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Big Mouth: In a hole? Stop Digg-ing

Users aren’t customers: they’re computerised cows, says Gary Marshall

There’s an old saying about websites: if you can’t work out what product the site is selling, then the product is probably you. It’s something website users often forget, which perhaps explains how people can get so angry when you slightly change a logo or layout. “This site, for which I pay nothing, has changed very slightly! I’m angry and demand compensation!”

It can be a pain dealing with such complaints, but it turns out that the alternative is even worse. If you make it too obvious that the punters are your product, that they’re the computerised cows in your online abattoir, they tend to stop mooing and start moving. If enough of them escape, they can bring your entire business crashing down.

Just ask Digg.

Digg destroyed

In one fell swoop, Digg appears to have destroyed itself. It’s still big, but it’s a fraction of what it used to be – and its fall from grace happened almost overnight. Our sister site, TechRadar, used to get significant traffic from the site, but when Digg launched Digg v4, that traffic effectively disappeared.

The problem wasn’t at our end – Digg’s disappearance from the server logs coincided with record levels of page views for TechRadar
– but at Digg’s.

Digg v4 removed key features including the ability to bury stories, which is something I thought was a key part of the Digg ethos.

It added things that seemed to fly in the face of Digg’s ideals, such as the ability to auto-submit your own content like the worst kind of content spammer.

And worst of all, it marginalised the power users who submitted most of the site’s content. The power users buggered off, leaving a gap that Digg hasn’t yet filled.

The numbers are simply extraordinary. TechRadar’s Digg referrals have fallen 97 per cent year on year, with an 86 per cent drop occurring when the new, improved Digg went online. Hitwise reckons the site’s own traffic is down 34 per cent in the UK and 26 per cent in the US as a direct result of the redesign.

Fark.com’s Drew Curtis put it like this: “They just scrapped their existing site, replaced it with a new one, and told everyone it was Digg. That’s what everyone’s angry about: it’s not Digg, and they really resent being repeatedly told that it is.”

Me-tooism

From where I’m sitting it looks like Digg has fallen victim to me-tooism. Digg v4 was an attempt to make the site more social in a Twitter-y, Facebook-y kind of way, but Digg’s power users clearly felt that Digg was social enough already. If they wanted Twitter-y features they could go to Twitter, and if they wanted something Facebook-y they could go to Facebook.

Done well, me-tooism can pay off – you can’t launch a website at the moment without Facebook doing something almost identical and pretending it thought of it all by itself – but it’s a risky business. As Digg appears to be discovering, the more you mimic others, the more you risk losing the uniqueness – and the users – that made your site special.

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