If Google had Bought Digg

What Digg might have looked like

Take a look at this faux screen shot and tell me if you get that warm and diggy feeling you once did.

Digg was the greatest social media site ever until its decent into irrelevance years ago.

Remember when Google almost bought Digg for 200 million? Seriously, it could have happened. Google has purchased over 100 companies now and several in the social space (YouTube anyone?).

How would Digg have looked after an acquisition by Google? The people, features, topics and politics would look quite different. Let’s speculate!

The Good

Digg Would Exist

What’s the greatest good that could have come out of a Google acquisition of Digg? It would still be alive! There’s no guarantee, but at least Digg would have had a chance instead of being auctioned for chump change. Millions of users would be connecting with and helping friends get the best news more exposure. Digg would last at least a little longer before going the way of Google Reader.

Spam Would Be Obliterated

Digg constantly struggled against and never seemed to fix the issue of spam. Automatic voting, posting and commenting along with the creating multiple accounts to game the system. Ultimately, Digg resorted to mass banning which soured some users and made others fearful of losing their network of friends built up over long periods of time.

Isn’t it interesting that you never hear Google complain about this type of behavior? That’s because once you are at the account level with Google, they know who you are and can instantly deactivate accounts they don’t like. Google loves winning against spammers or “cheaters” as they call them. Many webmasters complain that Google has been heavy handed in the war against spam, injuring the baby as the bathwater is thrown out. The bury brigades would themselves be buried by Google.

No Duplicate Stories Issues

Digg powerusers had the habit of staking out RSS feeds for the top news sites. As soon as a Digg-worthy story appeared in the feed, users would submit. A story might get a large number of votes before being removed as a dupe. A nasty annoyance to users who carefully selected stories to promote to their network of friends. Google would have overcome this problem with ease.

Digg Power User Careers Would Still Be Intact

Digg had personality. The top users on Digg were both celebrated and ranted against. More often than not, the friendship of tech celebrities like these were much sought after. Some who I enjoyed meeting and interacting with are (their Twitter accounts): MrBabyMan, zaibatsu, MakiMaki, 0boy, EMFK, badqat, louiebaur, Burento, TalSiach, webtickle, alanocu, redwolfwalker, bettverboten, AngelWardriver, wjappe, BeShirtHappy, mmaine, MichDe, applemacbookpro, amabaie, Urgo, and zetadog. Long live my Digg friends! Should a buyout occur, there was talk of the top users being rewarded with some kind of compensation (I have no idea of the source or if this is true so take it as a rumor).

Kevin Rose Would Save Face

Both Digg investors and users would have been better off had a buyout materialized. But Kevin Rose as the co-founder and face of Digg would have had an even better reading resume. Despite all his great successes, the black mark on Kevin Rose’s career will always be the downfall of Digg. Ironically, Rose sits as a venture partner at Google today.

The Bad

Google+ Overlay

A Google VP remarked upon the launch of Google+

“We believe online sharing is broken. And even awkward”

But Digg wasn’t broken… yet.

How would the original social news site look and feel underneath the Google+ “social layer?” Google may have used Digg to catapult Google+ to success instead of creating Google Buzz. They might easily have integrated Digg wholly. Imagine logging into Digg with your Google Plus account. Would it … could it be the same experience?

The Design

And what about the memorable Digg design? Instead of the polished techy aesthetics, imagine the familiar bland white background and logo that appears on all Google sites? Digg rebels mightn’t relish seeing the Google sign-in.

Digg Features

What would have happened to the Digg Podcast, Diggnation, Digg Town Halls? Would the controversial bury button have remained intact with the new more politically correct owners of Digg?

Some of the coolest things about Digg were not really even features but distinct nuances. The “Digg effect” that occurred when a story hit the front page and crashed the site was an A-lister’s right of passage. How many people have been talking about the G+ Effect lately?

Digg as known by its features would have likely slipped away. It’s hard to imagine today’s more commercial Google keeping Digg features that weren’t adding to profitability in a tangible way.

Digg API

Digg’s public API allowed enthusiasts to create cool fun utilities for tracking popularity metrics among users, stories and even comments. With the right combination of tools, you’d be on your way to winning the ultimate prize of becoming a top user. But just because people would be using the tools doesn’t mean Google would keep the public API. My guess is that Google would gradually phase it out.

