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Digg: A Lesson in User Experience

Jason Roy

You’ve probably all seen the headlines – Digg sells for an unbelievable $500,000!

It’s a classic rags-to-riches-to-rags story. Digg was “web 2.0,” the period of time right before the new “social web” (what we have now). And in many ways, the social web was made possible because of Digg and other social media websites.

In the beginning, Digg started out as a place for people to share interesting content. And it was great for that – people visited from all over to find the hottest content on the web. As the popularity grew, so did Digg as a site. After picking up traction, Kevin Rose and the rest of Digg were able to pick up $45,000,000 in venture capital funding.

At one point, Google even offered to buy Digg for $200,000,000. Not bad!

They kept developing it, but they pushed too hard. Instead of creating an environment where social traffic would thrive and contribute, they did the opposite – created an environment for investors and content marketers. Two groups of people social media traffic can’t stand.

So the social traffic left. And Digg, a once flourishing web 2.0 site became a site riddled with content spam and advertisements. Instead of fixing the problem, Digg kept moving in the wrong direction.

The end result? A site once valued at $200mm sells for $500k.

At first, Digg was focused on the user experience. And it showed, with $45,000,000 in funding and a buying price of $200,000,000. But then they focused on pleasing investors and advertisers instead of the user experience. When you don’t focus on the user experience, it naturally suffers. That’s exactly what happened, which is why Digg sold for half a million dollars.

Social Bookmarking or Content Farm?


Digg used to be an internet marketer’s heaven. Submitting any type of link on Digg would warrant a traffic spike and some serious link juice. As soon as this was figured out, internet marketers flocked to Digg, submitting any and every article they could think of.

Content marketers are not known for having high-quality content. Quite the opposite! So it wasn’t long before Digg users had to sludge through pages and pages of generic content to find something of interest.

The timing couldn’t be worse, too. Sites like Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter were crushing web 2.0 and making way for the new social web. And while Digg was infested with content marketers, new social media sites were built from the ground up to make that kind of content marketing impossible.

While Digg’s user experience was decreasing, the new social site’s user experience was increasing dramatically. When Digg users got frustrated, it was very easy to switch to a new social site.

Digg’s Advertising “Success”

For a while, Digg was fighting to be profitable. They unveiled several types of Digg advertising plans before they found one that “worked.” The new ads would be integrated directly into Digg. Users would vote up or down advertisements, so only the best ads made it to the top of the listings.

At least, that’s how it was supposed to work. And at first, it seemed to be working incredibly well – Digg was showing some serious profit increases.

But at the end of the day, Digg ads decreased the user experience even more. Now Digg users had to deal with content marketers and advertisements. Although the ad platform was designed to be seamlessly integrated, it’s very easy for social traffic to tell the difference between a paid listing and an organic one.

Put the User Experience First

Really, Digg is one massive lesson in the User Experience. We hear the phrase “user experience” so much it almost becomes a buzzword. But the reality is, user experience matters – big time. 

To Digg, the user experience was worth $199,500,000. How much is your site’s user experience costing or earning you? By focusing on the user first and monetization second, you can ensure your site has the highest chance possible of being a success.

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If you liked this article, you may also enjoy:

How to Improve The User Experience
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