Long ago, in a land not too far from here, an episode of the Screen Savers aired. Kevin Rose decided to give viewers a look at a little experiment he had been working on for a while. It was simple, incomplete and lacked any sense of design, but the idea was there. It was a service that would change the web forever — this was Digg.com.
A Brief History
Digg was the brainchild of Kevin Rose, which was brought to life by Owen Byrne, Ron Gorodetzky, Jay Adelson and the original designer, Dan Ries. There were no plans for ads (or money for that matter), and the website was just text, links and a great idea just waiting to burst. In 2005, traffic started to bubble, and they decided to throw some Google Adsense ads on the page as well as upgrade the Digg to Version 2.0 — and the world watched closely for months.
“If this can pay my rent and I can chill in my apartment and drink my tea and have an awesome little office, that’d be more than I could ask for.” — Kevin Rose
The famous version 3 of Digg was released in 2006, and stuck around for years because the team was admittedly busy with other things, like building a real company. By 2007, Digg was really starting to take off, boasting millions of visitors per month, and the iconic homepage was providing traffic to thousands of websites all over the web. By the end of 2007, Digg had served news to 236 million people and was experiencing tremendous success, despite dozens of clone websites — but things would have to hit a high at some point right?
Well, as Digg was in it’s 5th year, traffic started to flatline and growth slowed to a standstill. The growth-spurt was now over, and Digg worked hard to maintain it’s dominating roll in social online news, but it had gotten so huge that the website itself was failing. Digg could no longer support it;s own users, and it had outgrown itself — this called for drastic action.
The Spiral Downwards
Two years later in 2010, Digg hosted the “Bigg Digg Shindigg” during SXSW to outline that Digg would be getting a major overhaul and redesign. This was Digg v4, and it would soon spark danger for the company. The moment Digg pushed out v4 to the public, the dissapointment was impossible to ignore. Everyone hated it, and backpedaling was not possible.
“…in addition to lowering many of our operational costs, I’ve made the decision to downsize our staff from 67 to 42 people” — CEO Matt Williams
Digg suffered as a company for weeks — news of layoffs, users leaving and traffic decline riddled the web, and naturaly, people lost faith in Digg, even those who were there from the beginning. Digg hoped to save itself by listening to users, re-implementing old features and effectively turning back the clock — trying to erase what they had done. In the midst of this, Ex-CEO, Jay Adelson left the company.
During all of this, compeditors like Reddit and StumbleUpon benifited as users of Digg seeked refuge. Digg on the other hand was bleeding from the inside, hoping to hide their scars. Digg was still a great website, but what actually killed Digg wasn’t what they did to their website. The reason why Digg failed is because they released this update too soon and too fast — almost like they couldn’t hold in the excitement.
Gathering the pieces
It was announced yesterday that Kevin Rose is leaving Digg, and geeks everywhere are up in arms. I can just see him at his desk, smiling hopefully at his co-workers, seeing that look in their eyes — knowing that they are working for a company that is bleeding out. He may just be sitting there, wishing he could go back and do everything “the right way”.
Quite frankly, I’m happy that Kevin Rose has left Digg. He out-grew the company about a year ago, and he was ready to create something much better. Finally he has lifted the weight of trying to “save” a company off of his shoulders, and he is an entrapenoure again, and we’re sure he will announce something amazing soon.
Kevin Rose will still continue advising Digg and take a seat in the board of directors. Kevin will also continue to rock Diggnation, and continue being what he’s always been — the face of the modern businessman with the internet in one hand and his following in the other.
In the end, Digg was an experiment, and a simple idea. It wasn’t a business strategy, and it wasn’t backed by anything other than the passion of the original team, but somehow, Digg managed to thrive financially and socially on the internet for 6+ years — without anyone understanding it would get this big. The core goal of Digg wasn’t to “make money”, it was to see if the idea would actually work — and maybe that’s why it did…