With over 28 million story submissions and 40 million comments in nearly eight years of existence, Digg has always been recognised as one of the biggest players when it comes to user-curated online destinations. Back in 2006, Digg’s CEO, Kevin Rose was on the cover of BusinessWeek, backed by the headline of “How This Kid Made $60 Million in 18 Months.” Now, the once popular site has been sold to Betaworks for (according to Wall Street Journal) just $500,000.
While the figure involved may be undervalued, it’s still a notable sign of the decline of a once-major online brand. Despite a surge in mobile traffic from a Facebook app launched in December 2011, Digg has been on a constant downward spiral for years and the vultures almost certainly began circling after an underwhelming redesign in 2011 that angered many so-called ‘power Diggers’. But this collapse isn’t just the sign of the failure of a single website but a significant shift in online behaviour.
Social bookmarking relied on a very simple concept. Users would vote for the content they liked by ‘Digging’ it and content they didn’t like by ‘Burying’ it – an idea that would later evolve into the now infamous Facebook ‘Like’ and Google ‘+1’ options that now impact our daily personalised search results. In the earlier days of the internet, visiting portal websites to aggregate news stories was the standard thing – now, people expect their news to be syndicated and seamlessly integrated in their browsing (Twitter feeds, RSS, Facebook walls, Google News etc).
The fact Digg will be merged with the daily briefing service known as News.me is a definite sign of the times. Can other social bookmarking sites like Stumbleupon and Reddit stay popular now it is easier than ever to explore the World Wide Web in a more personalised way? Some would suggest this remains doubtful.
Social bookmarking has been on a steady decline for years – the ease of sharing content on Facebook and links on Twitter means people don’t need to stray far to see the sorts of stories that might interest them. Without a solid USP, Digg needed to rely on having a solid community in order to stay relevant – unfortunately, its initial appeal as a more “mainstream” general site meant there was much less of an appeal to wanting to get involved.
There’s nothing inherently anachronistic about online communities, as the continued success of diverse sites such as Mumsnet and Neogaf has shown, but these sites always rely on a certain level of shared interests among the members. Despite being the initial underdog, Reddit’s niche appeal (to an even geekier tech-focused, predominantly male crowd) has helped it surpass Digg for a large number of dedicated users.
The current web landscape is, more than ever, one of accumulated advantage, with the big sites getting bigger and the smaller guys getting muscled out. This could well continue to happen unless they can successfully work with the top dogs (e.g. app developers) to secure their future.