The Incredible Digg Story: 2005-2012

Here is an incredible story about Digg, its appearance on the social media scene, its dramatic rise, its ever-changing algorithms, the appearance of new social media which challenged it and has now taken Digg to a new change.

Our site has been around since late 2004, and we have had the unique opportunity to experience the Power of Digg, its interaction with social bookmarking services, social networking sites, and the ever-evolving social media space. This post highlights some important events in Digg history scattered with some links to articles as we followed its incredible journey.

Kevin Rose coverI’m sure you’ve heard that Digg has now sold out to Betaworks for a mere few million dollars! This is especially after its founder Kevin Rose was featured on magazine covers with the grand title of how this kid made $ 60 million in just 18 months after starting Digg!

The Power of Diggs

We joined Digg in 2005, and it was a great experience as it was famous for huge traffic spikes and crashed servers when your story got upvoted to feature on the Digg front page. I recall all bloggers used to actively submit their best stories in the hope that some stories would make it to the front page and result in a lot of free traffic. And it sometimes actually did hit the front page. Following a good Digg hit, the exposure of your site to the Digg community was immense. It didn’t matter if you were a new one-month-old blogger or a large media giant.

Our list about the amazing Digg tools collection topped several bookmarking site charts as well. (The collection is much smaller now as many websites closed down). Actually, once your story hits the Digg front page, there was a high chance it would also get popular on, StumbleUpon and other social bookmarking services. So the traffic amplification effect was mind-blowing.

digg tools

In the early days, it was not so difficult to make a story hit the Digg front page. It was exciting as several of our blog posts made it to the front page which resulted in exceptionally high traffic spikes which nearly crashed our shared hosting server.

In fact, fluctuating Digg traffic spikes became an important reason for site owners to switch to VPS hosting / dedicated hosting (with new concepts like cluster hosting/cloud hosting) as shared hosting servers were unable to cope with the huge traffic, and servers often crashed or the hosting bandwidth expired and prevented Webmasters from capturing this extra traffic. It was also the reason why many WordPress caching plugins became popular as they helped to make sites Digg-proof.

Actually this phenomenon inspired this Digg Song below. A masterpiece reminder of the great Digg times!

Many Digg clones continued to copy the concept in a hope to gain users and traffic. Can you believe that websites used to post their official Digg policy! Digg was the most powerful social media tool out there to bring you huge traffic, for free.

Top Digg Users

As Digg continued to evolve, people realized the immense power of controlling the Digg front page. Many active Digg users became popular, created extensive networks, and controlled many stories that appeared on the Digg front page.  It became increasingly difficult for stories to hit the front page as it occurred earlier.  The Digg algorithms continued to evolve and it became more difficult to cheat Digg, but despite everything, the sheer surprise and pleasure of experiencing a big spike of traffic from the Digg front page became a rare occurrence for most bloggers.

I recall the top Digg users were so powerful, that many were willing to hire them as social bookmarkers for a few thousand dollars per month across different social networks like delicious, Netscape Propeller etc. In fact the first 10 Netscape Navigators were selected from 3 of the top 12 Digg users!

“The fact is that the top 10 users on DIGG are responsible for 30% of the front page stories on DIGG. That’s 3% of total front page stories each!!! Think about that for a second…”

The top Digg users list kept appearing and disappearing on the website. Then Digg turned two years old with over 700,000 users, continue to evolve, continued to ban some popular sites, then unban them, and soon crossed 1 million users and announced the Digg party.

Digg Buried

The Digg algorithms continue to evolve to bring more diversity on the front page, but hitting the front page continued to get more and more difficult for ordinary bloggers who looked forward to that rare traffic spike.  A new Digg recommendation engine was launched to suggest stories based on your profile.

Digg traffic

However, a series of not-so-good redesigns, difficult attempts to curb site abusers, kept on making users unhappy. The rise of Twitter and Facebook made competition difficult for Digg. The very fact that Digg buttons were disappearing across blogs, and were being replaced by Twitter and Facebook like buttons was a sure sign that bloggers had lost faith in Digg, as they continue to wait for that elusive traffic spike. Digg had its unusual moments with hidden faces in the page source code.

Digg v4.0 promised a whole new social experience for users, but it failed to be as exciting.

Then one fine day, they stopped all new registrations, announced that the ‘New Digg’ was coming soon, and developed the new invite system.

New Digg

It started with five invites, and as the system opened up even we had 1000 invites to give away to our readers.

Digg invites

With new registrations gone, and forcing users to invite their friends, create new Digg profiles … Digg was creating more difficulty for their already diminishing traffic and testing the patience of its dwindling user base. Digg would break an axle time and again. (It happened today too!).

Digg 404

Then they allowed bloggers to auto-submit feeds which  filled in thousands of stories from across the blogosphere, and further diluted the great content as it flooded the news feeds of Digg users with lots of auto-submitted content from their network. This resulted in hundreds of poorly dugg stories. Later this feature was also disabled.

auto submit feeds

New tools like the Digg Toolbar was an attempt to make people Digg faster, and yet new ways were recommended to remove Diggbar. Founder Kevin Rose also left Digg one fine day… and now the site owner has also changed hands.

So is it the end for Digg? NO. Digg still continues to be a popular website and boasts millions of registered users, though not as popular as before. It has been overtaken by its challengers like Reddit, StumbleUpon, and of course, Twitter and Facebook have left it far behind. Actually, the link bookmarking phenomenon has changed over the years, and now people no longer want to create link lists, but they want to share these great links with their friends and social network instantly and get positive feedback in the form of Facebook likes and Twitter re-tweets.

Hopefully under the new site owners of Digg will continue to evolve and take up the challenge to meet expectations and bring back its loyal Digg users.  It’s not easy now, but if those traffic spikes come back for you and me, and you see the Digg share buttons coming back on popular websites, you know Digg is back…

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About the Author: P Chandra is editor of QOT, one of India's earliest tech bloggers since 2004. A tech enthusiast with expertise in coding, WordPress, web tools, SEO and DIY hacks.