Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Digg's Social Networking Blossoms: Tipping Point or Second Phase?

UpdateChief Digger Kevin Rose posts (finally!) about the changes (with video.)

BusinessWeek seems to have got the scoop on Digg's new social networking features--before they were posted on Digg's blog...but aside from that factor, Digg's new stuff looks to make it more MySpaceable, or perhaps turn it into an alterna-Facebook:

Digg's new emphasis on user profile pages is also designed to let users better define their presence on the site by posting multiple photos, personal interests, biographical information, and even links to a member's personal blog, social network profile, or Web page. With the addition of these features, it will also be possible to control whether that content can be viewed by all Digg users or just designated friends.

As before, the profile pages will still feature those stories that an individual user has submitted to Digg as well as the site's overall tally of how many users also "dug" that story. But in addition, readers will be able to view a history of an individual user's comments on stories. The new features are "going to give everyone a bit of an identity on the site," says Rose.

Now, we can all sit around and speculate/prognosticate about what all this means, but perhaps the best commentary (and the most important) comes from the Digg community itself. Follow this thread:
Dumb idea.. I don't want digg to turn into fucking myspace. Keep it the way it is and instead of adding these dumb ass features, add a fucking pictures section....

(response#1)It's all the "new" Diggers who brought the plague of stupid inbox images and wacky jokes to the front page. The next wave of Diggers could render Digg more useless and unrecognizable from its formerly great self.

(response#2)Well, at least we still will have Reddit, and I really mean it.

In all of this, I'm reminded of the communities I was involved with over the years, that either were hacked by trolls (thus causing new security features that hindered discourse) or had new features added that were, to me, kind of confusing (as in when I kept getting invites to parties Washington D.C because someone I didn't know found his way into my "friends" list...)

So, I really empathize with the Diggers who built this community. They helped create the space, and it more than likely feels like they're losing control of their space. In the early days of a community it's like you're picking your friends as much as they are picking you. When things get bigger, and more features to encourage "openness" are added, it can feel like someone else--Big Mother?--is somehow picking your friends *for* you by giving you entire dossiers on them...

what happened to the joy of discovery?

Which leads me to think that some network developers often forget one big thing about community spaces--sure, they put up the architecture, but it's the people who make the community sing. They're the ones who add value to the community, make it popular....

Make it popular *enough* so that advertisers want to put their messages there...

Which may be part of Rose and Adelson's rationale for adding all the community-revealing bells and whistles:
For Digg, more registered users mean more people whose interests the company knows enough about to show them targeted advertising. In July, Digg announced that Microsoft (MSFT) will be the site's exclusive provider of targeted ads for three years (, 7/25/07). The deal came after a year of talks with various ad providers, says Adelson

Mathew Ingram comments that the new features will help Digg "to grow and deepen its relationship with its members and users, this [putting in more features] is one of the ways to do that..." but I'm thinking the relationship it really wants to deepen is with Microsoft.... Also see Eric Berlin (often insightful)offers some sanguine commentary ...

I think, though, that the upbeat views of the new features miss a few points about online communities of affinity like Digg: sometimes there's a strong professional or even personal reason for not having a huge profile (or any *traceable* profile) on a particular social networking site...first, there's the "retaliation from employers" fear--a very real one at that. Then there the new annoying, nagging fear of being pounced on by intrusive "targeted ad" programs (esp. those nasty flashing things, or that stupid dancing guy offers low-cost mortgages to anyone over 40.)

Stephen O'Hear puts hammer to nail (I think) with this:
The result is that the site’s content becomes even more relevant and social to its users, while at the same time providing even more hooks for advertisers.. .The isn’t conspiracy theory stuff, it’s just the way any ad-funded site works which feeds off its users’ social graphs. MySpace is refining its data mining and ad-targeting, Facebook has plans to the do the same. We’re now really starting to see phase two of the social networking phenomenon kick-in. Monetization.

So, yes, these new happy-social features will make Digg stand out among the pack of any of the new social networking sites out there, and might even make it a go-to place for different kinds of news (that all depends on who feels comfortable there--there is no guarantee this will happen) but the bottom line of it all is the whole monetization thing. Facebook's been pushing the widget-thing. Digg decided to push the expanded profile thing. Both are ways of bringing in more money by finding out more information about community members...

Whether or not the new features will succeed (either community-wise or monitarily)remains to be seen, but there's one sure thing that will happen: the new features will indeed change the Digg "neighborhood." New folks will come in and some of the old folks who built the place might feel a bit itchy and move on. The site may indeed grow with new people, and new social connections may form, but it will never be the same, and, in light of this, Digg's value as a "social news" site *may* change.

Another thing that might happen: some of the core members may go off and form their own community. This happened with the core group of socialble movie buffs I met at the New York Times Film Forum in '98--who, after driven crazy by trolls and lots of other features that made the old forum really uncomfortable, went off and founded the Third Eye Film Society.

So...original Diggers...if you don't like the changes, create your own space! It's in your power!

I wonder, though, how the social features are working for Mashable!...and if Cashmore's thinking of getting into the "rate the news" game...

Also see: the comments are great at Duncan Riley's post about Digg-book-space a

Further reading: Dan Kennedy looks at Digg and Reddit in light of the PEJ survey, and reminds us about NewsTrust--where you can rate the news *and* be social. NewsTrust is a different kind of news community--one focused on what many would call "hard news", and has a totally different demographic than Digg. So, if Digg's looking to capture a "hard news" crowd (and I'll say it again) making things more open-social might not pull in that those folks...

MySpace mines its user profiles for targeted "data-driven" ads

and on what could go wrong with widgets Cory Treffiletti points out the eerie similarity between all the widgets-as-marketing tools hoo-ha and "buzz that surrounded desktop applications in the late '90's." How many of our new young-gun social networking widgetmisters remember these days? Sometimes looking back can help prevent disaster ahead.


Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for the kind words!

I think Digg is trying to walk the line, maintaining its passionate tech-centric base while appealing to a newer brand / "general audience" with social networking features. In my view this works well in that you can do a heck of a lot with digg without really bothering with your own profile, if that's not your bag.

Additionally, giving the ability to act in user subsets or groups allows the site "elite" to connect with one another outside of the masses. This also has the potential to give the old guard something that they may like.

Tish Grier said...

Hi Eric...and you're welcome! (it's true though--you're often a good read...)

I'm very interested in how all this will evolve, as people online tend to be just as possessive of their space as the old folks in the 1960's who made the phrase "there goes the neighborhood!" quite famous. I wonder how the options you note will be perceived and how widely they will be used. Only time will tell (but I did get some Digg spam interesting!)