Users drop Digg after unpopular redesign

Social news site 'Diggs' its own grave as readership drops by 26% in the U.S. and by 34% in the U.K.

Can one controversial Web redesign alienate users enough to abandon a once-popular site in droves?

Well, just ask executives at Digg.

The social news Web site has seen a dramatic decline in readership since the end of August in both in the U.S. and the U.K., according to Hitwise, an online traffic monitor. And, according to Robin Goad, a research director at Hitwise, the collapse in readership can be traced mostly to the redesign of the site in August.

"The Internet can be a fickle creature, but if there is one lesson that seems to consistently ring true it's this: Don't alienate your core users," wrote Goad in a blog post. "It's a lesson that Digg.com is learning the hard way.

"Having been a paragon of social bookmarking with over 40 million unique visitors a month at its peak, there has been a huge exodus of traffic thanks to an unpopular redesign which irritated a legion of faithful power users," Goad added.

According to Hitwise, since the end of August, traffic from U.K.-based Internet users to Digg has declined by 34%. In the U.S., which Hitwise calls Digg's primary market, visits have dropped by 26% during the period.

Goad told Computerworld that the downsizing of Digg's audience has been falling down a straight slope since August.

Digg officials could not be reached for comment on the Hitwise figures.

The six-year-old social news service was built to help people find and share content from all over the world. Digg members can submit stories and then users vote on whether to "digg" the story.

The redesign -- dubbed V4 -- was intended to be a major overhaul of the site's platform, according to Kevin Rose, founder of Digg. And it also was reportedly geared to take some emphasis away from Digg's power users, who had gained significant influence over what became popular on the site. Many of those so-called power users appear to have been insulted by the move and have thus abandoned the site.

"It looks like people were already drifting away, probably leaving the users who were most loyal to the old design. Then they changed the design and they left too," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "The entire Internet, including social networking sites, is a limitless bazaar with an infinite number of hawkers trying to get you to spend your most precious, most inelastic resource, time. It's easy to move on."

However, the Facebook social network has maintained its rapid growth despite multiple unpopular redesigns and privacy policies and tools that have repeatedly upset many users over the years.

"I think social networking sites have varying degrees of stickiness," added Gottheil. "Your friends list on Facebook, like your Contacts on LinkedIn, make it hard to leave, though you can reduce your activity level easily enough. It's easier to leave Digg or Twitter, especially if you find yourself following topics more than people. It would be difficult to recreate your [Facebook] circle of friends elsewhere. Leaving Facebook is like moving cross-country. Leaving Digg is like changing channels."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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