Smaller and Wiser, Digg Appears to Be Back

Back before Digg fell into oblivion it used to drive a lot of traffic, and following its sale and relaunch it has started doing that again, which has led Fast Company's Sarah Kessler to declare the social news sharing site "definitely maybe" back. 

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Back before Digg fell into oblivion it used to drive a lot of traffic, and following its sale and relaunch it has started doing that again, which has led Fast Company's Sarah Kessler to declare the social news sharing site "definitely maybe" back. "A handful of web publishers have noticed something unusual about their incoming traffic lately: For the first time in years, readers are coming from Digg," Kessler writes, pointing to tweets from Buzzfeed, Gizmodo, The Verge, and AdAge editors, who all attributed a traffic spike to the once-powerful community. Internet popularity arbiter Chartbeat -- also owned by BetaWorks, which bought Digg -- confirmed that the site has popped up as a "major referrer" of late. So, time to call the network back, right? Not really. Even Kessler gave it a very timid, qualified, "definitely maybe" status.

Why the caution? Well, for one, Digg, as we once knew it, is not back. The site doesn't work much like it used to. Old Digg won over the Internet not only because it drove pageviews, but also because those pageviews came from the people. Its up-vote system "democratized the media and wrenched control of what gets read from the gatekeepers of print and broadcast corporations and gave it to the people," as LifeHack's Leo Babauta put it five years ago. That setup resonated with the social Internet, which was built on those very ideals. (See: The WELL.) "People were going to rule the Internet; people were going to curate the web. Down with gatekeepers!" wrote The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal, in light of Digg's sale. And its success -- quantified in the hundreds of millions of pageviews it drove to news websites -- vindicated the values of the Digg society.

Because that stopped working -- due to corruption and an inability to control what the site called "power users," as Madrigal explains -- new Digg has only retained a shell of those ideals. The new site has gotten rid of those power users, for one. It doesn't have its own user accounts at all, anymore, requiring Facebook and Twitter logins. It has just one page, instead of several. It still ranks things, but based on Twitter, Facebook, and editor picks. "All that’s left of the classic Digg is some character, the upvote and the name," writes Kessler. Digg needed that kind of reworking, as the site started pushing "all kinds of crap along with good stories from legitimate writers and sites," as Madrigal explains.

But because the nature of the beast has changed, can we really expect it to be a beast anymore? The numbers, so far, say no. Digg has 125,000 daily active users, and it sent 100,000 visits to other places last Monday, according to data from Fast Company. Those numbers aren't too impressive, considering the site used to generate millions of pageviews and at one point had 6 million registered users, according to creator Kevin Rose on this Quora thread. Though media people have started seeing more Digg referrals, the site isn't getting more people on the site, nor sending more traffic off to other sites. The changed algorithm and layout -- not increased popularity -- is why BuzzFeed, AdAge, Gizmodo et. al have seen little spikes. Plus, the rampant spam problem is no more. For Digg's integrity, this is all great. But, calling Digg back from the dead, would indicate that it is the powerhouse it once was.

For less than a month as its new self, however, Digg has made some positive progress. But it's hard to imagine it will reach the pageview prominence it once had, since part of what made it so beloved it also what killed it. It has lost the edge that made it worthwhile, as Cornwall SEO's Lyndon Antcliff put it. "I don’t think it has that radical edge that uber social media geeks need to get passionate about," he wrote. "Sites like this need passion, as the reality is without it they are just lumps of crafted digital data with an advertising banner on top. It needs rabid fans." So scorned by its rabid fans, the revamped version has proceeded with caution in the fan department, in a bid to forgo quality for quantity. But maybe that's what we should want from new Digg, or the future of socially driven news. Rather than hope for a once-in-awhile "pop" that would drive hoards of people to the site every once in awhile -- sometimes deservedly so, often not -- news can now rely on a steady, stable, healthy (but not extravagant) boost from Digg. Digg isn't back to its old self, but at least its new self is sensible.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.