Going into this travelogue I planned on dissecting the battle between two of the top social media news sites on the web: Reddit.com and Digg.com. I was aware of the two sites and their rival histories, therefore I planned on concentrating my research around where that hate was coming from and why the users of each respective site are so involved in the cyber battle for best social media news site. Well after some research, looking at site trends, and becoming a borderline site addict myself, I have concluded that the battle is practically over and that Reddit has come out the victor.  I had no intention in claiming a winner for this travelogue but when looking at statistics and talking to a number of former diggers it has become clear that Digg has become an internet ghost town, comparable to that of MySpace and Friendsters of cyber past. There were no more questions to why a battle was occurring but more so questions to why it ended. Once I realized that Digg was facing its end in this cyber battle I became more interested in why and how it “lost”. I decided the best place to start was with its history. Where Digg began.

Digg was started in November 2004 (making it older than both Twitter and YouTube) by Kevin Rose, OwenByrne, Ron Gorodetzky, and Jay Adelson. Most basically put, Digg was started to be a social news website that features user-submitted stories that are ranked based on popularity. Upon its launch, Digg’s main and most valuable function allowed users to vote stories up (digging) or down (burying). Such stories covered a variety of topics and range from viral videos, to LOLcats, to political polls. Within three years, Digg passed the 20 million unique visitors mark, making it even bigger than Facebook was at the time. There were 22.6 million U.S. visitors in June 2007 compared to 22.8 in August 2008, showing signs of stagnation that put the company in a panic. At the beginning of 2009, Digg laid off 10 percent of its staff and started concentrating on profits. To do so the company revealed Digg Ads, a new system of advertising where users would control how much advertisers pay for ad space on the homepage of Digg and elsewhere. This started some initial upset among Digg users because ads could be up-voted and submerged with other real Digg links.

Meanwhile, Reddit.com launched only a year after Digg, was not experiencing such an exponential growth as Digg had upon its launch. Reddit took on a similar approach to being a social news website, using the same type of hierarchical voting system that Digg first initiated. The main difference being its comment system, where users can comment on the posted links, pics, videos, etc., and reply to other commentators consequently forming an online community.  Reddit users also have the ability to create sections that are topic oriented. These sections became known among Redditors as subreddits and were seen officially as communities for which to submit respective links and comments, while appealing to a specific niche.

Many Redditors feel as if this feature gave Reddit the upperhand over Digg. Former Digg user and now 4-year Reddit enthusiast, Nick Farina says, ”Reddit is more evolved. On Digg you can’t just post a text and talk about it, you can only comment on links and images. On Reddit you can comment on everything including just text, and then you get more of an intellectual discussion that way, from a community that you feel a part of.” This feature might have added to the Digg migration but it is nothing new, plenty of Diggers were happy with just links, no comments. So then why the recent decline in Diggers and increase of Redditors?  The answer seems to come with the most recent Digg design update. On August 25, 2010, Digg launched version 4, the site was unreachable or unstable during the launch day and the weeks following. The new design caused much agitation among users as many features such as bury, favorites, friends submissions, upcoming pages, subcategories, and history search were removed.

This update caused an upset among diggers that led them to declare August 30, 2010 “Quit Digg Day” with the Reddit community on board, taking advantage of the controversy. Reddit posted a “self-announcement” on its homepage for those “new around here” and even altered its logo to include a shovel as an apparent shot at Digg. Furthermore, Diggers flooded Digg’s front page with Reddit stories and links and overnight Digg’s traffic plummeted 33 percent, according to Alexa.com.

On the popular subreddit DoesAnybodyElse, former Digg user SlickTheNick discusses this drastic change. ”I remember I use to go to digg everyday and the top stories would have 3-4k diggs, sometimes even around like 10k, and hundreds of comments. Now you go on there are most of the frontpage stories have like 60 diggs and maybe 1 or 2 comments…What happened? Sure glad I discovered reddit.” SlickTheNick isnt the only one. Most recently, for the first time ever Reddit has surpassed Digg in pageviews. After passing the 1 billion monthly pageviews milestone, Reddit’s popularity is up 300% from a year ago and a 20% increase from just last month. Much of this has to do with the convergence of Diggers into Redditors, something that happened dramatically after the Digg version 4 launch.

