Digg and Reddit, A Retrospective

The rivalry between Digg and Reddit is something of a staple in the social news scene. Now with the latest revolt over Digg’s new design (version 4) that gives media a more powerful presence accompanied by a total rewrite, people are what this means for the future of Digg and attention is shifting towards Reddit. Perhaps even more now that Reddit now has 300+ million pageviews compared to Digg’s 200+ million.

Even before the latest revolt, the scene around Digg changed quite dramatically. At the beginning of 2009 Digg downsized staff amidst declining revenue. The long-time CEO Jay Adelson stepped down not to mention . The rewrite/redesign is preceded by an exodus of former engineers. In addition to all this Digg now has a new CEO that takes over from Kevin Rose.

Digg has long held the dominant position in social news. It’s hard to estimate the impact Digg has had on the web without reflecting on how instrumental Digg was in launching major media staples such as TechCrunch or Mashable among many other blogs and websites. Unknown sites were suddenly thrust into the spotlight would see their servers go down in flames. The next day they would write about the experience of going down from Digg traffic and make another appearance on the front page.

The power and simplicity of Digg inspired many competitors. In fact, so many that have since faded from memory. Perhaps one of the more memorable episodes was when AOL re-appropriated their popular but under-utilised netscape domain (now propeller), put Jason Calacanis in charge (from their Weblogs acquisition), and built a social news clone and hired away prominent Digg users for $1000 a month in compensation. This was launched at about the time Digg removed user rankings from the site when there was an exodus of power users.

On the other hand, Reddit has more or less quietly polished their own product since its launch in 2005 as a Y Combinator startup and later acquired by Conde Nast. The founders of Reddit with the exception of Chris Slowe have also moved on. While Reddit content is user-voted like Digg, they take a more hands off approach to the community whereas Digg is known to moderate or squash certain users that fall afoul of their policies or values. Reddit’s algorithm is based on user karma (a trust metric) that comes from submitted content and comments. Another feature of Reddit is for users to create their own “sub-reddits”. Reddit code is also open source. They operate on a small team with a small budget.

These days people are more likely to discover topics relevant to them through twitter of facebook rather than sift through the flood of generally popular things on social news sites. If you want a cross section of what’s popular right now TweetMeme probably gives you the most balanced bird’s eye view. The hacker crowd most likely check up on Hacker News created by Paul Graham for both links and quality discussion. For an overview of the latest tech news, TechMeme is another go to source. For example, lets take a look at the front page of Digg and Reddit to see what’s trending.

Digg:

  1. 25 Awesome Animal Attack Videos
  2. Ten TV Shows You Never Knew Existed | Gunaxin Media
  3. NASA planning mission to visit the sun
  4. NASA Outdoes All Homemade Flamethrower Videos [Video]
  5. Ford readying Fiesta-based crossover, captured for the first time!
  6. The 14 Most Brutal College Hazing Rituals
  7. Internet Sensation Antoine Dodson and Auto-Tune the News Sell ‘Bed Intruder’ on iTunes
  8. New Research Challenges Marijuana Gateway Theory
  9. tokeofthetown.com— The widespread belief that marijuana users will eventually and inevitably move on to harder drugs has yet more evidence against it with the release…
  10. Video Artist Transforms YouTube’s TOS Into a Paranoid Nightmare

Reddit:

  1. I am William J Lashua’s Grandson. Please read this. (self.reddit.com)
  2. Peeping Tom, caught on camera (youtube.com)
  3. A woman named Hilda Yao has just donated over $1 million to fund the wish-lists of EVERY teacher in California. Note to Glenn Beck: this is what a sincere effort to “restore honor” looks like. (sfgate.com)
  4. My dog Hickory playing in puddles in our backyard…yes, I am sitting in a puddle holding the camera. [pic] (imgur.com)
  5. Your move, captcha… (imgur.com)
  6. With reddit’s help, the Internet just broke down a border! On an unrelated note, two reddit guys were guests on a podcast last night. (blog.reddit.com)
  7. Am I the only guy that doesn’t like one night stands? (self.AskReddit)
  8. Minecraft sells its 100.000th copy!!! (Thats a Million euros now – for a game still in Alpha! – by ONE guy) (minecraft.net)
  9. Wisconsin, the number one cheese-producing state in the United States, named this bacterium in 2010 as the official state microbe, the first and only such designation by a state legislature in the nation. (nytimes.com)
  10. Israel is willing to make a sweeping concession – dividing control of Jerusalem – as part of a historic final peace pact with Palestinians and drop its demand that Jerusalem would “remain the undivided capital of Israel” (nypost.com)

As you can see, the sites have moved away from their tech focus long ago. However, one thing remains is that with social media sites like Digg or Reddit, you live by your users and die by your users. In any popular website that relies on user-generated content, the top people making the most important contributions that drive traffic to the site are only a small handful of the thousands or even millions of registered users.

One thing that hasn’t changed with Digg over the years is the cult of personality around Kevin Rose and the largely anonymous but rowdy masses that dwell in the comments section. At one point it was driven by power users that have since moved on or became demoralized. On the other hand, Reddit has been consistent in maintaining a hands-off approach to direct moderation (by innovating on their karma algorithm) while keeping a fanatic commitment to their community (even if it means revolting against their corporate parent). It’s a classic example of the tortoise versus the hare.

Tags: , , , ,

blog comments powered by Disqus