Digg Founder Kevin Rose On The Life, Death And Rebirth Of Digg

Digg Founder Kevin Rose On The Life, Death And Rebirth Of Digg

Digg had a pretty spectacular life on the internet. It was one of the first massive community-driven news sites on the web, and its life was only overshadowed by its very violent death. Founder Kevin Rose now knows what he did wrong, and he’s laid his sins bare for the web to see.

Being a community-driven news site, Digg couldn’t be categorised as an easy beast to tame, but founder Kevin Rose didn’t really care about a hostile community. In fact, every time the community went on the warpath over an issue with the site, he said those was the times where he learnt the most.

But Rose said in a Reddit Ask Me Anything overnight that the only time he felt that he’d done wrong by the site is when he went against his “gut instincts” and went with projects he didn’t believe in. Here are just a few of them.

Digg v4

Let’s not sugar-coat this: Digg v4 was one of the most disastrous site relaunches in the history of the web. The community turned on it almost immediately, with everyone pining for the old version of the site to come back. So it’s no surprise then that founder Kevin Rose counts v4 as one of his biggest regrets with Digg. Why then did he and the company think it’d be a good idea?

Well in May 2010, Digg’s daily traffic started on a deep decline, and Rose thought that the site needed a special something to get new users into the community. v4 was designed to chase the mainstream news reader at the sake of the site’s existing community who had contributed to the news everyday.

Rose explains:

There were certain…product decisions I made that were bad calls later in the company’s life. I think that a lot of those calls were made for reasons that weren’t really true to the community. Obviously, Digg v4 was a big issue and something that a lot of people hated.

The thing about Digg v4 is that we were really trying to play catch-up…In the past, we’d always build features for the community, so all of our [previous] releases were just an incremental improvement of what we already had or something new we wanted to try. In the case of Digg v4 it was really a chance of trying to reinvent Digg, and trying to bring Digg into more mainstream, traditional news readers.

A lot of the stuff went against our core, but the reason why we made these decisions internally is that traffic was declining.

We should have just focussed on the tools and improving the community we already had, rather than to try and go after an audience we knew nothing about.

It’s sad to hear Rose talk about the death of something he put a lot of work into, but it’s good to see that the founder isn’t passing any bucks when it comes to the catastrophe that was v4. When it comes to the failures of others, however, Rose has a lot to say, especially when it comes to the Diggbar.

The Diggbar

For those that were never subjected to the obnoxious Diggbar, count yourself lucky. It was an iFrame that served to window other content on the web while still holding Digg open for users to access.

Rose says that the Diggbar wasn’t his fault, but he is guilty of letting other people push ideas onto his site he didn’t agree with.

The Diggbar … went against my gut as a founder.

I knew internally that this was a horrible thing to try and frame other people’s content. It was bad for the internet and it just didn’t sit right with me. A lot of people inside the company were very passionate about it and so I let it through, and it blew up on us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the road, a lot of them my own personal mistakes. But what I’m saying is that if you’re the founder, if you’re the head of something, you should always go with your gut. That was something that later down the road in Digg, the motivation for creating some of our features weren’t for the audience, but they were just so that we could play catch up.

The New Digg

So now that Kevin Rose’s mistakes are out there for the world to see, what does he think of the new Digg?

The site sold for the paltry sum of around $US500,000 a month or so ago (although Rose disputes that figure), and since then the buyer, Betaworks, have been working tirelessly to get it online.

A concept that emerged yesterday for the new Digg shows us a site that has an emphasis on showing off breaking trends on the web through the thin and light, community-centric design that made Digg popular in the first place.

So what does Kevin Rose think of the new Digg?

I saw some early designs that they were putting together, and this team has been cranking really hard for about four to six weeks to get this version out. I’m really impressed with what they’ve got out so far. They clearly understand the real-time nature of the web and using signals from the more popular sources out there like Twitter or bit.ly to detect real time trends is very important. I’m curious to see what’s going to happen as they have time to work on it and develop it further. This is just a case of let’s get the site up and running and I know that they have a lot more planned for it.

I think it’s beautiful, it feels very lightweight, but I’d put a bit more emphasis on community voting. They’ve done an amazing job in six weeks.

Time will tell if the new Digg can replicate the success of the old beast, or if it can go on to be even more successful as a beast of its own.