Struggling social media website Digg, a social media pioneer now under new management, will attempt to revive its fortunes by unearthing a radical redesign on Wednesday.
The Digg relaunch is based around a single webpage, which resembles a newspaper front page, but contains links to news stories on other websites, summaries and large photos. The new Digg staff will choose the stories and the order in which they are presented on the page, based on algorithms that take into account every news article’s Facebook “Likes,” Tweets on Twitter, and of course, Digg’s own internal system for boosting a story’s prominence, the “Digg” button.
Digg “v1,” as its being called, will be available as a website, stand-alone free iPhone app and a website formatted for other mobile devices come August 1.
The new Digg also won’t contain any ads, nor will it allow for comments from users, at least not at first, according to Betaworks, the New York-based technology business laboratory that acquired Digg in a $500,000 firesale in mid-July and assigned it to the team from another one of its projects, an app called News.me.
The new Digg team of 10 staffers on Monday released mock-up drawings and photos of the redesign on their blog, Rethinkdigg.com. Here’s one of the images they released, which was actually created in advance of the acquisition in order to illustrate why News.me and Betaworks would be the perfect ones to take over Digg, which has seen users flee in droves over the past three years as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and Reddit have only risen.
“We wanted to identify the core thing that Digg did really well and focus on making sure that the experience is super simple and super clean” said Jake Levine, General Manager at Digg and News.me, in a Skype conversation with TPM on Monday. “The vast majority of people come to Digg for a great content experience. We want to drive Digg deeper into the Web, but the Digg experience will be one page.”
Levine said that he and his colleagues purposefully chose a hard and fast deadline to build and launch a whole new version of Digg from scratch — Wednesday, August 1, just six weeks after the acquisition was first reported — specifically because they wanted users to begin testing it out and providing feedback so the team could further improve the experience.
But by the same token, the new Digg staff had an important lead in their efforts to relaunch: They were already working on a website quite similar to how the new Digg looks and functions for their other project, the news aggregator News.me, which is available as apps for the iPhone and iPad.
“It was kind of unusually good luck,” Levine told TPM. “About three weeks before we heard that the Digg acquisition was a possibility, we got the News.me team together and started thinking about the next phase. That is, how to move beyond the early News.me user — who tended to be a heavy consumer of news and a heavy user of Twitter and Facebook — to a more casual user, who maybe read 3 to 10 articles a day instead of 30.”
News.me already offers its users a “Daily Briefing” email service that rounds up the top five stories shared by a user’s friends and the people they follow on Facebook and Twitter. Levine said that the News.me team concluded that the next phase of News.me should be a website that served as a master aggregated version of the “Daily Briefing” email, combining the most popular shared stories across all News.me’s users and displaying them on a single page.
“We thought: ‘What if we combine all those stories together?’,” Levine recalled about the breakthrough. “What we realized that what were sitting on top of was what the internet was talking about — not just what your friends are sharing.”
Levine said that he and a colleague, Michael Young, a News.me co-founder and the former lead technologist at The New York Times research and development laboratory, “sketched out” a mock-up of the new Digg that fit that description, but they were apprehensive that the planned acquisition might not work out.
“Before the acquisition, we kept saying, up until the last minute: ‘These things never usually work out,’” Levine said. “But we said that even if it fell apart, we were still going to build this website for News.me anyway. We were already thinking about this stuff.”
Asked about the fact that the new Digg won’t allow comments, at least not initially, Levine explained that this was due to the fact that the team didn’t want to just bootstrap an existing commenting platform — such as Facebook comments (which TPM uses) or Disqus — onto the website.
Comments “are great and serve a role,” Levine said, “But in order to do it right, we needed a bit more time. We didn’t want to hold up the whole relaunch, we had to get it out the door.”
Levine also said that the responses to a public survey that the new Digg staff posted online on June 20 also revealed that comments, while important to users, were “a secondary or tertiary concern to the overall content experience and the sense that it is community powered.”
Advertising, too, won’t appear on the website in its new iteration, at least not at first. In fact, Levine said that the Digg and Betaworks staff were entirely sidelining concerns about a viable, self-sustaining Digg business model for the time being.
“We know that when you build advertising into a product, you have an incentive to maximize page views,” Levine said. “That’s not how we’re going to tell whether or not the product is working. Instead we’re looking at what percentage of monthly users are coming back to the website every day and other return metrics.”
Levine said that the new Digg staff of 10 — far less than the 90 employed at its zenith — would also have the luxury of having far cheaper overhead and operational costs than their predecessors.
Still, Levine and his colleagues are thinking about the long-term salvation and success of Digg, beyond the August 1 relaunch.
“There’s a lot of pressure pressure focused on the August first date,” Levine said. “But our heads are at September first and October first.”
Editors’ note: Digg.com and News.me editor Josh Petri was an intern at TPM for several months in 2011, prior to joining Betaworks. Petri was not involved in this story.