I made my digg.com account on March 15, 2007. I think I had an account before the current one because I clearly remember using Digg in high school, after I saw Kevin Rose demo the site on The Screen Savers. My enjoyment of that tech community, at the time, was so complete. It felt like my tribe. I dutifully listened to This Week in Tech and I am even willing to admit that I watched the bro-tastic video podcast associated with the site “Diggnation”. My late teens and early 20s were consumed with tech news and I loved every moment of it. The community fell off a cliff somewhere around 2008 as a few big users were banned for violating rules against scripting and gaming. The site hemorrhaged users through the last few aughts. By the summer of 2010, AlterNet reported on massive gaming and censorship by gangs of conservative Yahoo newsgroups. Within a month of the scandal, a terrible revision of the site crippled the service, causing day-long outages and spotty service. Now, the site has been sold for a mere $500,000 to a company called Betaworks. They plan on relaunching the site on August 1st after a massive overhaul. While a server might still point to digg.com, I know that it is not the site I grew up with and the Digg Diaspora has been cast to the edges of the internet.
It took me awhile to make a Reddit account. For the longest time I felt like Reddit was a unapologetic Digg clone (there were so many) and I was unwilling to accept so much as an account confirmation email from the likes of them. I thought the alien was stupid looking and the whole site’s overly-minimalist interface made Craigslist look like it was a lovingly crafted Bauhaus creation. I wanted easy access to a directory of subreddits, I didn’t understand why any self-respecting website required a browser plug-in to be the least-bit useable. I have since come to love my adopted home, but it will always be adopted. My Digg.com account is one of the oldest accounts I own and I don’t want to give it up. Come Wednesday though, a new site with the same name will say it has a five year relationship with me, but I know that isn’t true. Its an impostor- some stranger claiming to be my friend.
Online communities are just that- communities that practically, legally, technically, and conceptually constitute themselves through and by an online presence. They are made up of real people that have real interests and real relationships. Those real people share and enact those real interests and relationships in a very particular world of atoms and bits. When that world disappears, that community doesn’t come back. You can call it the same thing, you can give the users similar tools, but it will never be what it once was. The Digg community, which should not be confused with the digg.com site, was destroyed by a few key mistakes in management. I am not talking about the Diggbar (which did suck, for multiple reasons) 0r even the Publisher Streams that undermined the very idea of Digg as a user-submitted news site. Digg’s management killed Digg by trying to be leaders of the community instead of public servants for the community.
Digg died when so many of its users were revealed as cynical bastards that, having graduated from trolling, were interested in suppressing ideas and not sharing them. The resulting uproar was enough to cause massive external criticism that put pressure on what was already a hot debate. In the end, Kevin Rose and the rest sought to calm users and direct them back to digging. It was the social media equivalent of George W. Bush telling Americans to go shopping to defeat terror. The comparison between the two events is purposely hyperbolic and extreme not because I want to trump up the former or demean the latter, but because they follow a similar logic and ultimately work the same way. Some go back to digging and shopping because they desire a distant normalcy so badly. Others reject the decree because they see it as patently false: Something fundamental and structural is wrong and broken and must be addressed. The Digg Townhalls were good for suggesting new features, but they did little to build up trust. There is a feeling of angst that must be quelled through social as well as technical change. When the biggest social news site was found to be rife with corruption and cronyism, the response was better technology, not better social relations, and that is why Digg died and why that death matters. We had a moment where millions of people could have a discussion about how we treat each other’s ideas, and instead we talked about duplicate story detection and captchas. We sought a technical fix for a social problem.
We weren’t going to solve nationwide political disagreements over Digg.com. I know that. But maybe we could have taken that time to be a little more reflective on why cynical groups like the “Digg Patriots” exist in the first place. Digg management could have forgone the Townhalls and instead doubled-down to produce totally new segments of the site to deal with the issue within the community. They could have built the Digg equivalent of /r/ShitRedditSays and kept the disagreement within the community. Instead, there was no platform for internal debate. That debate had to happen elsewhere and when that happened the community was as good as gone. A site that had once brought joy and hosted debate, had become in and of itself- a point of contention. To be a part of the community was to be a part of the problem. In the end, no revision could have saved the site. If this new Digg has any success it will have no connection to the Digg I grew up with and the community it hosted. I will always have fond memories of that site, but I know it is truly gone.
Follow David on Twitter where he posts stories he would have dugg: @da_banks