Customer Support

Imagine being banned from your favorite social media site and having to seek support through Google Product Forums where your information is laid bare for all to see and answers are crowdsourced. Bloggers would write posts complaining about their new overlords. And Digg users would vote them to the top. A revolt would put Google in an awkward position.

Digg Ads

Digg started with no ads. When ads did appear, some users found themselves endeared to them. The funny, geeky and sexy Snorg Tees models represent the best example. Yes, even the ads were interesting on Digg, more interesting than any white space or AdSense ad I’ve ever seen.

The Unique Digg Culture

Diggers didn’t organize and interact the same way they do on Facebook, Google+ or even Reddit. You can retweet, like and plus the same power user for a year and never get to know the person. The people that you befriended on Digg were closer and the depth of the relationships greater than those of other social networks. Nowhere was the basic human need for popularity more borne out that on Digg. Figuring out how to schmooze MrBabyMan or zaibatsu enough to be your friend was part of the social dynamic. There’s no rulebook for this; you just have to figure it out. That’s the fun of it.

Censorship

While censorship of the sort that the Digg Patriots were accused of could be filtered out through Google’s anti-spam algorithms, censorship of stories by Digg would increase. It’s not very widely reported, but Google bans quite a few users from its products. AdSense comes to mind as one of the most common. Can you imagine someone in Google management posting the AACS encryption key as proudly as Kevin Rose did?

Privacy

To set up a Digg account, you didn’t have to give up a lot of private information. Would users under a Google-owned Digg have been required or urged to provide more private information? It’s not hard to envision Digg user accounts ultimately becoming Google accounts. So, if you’re logged into Digg, you’re logged into Google.

Final Verdict?

Overall a Google buyout of Digg would have prolonged the life of the favorite social media news site of millions. The creepy factor of a media giant like Google would be too much oil to mix with Digg’s water. Crashing Digg’s party would be an offense that would threaten its survival. Who invited you, Google?

New Digg Logo?

Emory Rowland

Emory Rowland is editor and keeper of the flame at Clickfire. He's a fanatical blogger, entrepreneur and builder of Internet things from way back. Emory's love for social media and success with organic search led him to start a SEO consulting venture. Apart from the Internet, he could be considered by many as pretty worthless. More...

12 comments

  1. David Leonhardt

    Google would tear its hair out over duplicate content. But duplicate content could always have been merged with joint sponsors. I miss my Digg buddies.

    • Emory Rowland

      Same here, David. I keep remembering more friends I forgot to mention in the post.

  2. The old Digg was a lot of fun. I heard many of the old Digg users moved to Reddit after the changes?

    • Emory Rowland

      I think that’s true Martin. I never could seem to enjoy Reddit as much as Digg. In fact, I stopped using it a while back. I plan on giving it another go though.

  3. Tom Shivers

    I appreciate what you and other power users learned and shared about digg’s version of social media, which still exists on all types of niche sites today.

    Google seems to be involved in the success or demise of so many online businesses – fear of competition comes to mind, fear of losing the crowd, fear of SEOs, etc.

    • Emory Rowland

      Tom, so true and I wish that Google would return to the mission of serving the best possible search results to users.

  4. Psst … Emory, old friend, there’s this place called Snapzu (http://Snapzu.com), Zeta can vouch for it. They are building something great, version 4.0, their biggest update yet, will launch in about two weeks time. The site is totally off the radar and they encourage anonymity. You and any ex-diggers reading this should definitely check it out. And I don’t mean just browse the site. Try signing up and tinkering with the various features. The site could use a few active users to help it get kickstarted. Looking forward to seeing you there and great post!

    • Emory Rowland

      Hi Nick, I signed up and poked around a bit. It looks interesting. I’ll stay tuned. Hope all is well with you!

      • Glad to hear it! If you want some background on the project, more than what you’ll find on their about page, here’s a link to a recent /r/startups showcase the founders ran over on reddit:

        Thanks for signing up, Emory, just added you! Don’t hesitate to drop the developers a message if you see any bugs or have any ideas about improving the site; they keep their ears to the ground, unlike the staff over at StumbleUpon and old digg.

  5. Interesting speculation, Emory. I liked Digg and at one time, it was a great place to make connections. Sadly, it seems to be just another bit of the faded past.

    • Emory Rowland

      I’m still holding out hope that some new social media news site will be able to capture the essence of what made Digg great.

  6. I never used Digg, but I guess it is more than essential: some projects are starting, others are closing. Nothing to be missing: hundreds of new resources are gonna be created, much more exciting!

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