Surf’s Down: Lessons Learned from Digg

October 1, 2010 - By

I have been out of the loop for the last month or so. I’m not casually surfing the web the way I used to.

For three or four years I’ve been a nearly daily visitor of Digg. A recent redesign of the site has left many features broken, and all my precious diggs lost! The site is a foreign seemingly untrustable shadow of what it was.

There are some great lessons here.


Digg is essentially a user submitted news site with a democratic system of ranking stories. I find in particular their tech section does a pretty great job of being on top of latest events. There is also a decent smattering of silly news which I like.

Digg has always boasted a large audience, but what may be the most unique thing about the community is the cynical biting nature of the comments. Paul Boag (former Boag World podcast host) once cited Digg founder Kevin Rose as a possible cause for setting this tone on his laid back and flippant podcast Diggnation – a tone echoed all too well on the boards.

This crude, often irreverent audience isn’t one you want on your bad side.

Early Lesson

Kevin Rose is a passionate evangelist for web communities. I first took notice of him in an interview in .net Magazine. I think it was in this same publication he made a brilliant comment on the “Release Early, Release Often” approach to web apps: I have seen clients fall into that classic pit fall of wanting to wait until a site is perfect before launching it – this can lead to many delays and a lot of agonizing. Rose argues that it’s the Internet; a medium that can be changed easily and on the fly. There is value in taking a risk and putting it out there, gauging reaction and changing accordingly.

I’ve often thought of this, and thankfully Digg is here to show me the second part of theSu lesson before I had to learn it the hard way…

Hard Lesson

Risky launches are risky (yeah, sic). Digg launched the fourth iteration of their site and it’s arguably been a disaster. Though the new version was in beta and tested, on launch a lot went wrong, and a lot of the site became unusable. On some computers live text is rendered in gibberish, all of my 4000+ diggs (which I used as bookmarks) are gone, the layout was so foreign (and I was so discouraged) that I lost interest in relearning how to use the site. Surely if I felt even a little irked by this the rabid throngs would be totally up in arms about it.

Currently the site is seeing something like 30% less traffic. Developers are working to fix the issues, but surely they’ll lose some of these users permanently.

Ironically, the same .net issue that had the interview with Rose had an excellent article on evolving sites with small redesigns rather than huge alienating changes. Cameron Moll summed it up perfectly in his article Good Designers Redesign, Great Designers Realign.


Two lessons from Digg; Take risks, but don’t go crazy. Everything in moderation. There’s nothing better than a good plan B, am I right?!

I hope Digg gets everything sorted out, we’ve had some good times, but this site owes me nothing.

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This post was written by ArleyM