So other than the redesign of Digg, what caused the great migration of Diggers to Reddit? Some say it is the content, “The comments on there are also atrocious. I went there when Reddit was down to read about the journalist in Egypt who was sexually assaulted and the things that people were saying were disgusting. It wasn’t just the content though the whole quality of writing and intellect was way lower than you get on Reddit. It was resembling some kind of youtube comment anarchy,” says Redditor BlackBright. Some claim it is not because Reddit is better but because Reddit didn’t sell out. “Reddit is a very nice community, but if they started disguising ads and inserting them into the middle of the page, or displayed “sponsored content” more prominently than user-selected links I would be out of here in a minute,” Redditor PontifexPrimus says.

I know there is a lot of information in this and I still have a lot to sort through and I am pretty much overloaded on data. I do however think I need some info from current Digg users who have not left. I want to get their opinion to the whole exodus. I am still waiting for some responses; unfortunately I could not post anything on Digg because they don’t take just text comments. I do plan on having loyal Diggers in this though. Also I have a lot of info on demographics but Im not sure how to incorporate it or if I even should. Any ideas?

4 Responses to “Digging the Way to Reddit, the End of the Social News Site Showdown”

  1. Queenie says:

    How/when did Digg become a ghost town?

    I understand that when Digg released v4, some people didn’t like it because it gave much power to companies and stories that got dugg (or appeared on the front page) where more likely to be “sponsored”. Since it gave less power to normal users to submit stories people started moving to Reddit, BUT it all comes down as to what is being defined as successful/failure?
    Digg, looks much better and has more funding…I’m almost sure it makes more money than Reddit.

    • You are right, I will definietly have to be more clear in what I am using to define success. I am defining success based on the number of users and pageviews, not on the amount of money. Digg might be pulling in more money than Reddit (I’m not positive they are though, I’ll do some more research) but they are losing money with every unique visitor that switches to Reddit. Also, they have had a series of executive board reforms based off of missed mergers and failed acquisitions (something that doesn’t really seem successful). Furthermore, I got the whole ghost town feeling when comparing front pages of Digg from last year to front pages of Digg today. As one of my quotes points out there used to be front pages that had links with thousands of Diggs yet now all the front page has are links with at most hundred or so Diggs, even less. Ghost town may be too harsh but it is a phrase that has popped up a number of times.

      I totally agree with your point though, talking about commercial success is a great way to give Digg some credit. I also didnt get into the aesthetic of the sites, that is something I think I will most likely talk about because it’s a big part of Digg’s appeal (but a big part of their redesign too). More importantly, I was hoping if maybe you could put me into contact with some Diggers like you who feel passionate about the site even after the v4 release? It would really help me keep things fair. If you dont know anyone else then maybe you and I can have a chat?

  2. Yuna Park says:

    I think that your research is definitely moving in an interesting direction, and what you have gathered so far is fascinating stuff. Much like the decline of sites like MySpace, its hard to pinpoint how or why they falter and ultimately lose out to competitors. I do think it would be useful to get in touch with users who still prefer Digg and see how they are assessing the situation. Also, are there any sites that have since emerged that are also giving competition to Digg and Reddit? (Which may suggest the exodus hasn’t been directly Digg –>Reddit, but Digg –>many other sites)

  3. wasante says:

    The world of internet sites and popularity is a fickle mistress. It has enticed and eluded the likes of a Myspace and the like for many a time to only be replaced by a younger newer model. Why is this? This story is quite interesting especially if you look at the correlation between the handling of advertisements and actual comments and links. This is a true example of the power of the people.

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