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Elgan: Why Digg failed

The Digg social bookmarking site is now so obsolete that even its founder and former CEO prefers Twitter

March 19, 2011 08:00 AM ET

Computerworld - OK, I'm going to call it: Digg is dead.

No, the site hasn't gone dark. It still functions and has millions of users. But then so does MySpace.

I used to be a very active Digg user -- as were many of my techno-journalist-pundit-type friends. Five years ago, Digg was the future of content discovery. But now I don't personally know anyone who's still an active user. We've all moved on.

Now, it turns out, even one of the site's founders and former CEOs, Kevin Rose, barely uses Digg anymore.

In a devastating analysis this week, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington exposed Rose's Digg usage. According to Arrington, Rose uses Digg less than once every four days or so. He hasn't submitted a story in more than a month. And he went more than three weeks in December without using Digg at all.

Arrington pointed out that Rose is 26 times more active on Twitter than on Digg, having tweeted 181 times in the past month.

Arrington's numbers have been called into question by blogger Taylor Buley, who says Rose is twice as active as claimed. In other words, he's only 14 times more active on Twitter than on Digg.

To me, the most telling bit in all this is that, as of this writing, the story about Rose not using Digg hasn't even made it to the front page of Digg. And Rose defended himself not on Digg but on Twitter, tweeting to Arrington that "I think you forgot we shoot a weekly podcast about digg stories. "

Even the Internet's most important conversation about Digg isn't taking place on Digg.

What went wrong? How did Digg become so unappealing that even its founder and former CEO doesn't want to use it?

Digg was undemocratic

Digg always wanted to be the democratic alternative to the oligarchic media in determining which stories got the best exposure. The idea was simple: Anybody could submit a story, then anyone else could vote it up or down. The cream would rise to the top, and the great masses could have their stories selected by the crowd.

It was supposed to be a "People's Choice Awards" for news and content.

Unfortunately, the initial design was fundamentally flawed. There is no possibility of democracy when anyone can rig the elections. And that's what happened.

In Digg's heyday, you could collect friends by the boatload, then mass-mail them to up vote your stories. Anyone with a lot of friends had a much better chance at having those stories hit the front page.

Getting on the front page of Digg was everything, because the site's millions of users used to read the front page like it was the morning paper. The early movers who collected a lot of friends were able to get even more friends by getting on the front page. A Digg aristocracy emerged. Influence on Digg became a winner-take-all system, with the majority locked out of meaningful participation.

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