How Digg left its tech geek roots behind and embraced the mainstream

Amy Vernon December 29 Offbeat

I was struck by something when I began reading Digg’s list of its “Ten stories you’ll be sorry you missed this year.”

None of the stories had anything to do with tech. Oh, how times have changed.

When Digg launched in 2004, it was almost completely a tech site, much like its predecessor, Slashdot. It was a place where people shared, commented and voted on the latest and greatest stories in tech and science.

Part of the reason Digg quickly expanded its reach is because it did grow beyond its roots. By 2007, the Offbeat category was extremely popular and memes and quirky humor was as much at home on the site as anything else. Categories included politics and sports and others far removed from the site’s roots, but they were sparsely populated. The biggest controversy in 2007, in fact, was the initial deletion of posts that included the now-infamous DVD decryption code that caused a complete user revolt and the eventual capitulation of site founder Kevin Rose, who posted the following to the site’s blog:

“But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.”

The majority of folks on Digg came for the tech and science and stuck around to check out other stuff. As 2007 wore on and the campaigning began to heat up for the 2008 elections, political submissions began to climb steadily. By 2008, politics were almost as important on the site as tech. After the election was over, it remained an important part of the focus among Diggers, and both liberal and conservative diggers would engage in flame wars in comments, each accusing the other of burying their chosen stories.

Quietly, sports bloggers had been coming to Digg more to seek out new sources of traffic. Environmental-focused sites found a lot of support from Digg, as the relation between environment, science and tech was a natural fit. By this time, there was no real sort of content that was out of place on Digg (other than straight-up spam, of course) and there was great variety to be found in submissions.

Old-school Diggers would complain in comments from time to time that certain submissions didn’t belong there, on a tech site, but their efforts to keep Digg “pure,” so to speak, were fruitless.

Among the changes wrought by 2010′s Digg Version 4 was a new focus on newsrooms. The newsrooms were part of a strong effort Digg management made in the months following the much-criticized launch to make fixes to appeal to their userbase.

Diggers flocked to the newsrooms. Technology still has the largest single number following – 11,363 as of this writing – but some of the other most-popular newsrooms are far from the site’s original demographic, such as Entertainment (5,724), Business (5,637) and World News (5,803). Other top newsrooms include Science, Apple, Google and Facebook, but other than Science, most don’t get a lot of submissions.

And so, the list of 2011 stories from Digg – it includes some of the most popular stories on the site, but specifically not those that were huge (inter)national news. There’s no death of Steve Jobs, capture of Osama Bin Laden, the Japanese tsunami or nuclear meltdown.

  1. All women. Please stop wearing these. They look horrible.
  2. Black Eyed Peas Owned on Wikipedia
  3. Fox News uses Tina Fey photo for Sarah Palin report
  4. Oops! FBI Confirms Roswell UFO Incident
  5. Ten Signs You’re an Aging Gamer
  6. Infographic: F*ck you, PETA
  7. Fox News Doesn’t Know Where Egypt Is [pic]
  8. Atheist Wins Right To Wear Spaghetti Strainer As Religious Headgear
  9. Macho Man Randy Savage Dies In Car Accident
  10. Teenager Gets Ass Whoopin for Acting Hard On Facebook Video

A few of these stories – Roswell, or the colander-wearing atheist – might have been right at home on Digg in early days, mostly because of their geek cred.

But this ain’t your mother’s Digg. It’s a Digg for the masses.

Written by Amy Vernon

Amy Vernon a digital consultant and blogger, and a 20-year veteran of daily newspaper journalism. She was named the 15th most influential woman in tech on Twitter by Business Insider and PeerIndex.
SEE MORE ARTICLES BY "Amy Vernon"

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Comments
  • http://spacetimecruise.blogspot.com Udipta

    Didn’t know old Digg was focused on tech just like old Delicious somehow did

  • http://fbt-hr.narod2.ru/ TDKS FBT

     embraced the mainstream? Nobody even posts articles anymore. Digg is spam. Articles are consistently posted to Digg days after they are relevant. Any sense of community that once existed is long gone.

  • http://www.dajobe.org/ Dave Beckett

    I work for DIgg. Those weren’t Digg’s top stories of 2011 – those were the ones that were missed by other outlets.

  • Robert Roberts

    good night digg.  it was fun while it lasted.

  • Nick Beagin

    Digg is dead in the water and whether it is a tech site or
    not is now totally irrelevant.
    Basically digg committed suicide with version four and is now full of self promotion posts and spam and not worthy of anyones time.