Cheatsheet: What is Digg?

"When I'm talking to clients," a seemingly well-informed Google employee told me over brunch, "I want to mention Digg. I know it's something I'm supposed to know about, but I don't." No worries. For everyone who needs a refresher on Digg, we have an exhaustive cheatsheet for the popular site.

Basics

  • Name: Digg
  • Pronounced: Just like "dig"
  • Address: Digg.com
  • What to call it: a social news site
  • Who made the content: thousands of users
  • Who made the technology: Digg employees

How it works

  • How the front page works: Look at Digg.com. You're seeing a list of news headlines, each linking to an outside story. Clicking the yellow digg box for a story sends you to that story's comments page.
  • How a Digg story works: Each story was submitted to Digg by a user. Other users then clicked "Digg this" to vote for the article. Take, for example, this story about Brian Williams interviewing George Bush. It began when the Digg user "Anarchrist" submitted it using a form page. This sent the story to the upcoming stories page.
  • How a Digg story works, part 2: There, some of Digg's most dedicated users "dugg" (voted for) the story. When a certain number of users (usually about 40; the number is slowly rising as the site grows) dugg the story, the Digg system automatically moved it to the site's front page.
  • Jackpot: Because most Digg users are casual browsers, a story with a few dozen diggs can earn thousands once it's on the front page. As of press time, over 200 users each gave the Williams/Bush story one digg.
  • The descent: When a story hits the front page, it starts at the top of the page (and thus gets viewed more than any other story). The story slides down over the next few hours as new stories stack above it. Eventually it slips off the bottom of the page and onto page 2 (and so on).
  • So who edits it?: Digg users can "bury" a story by marking it inaccurate, "lame," or several other pejoratives. Just like flagging on Craigslist, if enough users bury a story, it disappears from most feeds. Users can choose to see buried stories.
  • Comments: Any registered user can comment on a story or reply to another user's comment. Users can also vote on these comments. More on this under "How Digg is broken."
  • The Digg Effect: What happens when a Digg story links to you? You get a flood of traffic that disappears after a day or two. This article plots out the number of Digg users who visit a linked story, while this article examines their behavior.

How Digg is broken

  • False rumors can hit the front page: This is the most common and most easily refuted criticism of Digg. Because Digg users can bury a story or leave illuminating comments, rumors are often quickly corrected, and in the end, readers know more than they did before. Digg users can thus turn a wrong story into the right story.
  • It's made for geeks: Digg started by only covering technology news. The site now includes categories such as world news, videos, and entertainment news as well. But the user base is mostly made of users who joined for the tech news, and what worked for them may not work for readers of other types of content.
  • It's a junk drawer: Another legitimate criticism. When everything's news, nothing's news, and Digg's layout presents every story as equal. The lack of a definitive "top story" may turn off mainstream users.
  • User cabals own the site: While a cabal of users could send each other their submitted stories, digg them, and thus "game" Digg, most undeserving stories will be immediately buried by the thousands of non-cabal users. Cabals are a problem for Digg's creators, who have to handle the spam, but they have little effect on users. It's Linus's Law: given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.

Digg's competitors

  • Reddit: Because this social news site has no categories, a much smaller user base, and a lower volume of stories, it doesn't truly compete with Digg. Also, while Digg earns money on ads, Reddit is ad-free and earns money by licensing its technology to sites like Slate.
  • Netscape: AOL relaunched its Netscape portal as a social news site eerily similar to Digg (which earned Netscape much criticism). Like Digg, Netscape includes several categories. Unlike Digg, Netscape pays some users and hires editors to hand-pick some content as "top stories." Netscape has higher traffic than Digg, but it has little of Digg's media buzz.
  • Slashdot: Digg founder Kevin Rose first pitched his vote-based content idea to this old-school technology community. Slashdot is an older, more stately community where stories are written by users and hand-picked by editors. There are fewer stories, older users, longer excerpts, and often richer discussions.

Digg's buzz

How Digg fits the buzzwords

  • User-generated content: Again, nothing is written by paid editors. To the site, that means free content. To the users, that means freedom to make content.
  • Citizen media: Digg is essentially a user-driven news site that anyone can join and influence. The technology behind the site ignores the content of stories. Users ignore or bury bad stories and promote good ones; the technology only acts as a ballot box.
  • Web 2.0: Oh god, you really need to use that phrase? Okay: Like other Web 2.0 companies, Digg depends on a vibrant user base exploiting web-based technology to share content. It aggregates information from other places on the web, and returns the favor by sending traffic to those places. Digg is part of the new generation of web companies, and it's now nearing its second birthday. Finally, it uses dynamic page technology (in which a page changes without reloading) for its digg voting system.

Don't say

  • "Digged."

Read Diggers' comments on this story: Cheatsheet for Digg.com: How it works and how to namedrop it [Digg]