This is a tale of hubris.
Over the next few days, expect to read many articles in many publications about Digg and what happened to it.
Once arguably the most powerful single website on the Internet, Digg was able to drive massive amounts of server-crushing traffic.
In recent months, however, Digg was sold away piecemeal to the Washington Post, LinkedIn and betaworks.
Why did this happen?
Because Digg decided it didn’t need or want its community.
My head nearly exploded when I read the headline in the Wall Street Journal, “Kevin Rose: Digg Failed Because ‘Social Media Grew Up’.”
Oh, REALLY, Kevin? That’s why Alexis Ohanian’s Reddit exploded in popularity during the same time period Digg crashed and burned?
Let’s get one thing straight: Digg failed because the powers that be completely blew off the community that had made it so popular and strong.
The Story of a Community
Jeff Bercovici of Forbes interviewed me, Andrew “MrBabyman” Sorcini, Muhammed Saleem and Daniel Honigman individually, and unbeknownst to one another, we all expressed similar frustrations with how Digg treated the community.
Of course, the Wall Street Journal is by no means the first news site to believe that Kevin Rose had nothing to do with Digg’s problems. A post on TechCrunch after Rose left in 2011 showed that at least some writers there had no comprehension what Digg was about, saying his departure was the “final nail in the coffin.”
By that point, users were, for the most part, happy he was leaving, because he’d presided over Version 4, which took all the power of the site out of the community’s hands and gave it to publishers.
To an outsider, that may sound laudable. But here’s the problem: THE PUBLISHERS DIDN’T WANT THE POWER. By this point, they’d already built communities on Facebook and Twitter and had no desire to build a community on Digg. They wanted the traffic they got from Digg.
That traffic had been declining even before V4, and then fell off a cliff after V4 launched.
Without the traffic, these publishers were even less likely to want to spend time building a community there. They hooked up their RSS feeds and ignored the site. They’d been so used to the traffic coming that when it stopped, they put their time and energy into other locations.
Reddit and the New Community
Meanwhile, Reddit had a resurgence and gradually began to catch up with, then surpass Digg in pageviews. And here’s the thing: While on Digg, most users happily used AdBlockPlus and never saw an ad. While on Reddit, most users disabled AdBlockPlus. They wanted to support the site that supported their community.
The site continued to support them by popping in ad units that were mini-games or pictures of puppies or camels or lolcats as a thank you.
Users spend a tremendous amount of time on Reddit itself, because users are able to post things that aren’t even links, but are “self-Reddits,” questions or comments that live entirely on Reddit. Comment threads are legendary and some just visit to read the comments on articles rather than the articles themselves.
Reddit’s popularity shows no sign of falling off.
So, Kevin, Digg didn’t fail because “Social media grew up.”
It failed because Digg didn’t grow up.