Digg's August redesign was always going to be a totemic moment for the "social news" site. And so it came to pass, as users stage a high-profile revolt against some of the site's changes.
Protesting at the removal of the upcoming news page, the default setting of "My News", deleted favourites, the apparent front page domination of a handful of publishers, and the removal of the "bury" button (for voting down stories), Digg users flooded the front page with links to rival aggregators and pleaded with chief executive Kevin Rose to turn back the clock.
Less than a week since the covers were taken off the new Digg – complete with many a bug and sans small but significant features – Rose was prompted to write a blog post addressing the outrage.
Under a headline (and mantra) of "release, iterate, repeat", Rose tackled 16 complaints, pledging to make changes to suit the feedback. He also pointed out that there were thousands of new registrations, and accentuated the positive. "Our top priority is to stabilize the site, then we'll look at the data/feedback and make decisions on what to change going forward," he commented.
However, social media site Soshable graphed 118 stories on the once-fabled Digg front page in three days after the new iteration's release. Six publishers and one influential technology pundit control the lion share of Digg's most important space, it shows.
This gets to the nub of the anger, says Media Caffeine. In a barbed post calling Digg a "broken covenant", MC cites this 2004 quote from the Digg founder talking about then-of-the-moment social news site slashdot: "Hundreds of people every single day are submitting content to slashdot. Tons of stories, but an editor chooses about 15 or 20 of them to display to the world. Now the only problem with that is you're relying on whatever the editor thinks is really cool, so it doesn't really give the power back to the people."
"This was the premise behind Digg. It was the promise. It was the covenant. Digg V4 breaks that covenant. Despite what Rose, his team, and their beloved mainstream celebrity buddies believe, the people do not have the power right now. The power has been given to corporate level blogs and Kevin's select-few buddies who, for some strange reason, Rose feels he needs to appease to be successful."
The "bury" button – giving users the ability to vote a story down the popularity rankings – is gone, replaced with a moderated "hide" button, aimed at combating "the bury brigades", as Rose calls them.
Ian Eure, an engineer who worked for Digg between 2008 and May 2010, said that reverting back to the previous iteration, version 3, is "simply not going to happen" – it's an infrastructural change, Eure says, not just a host of feature adaptions:
"Digg v4 is not a redesign, not a reskin, it is a 100% rewrite. It's completely new design, code, architecture, and infrastructure. It has almost no relationship to the v3 system whatsoever."
What's more; of the "core" team of 12 people that made the legacy Digg code work, Eure says, only one is still at the company.
It's already been quite a summer for Digg. Small but significant feature changes, a rewiring of Google's algorithm and a cabal of conservative conspirators teed up this summer's redesign as a(nother) fork in the road – it would either galvanise the site's waning influence or be the straw that broke the camel's back for its users.
This isn't the first Digg revolt in its six-year history, as Rose is at pains to point out on Twitter, but it might be the most consequential. The clock is ticking for the Digg bug fixers. New features are being resurrected – but many "Diggers" may prefer running over to momentum-heavy Reddit (where plucky moderators have posted a 101 for new recruits).
Previous user revolts over changes in the Digg promotional algorithm, new comment systems, the introduction of the browser-framing DiggBar, and the HD-DVD encryption key debacle, have made their impact and subsided. "Release, iterate, repeat", as intended.
But never has a revolt come at such a critical time for the company, competing with the exponential growth of Twitter to become more social and keep its millions of influential, well-organised members engaged. At the same time, predicting the demise of the site has become something of an annual sport for Digg watchers.
But, to you; how are you finding the new Digg? Have you jumped ship?
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