At Digg, There Is A Glimmer Of Hope

 Nearly a year ago to the day, Digg v4 launched. Within a month, the site started losing all of the support it had garnered in the tech world from thought leaders like Pete Cashmore and Michael Arrington, replaced by complaints and users leaving. By most accounts, Digg had doomed itself with the disastrous launch.

Then, something strange happened. After months of attacks, they simply ceased. It wasn’t because of great news coming out of the Digg camp. Most had completely written the site off as yesterday’s news. The silence, while normally not a good thing in the social media world that depends on constant buzz, was welcome.

It was at this point, some time around the end of last year, that new CEO Matt Williams and the rejuvenated team at Digg went to work on making things better. They brought in experts and journalists. They brought in long-time users. They traveled the country and brought people into San Francisco with one question in mind: “How do we fix Digg?”

If the trends are to be believed, whatever answers they received are starting to work.

Digg Glimmer

Uptick in Traffic
When a site is in the state that Digg has been in over the last year, any positive news is welcome. With the most significant increase in 2011, July marked the first month of measurable growth. As predicted in February, Digg needed to get everything situated and buzz building by May for them to avoid hitting rock bottom. In June, the site hit rock bottom according to Compete. Much of this can be attributed to the slower summer months, which makes the unlikely July rise more important.

The less-reliable numbers at Alexa show a slightly different picture with traffic trailing off for Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUponin recent weeks. If Digg can hold its own and stay close to the competition, they could take back some of the credibility they have lost.

Are they out of the woods? Not yet. Not by a longshot. They’ll need to acquire a large number of new users to be able to regain some of the lost glory. The easiest way to do this is with positive buzz.

The Buzz
After nearly a year of backlash, recent changes are starting to warm some of the tech bloggers to the possibilities. Perhaps it was simply fatigue from bashing the site for so long, but Digg Newswire, the most recent addition to the features list, was mostly well received.

While long-time Digg users recognised it as a variation of several components from the past, it brought positive reactions for the first time in a while. The social news curation tool was called a “radical experiment” that is “hot” and a way to make “filtering easier for users.”

Upcoming changes will likely fuel further positive buzz.

They’ll need it. The site has lost so much traffic in the last year that they are considered by many to be a longshot at remaining a player in social news.

The First Glimmers of Hope
Certain things point to the possibility of the site returning to glory.

  • If there’s one thing that Digg can latch onto, it’s the functionality of the site. They have managed to quietly reconstruct much of the best features of V3 while adding bits and pieces of new functionality. The spam levels, once embarrassingly awful, have dropped to nearly nil. There will always be challenges with keeping a clean front page simply because it’s crowdsourced and agendas are at play, but Digg has gone from a spamfest to having a nice array of quality content hitting the front page regularly.
  • Comments have been better lately, but they must continue to increase. The one thing the site lacks compared to Reddit is a robust community of commenters. For Digg to compete, they’ll need people in there making witty, intelligent comments and playing off one another. The threads at Reddit are often better than the content itself.
  • Innovation has been better than ever before lately. Newswire was good, but they need something earth-shattering. There are plans already in motion, but at this point Digg has held their cards very close to the vest. Whatever the changes are, they need to revolutionise the site and empower the users.

There is one other thing that must (and likely will) happen in the next couple of months for Digg to truly have a chance of returning to its peak traffic levels.

The Change Digg Must Believe In
During the last round of Presidential elections, Digg was often accused of losing its tech/geek roots and shifting to politics. Those complaints must happen again for Digg to make it to the next level and beyond.

The upcoming political season must be huge for Digg. Beyond the interesting content potential, political stories currently rule when it comes to bulk of comments. Some stories can leave the front page with only a handful of comments, but political stories bring out the fight in both sides and it gets pretty interesting.

More importantly, politically-charged content encourages people to recruit for Digg. It may sound underhanded, but Digg will need supporters on both sides of the political spectrum bringing their cronies to the site, even if only to create an account and Digg up their story. Every bit of exposure that Digg can must from their user base is an opportunity to acquire a new user, and no topic will encourage sharing Digg with acquaintances, Twitter followers, and Facebook friends like politics.

If the site can bring a focus to politics the way they did back in 2008, they have a chance of growing. If they do not, they might not be around as a website by election day.