeless lesson we could all take to heart. If they'd focused more on the user rather than short-term profits and market share, things might have gone much differently.