IAC's Ask.com launched its Digg-infused answer to Google News today. But there's surprisingly little evidence of help from Digg in Ask's Big News, despite the project's all-too-long time spent in development. Why is that?
The answer is telling about Digg's dilemma. Ask's Big News tells readers when they have the chance to be the first to submit a story to Digg. Its algorithm also incorporates Digg-rank data in deciding which stories to display. But beyond that, it looks little like Digg, offering none of the popular voting or discussion features that drove Digg's growth.
That's because, in the end, making a clone of Digg, minus the community, makes little sense. Digg's critical mass creates useful data that allows Digg to refine its algorithm. That data, more than Digg's easily duplicated design, is what makes Digg valuable. A smaller version of Digg, run by Ask, would simply be less vital, less interesting, and less revealing of popular tastes.
Maintaining that community, moreover, is tricky. Digg can only be seen as an impartial arbiter of news if the company which runs it does not play favorites, its users seem to believe. That's why a recent partnership with the Wall Street Journal was done at arm's length, allowing Journal readers to do little more than submit stories, as any other user can.
And there's Digg's dilemma. In the business world, people pick sides all the time. Digg, the website, hopes to stay above the fray. Can Digg the company forever do the same? Unlikely.