Yesterday’s news that social media site Digg had been sold for $500K was both shocking, and not surprising at all. The news was somewhat expected at some point given the site’s steep decline in popularity and visitors over the past few years. It’s shocking because Digg used to be valued at close to $200M, and it goes to show that even giants of the web are vulnerable to complete and utter collapse.
Why did Digg die a slow and painful death? It depends on who you ask. In the wake of this news, nearly every major outlet credits Facebook and Twitter with delivering the killing blow. While both sites are large and have grown while Digg shrunk, to credit them with the destruction of the site is incorrect. Though both are technically “social media” sites, neither truly replicated the functionality of Digg as a vote-based news stream. Only one other site did: Reddit.
Digg and Reddit were like warring siblings a few years back. Digg was the charming older brother, sending out millions of hits to stories that hit its front page with a lovely web 2.0 design. Reddit was its scraggly younger sibling, a confusing wall of white text and blue links that sent out far fewer hits.
But over time, Digg changed. Redesign after redesign unnerved loyal users. Finally, one new version, v4, was so atrocious that there was a mass exodus from the site altogether. The new site was a disaster both visually and content-wise, as “sponsored links” were thrust onto the front page and users felt like they were being packaged and sold to companies.
So where did all these disgruntled users flee to? Well, as most of them were already using Facebook and Twitter for social reasons alongside Digg, Reddit was the obvious choice. The balance of power tipped into the simpler site’s favor, and as Digg became more and more irrelevant, Reddit was growing by leaps and bounds.
The most credit I’ve seen given to Reddit for Digg’s demise was a WSJ article that said “Newer social-news website Reddit Inc. also stole some of Digg’s thunder. Last December, Reddit drew more visitors than Digg for the first time, according to comScore, and since then it has maintained that lead.” You’re damn right it’s maintained that lead. Has anyone looked at Reddit’s traffic recently? Data from December shows 34M unique visitors with two billion page views. Reddit didn’t just “surpass” Digg, they beat them into the ground.
As it stands, Reddit has completely assumed Digg’s former role on the internet. While Twitter and Facebook allow people to share news, they’re not news aggregators in the same sense. Reddit and Digg were direct competitors. When one lost, it’s easy to see the other won. A front page article on Reddit went from sending out a few thousand hits to a few hundred thousand. That’s something that even Twitter and Facebook have a hard time doing, as they don’t often possess that kind of “burst traffic” power which simply doesn’t exist anywhere else on the internet right now.
What did Reddit do right that Digg did wrong? Well, they haven’t redesigned since what appears to be 1997, which has pleased their user base who like the simple look. They don’t assault users with ads. They create actual communities for their users to enjoy, rather than just recruiting them to submit content.
Some are worried that if it can happen to Digg, it can happen to anyone. I don’t think that’s true, and established sites like Reddit, Twitter and Facebook have user bases so entrenched that almost nothing comes to mind that could drive them away like with what happened to Digg. Though when you see one giant fall, you can imagine it happening to others, Digg made a series of terrible mistakes that most companies with that sort of position and power would not.
Despite a direct competitor in the form of Google+, Facebook users see no reason to make the switch, and though they will complain about each new redesign, time has shown that they simply will not leave the site, short of being charged a monthly fee to access it. Twitter seems too simple for anyone to replicate and improve upon. Reddit’s strength is that they know not to change in an attempt to please investors. They only have to keep their audience, and they’ll remain a powerhouse.