Once upon a time (read: about 6 months ago), Digg was a king of the social media space and able to drive more traffic with a single link than just about any other site on the web. But those days are coming to an end…rapidly.
For those of you that have never heard of Digg, here’s a quick back story. Digg’s been around since 2004 and is essentially a site where anybody can post a link to an article or video on the web that they find interesting and the community of Digg users can vote up or down whether they think the link is worth your time.
If the link gets enough votes (according to Digg’s mysterious algorithms), it gets featured on the Digg front page and is rewarded with so much traffic that it will probably crash your site’s servers and knock you offline. Oh, the irony.
Because Digg’s front page is able to drive so much traffic, an underground industry developed of people who were willing to game the Digg voting system for a price. I won’t go into all the dirty details, but suffice it to say that there were people you could pay to get enough votes to essentially “guarantee” that your piece of content would hit the front page of Digg and receive a ton of traffic.
Constantly espousing the benefits of a “social news” system, Digg always spoke out against the gaming of its system and would regularly “ban” users and sites who it claimed were violating the rules of its game.
However, there was always a pretty clear double standard as certain “Power Diggers” and publishers always seemed able game the system and operate with immunity from Digg’s community policing.
A couple months ago Digg transitioned to a new format which was intended to limit some of the influence of the Power Diggers, undercut the “illegal” paid Digg market, and more evenly spread out the traffic people could receive from the site so that it was no longer a “front page or bust” situation. The only problem is that the “new Digg” has been nothing but a disaster.
Since launching the new version of the site, Digg has seen a drastic drop in traffic, a drop in its ability to send traffic elsewhere, and a slew of layoffs. But today brought even more titillating news, with a revelation that Digg may be gaming its own system for the benefit of its publishing partners. If you’re a social media or marketing geek, this analysis is a pretty interesting read. If you’re not, here’s a quick summary.
It appears that Digg has been creating its own “fake” accounts and gaming its own system in order to hit the front page with links that drive more traffic to its publishing partners (big companies that are paying them for traffic) and making it seem like those publishing partner’s stories are being naturally voted to the front page by the Digg community. Digg responded to the accusations by declaring that the fake accounts were just for testing purposes, which seems like a pretty weak excuse to me.
The demise of Digg and all its associated conspiracy theories has been fascinating to follow, but what impact will any of this have on the comedy world? Here’s a few thoughts I have about how a Digg-less world could impact the comedy web:
Get ready for a traffic (and revenue?) drop.
Comedy content has always done well on Digg and a lot of comedy sites receive a ton of their traffic from Digg (yeah, I’m looking at you Cracked and College Humor). As Digg crumbles, that traffic is not going to be easily replaced, which could have serious implications on sites that rely on it to generate the ad impressions they rely on for revenue.
Bloggers can go back to creating content for their actual audience.
No blogger wants to admit it, but if you’ve ever had a post hit the front page of Digg and saw the flood of traffic it sent to your site then you probably got a little addicted to the feeling. As a result, you probably started to create a few more posts specifically as Digg-bait (even if you knew they weren’t necessarily things your particular audience would love) in the hopes of getting another hit like any true junkie.
In case you ever wondered why just about every post on every comedy blog is a list of crazy/wacky pictures, the reason is that those posts tended to do very well on Digg. If there’s no more Digg audience to attract, my guess is you’ll see a lot fewer of these posts which is probably a good thing.
Digg is dead. Long live Reddit!
Reddit is another social news site that was basically considered Digg’s main rival. That said, it wasn’t nearly as big as Digg (until recently) despite in my opinion being a much better site. The reason it wasn’t as big as Digg? Probably because it wasn’t nearly as easy to game and therefore not nearly as reliable a traffic driver (Note: Reddit can also drive a lot of traffic if you post links to good content on Reddit. The difference is that on Digg you could get a lot of traffic to mediocre or bad content if you gamed the system. That’s much more difficult to do on Reddit). Now, with Digg out of the picture, you’re already seeing people turning to Reddit in the hopes of finding and promoting great content.
It’s a reminder of the dangers of relying on marketing platforms you don’t control.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the past few years is that it’s always dangerous to rely too much on a platform you don’t control for your own marketing purposes and this is a perfect example of why. There’s a lot of sites that lived off of Digg traffic in the past couple years and built nice businesses on Digg’s back. But now, Digg’s about to disappear and in some cases drag those audiences with them into the abyss. Does this mean you shouldn’t try to get traffic wherever you can? Of course not. But it does mean that you should always be trying to capture your own audience and not just assume that you’ll always be able to tap into a traffic faucet like Digg is was.
That’s how I see the death of Digg affecting the comedy world. What do you think?