What We Can Learn from Digg Website Update
Posted by Elmer in Geek on October 05, 2010

Social media website Digg is a popular avenue to gain something. From a visitor point of view, the site offers a wide spectrum of information neatly classified according to major sections. Such experience provides a dose of knowledge or answers to life-long questions. For websites looking for exposure, Digg offers such opportunity -- of course aided by its discerning brigade of loyal members. And for good reason.

Digg users are empowered to promote or veto any content submitted by fellow user. By digging an article, someone is doing the submitter a favor by promoting the article and improving its chances of landing on the homepage, a lucrative piece of real estate that exposures the link to thousands of potential visitors ready to visit that interesting news, image or video. All for free courtesy of Digg.

Websites evolve in function, design and purpose and Digg is not an exception. But when the latest site (version 4) update took place a little more than a month ago, users revolted against sudden removal of basic functions that made Digg a hit to the masses. Features like bury, friends submissions, subcategories and upcoming pages were removed. The site "innovation" is equivalent to taking away the power of users. Users even organized a "quit Digg day" and prompted rival site Reddit to add the iconic shovel into its logo as a way to welcome disgruntled Digg users.

Such exodus of users is a common observation in social media, where members feel empowered and sometimes feel impatient when things aren't going their way. From one of the most popular sites, Digg lost a third of its loyal audience and became haven for spammers looking to take advantage of the immobilized power users. Digg tried to restore its old algorithm in a bid to avert further loss of confidence and credibility. Would Digg be able to recoup its loses if it does things right? In the sphere of social media -- like pretty much elsewhere -- it's much easier to lose visitor loyalty than gain it. And with one silly move, Digg altered the competitive market and allowed its challengers to compete in a better vantage point.

So what do we learn from this experience?

1. Provide users what they want, not we think they want. As a site that engages its visitors quite often, Digg could have conducted a survey or asked its users for opinion the same way users decide whether a site is dugg or buried.

2. Identify your strengths and hold on to it. Some would say that the update Digg made was aimed at positioning itself against future competition. By using "followers" rather than "diggs" the unit of social currency, Digg looks like it mimics Facebook and Twitter. Digg is already an established fortress defined by how its content is shaped by users. Why not stick on something you're good at (and comfortable with)?

3. Don't take away people's comfort zones There is a system adopted by Digg that people learned to love. That's pretty similar to many things in life. By taking away the things we are accustomed to, we risk getting the ire of people rather than praises for a much improved commodity. When Facebook rolled out its new homepage layout, a lot of people were unhappy and threatened to delete accounts (others attempted at revert back to old format), but Facebook's diverse users and huge member base tend display polarized opinions. But at least Facebook responded in an e-mail that it takes all user feedback "very seriously."

Such experience also resonates on rebuilding a website. Website revamps are exercised with good intentions: improve user experience on top of other objectives (better maintain the website, improve sales, and others). But when the good old website is revamped only to produce a badly-organized content, such investment of effort, time and money only did harm than good.


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