Flame Out At Digg.com

Digg was hurting. Its employees were hurting. The bad news didn’t end there. Yesterday a bombshell exploded. In earlier time it would have immediately made the front page of Digg itself!

If you’re outside the techie world this might be a story you haven’t heard yet, but it’s huge. It concerns Digg a site that allows users to submit links to stories. How the rest of the community values those links decides whether they receive more or less prominence on Digg’s front and succeeding pages.

A front page hit on Digg (as had previously been the case with slashdot.org) could bring a website to its knees under a tsunami of traffic!

Digg was great for finding hidden gems and then giving them wide play. It was one of my first stops every morning then revisited as the day went on.

Digg grew with such ferocity Business Week featured a front page article on the site and its founder Kevin Rose. They claimed Rose’s stake in Digg was worth $60,000,000. Not bad for a site started 18 months earlier with an idea and a few hundred dollars.

As with most websites Digg has evolved over time. The Business Week article came around version 3.0. Recently Digg has gone to version 4.0 and that’s when the wheels began to fall off the bus!

Along with a new look came a new lineup of stories on the front page. Major websites were getting more prominence pushing the smaller more eclectic sites Digg was known for spotlighting aside. Stories were getting play that would have never been dug by diggers before. Rumors began to fly Digg’s traffic was rapidly dying as users became disaffected.

Yesterday Digg slashed its staff. Here’s how Information Week reported it.

Digg gave pink slips to 25 of its 67 employees, reducing its workforce to 42 people, said former Amazon executive Matt Williams, who joined Digg as CEO about six weeks ago, in a letter to staff.

“We must significantly cut our expenses to achieve profitability in 2011. We’ve considered all of the possible options for reduction, from salaries to fixed costs,” he said. “It’s been an incredibly tough decision. I wish it weren’t necessary. However, I know it’s the right choice for Digg’s future success as a business.”

Digg was hurting. Its employees were hurting. The bad news didn’t end there. Yesterday a bombshell exploded. It was a story that in earlier times would have immediately made the front page of Digg itself!

Did Digg game its own system to benefit publisher partners?

The source was a Tumblr.com blog which laid out in meticulous detail how Digg first allowed large sites to submit their own links (instead of waiting for them to be submitted by users) then created automated dummy users to “dig” the stories onto the front page. The implication was money was changing hands to buy exposure on Digg.

The tech community is incensed and Digg which held an exalted place in that community is now reviled. Some are predicting the site will be unable to weather this storm of bad publicity. I have never seen opinion change this radically this quickly.

It’s rumored Kevin Rose turned down numerous earlier offers to sell Digg for eight figure amounts. Oops.

Ask Me Anything–If You Woke And Were 18

Mikey P. asks, “If you woke up and were 18 again, which career path would you pursue?

I’m currently answering all your questions. Read more about it here.

Mikey P. asks, “If you woke up and were 18 again, which career path would you pursue?”

Wow. Good question. Two answers.

If I woke up and was 18 again and it was 1968 (when I hit 18 the first time) I’d probably do what I did!

I wanted to be on the radio from the time I was a little kid. I pursued it. It was nearly everything I wanted and expected. I wish my radio career would have gone farther. I left before the era of the high concept/big deal morning show. No regrets.

In fact I have few career regrets except for signing with and depending on an agent to advance my career. In my opinion he, a very well known agent, did nothing for me. Not that he didn’t get me a better job–he just did nothing while taking a significant slice of my gross! Someone I work with has the same experience with the same guy. I pissed away years waiting.

Time seems infinite when you’re 18. It is not.

If I woke up 18 and it was today I’d actually finish college and try to vertically develop for the web. I understand how both the computer side and content side work which still seems to be rare (Leo Laporte and Kevin Rose being two notable exceptions). I am not against wearing many hats. Creative work is satisfying work to me.

The future of ad supported web content is narrowcasting–sort of the opposite of what I currently do. I’d probably still be in front of a camera, but on the web, not TV and well known to a small subset of society who had some affinity to each other.

Twitter Is Holding My Attention

kevinrose Just walked into the bar with this dog (see earlier vid), holy hell, 5 girls came up in 2 mins. This dog is gold!

I’m still up in the air about Twitter. I like it, but I’m feeling unfulfilled. Maybe I don’t know how to use it correctly. It would work a whole lot better if “twits” updated in real time and the whole thing operated outside the browser.

Here are some random “twits” I enjoyed… and the raison d’ĂȘtre I come back.

Kevin Rose kevinrose Just walked into the bar with this dog (see earlier vid), holy hell, 5 girls came up in 2 mins. This dog is gold!

Harry McCracken harrymccracken Just felt it! (There was a small quake in Northern California last night – Geoff)

LanceUlanoff Curse you Brett Myers!

mattcutts Duncan Riley is auctioning his original Google Chrome comic book: http://bit.ly/ebaychrome .

mattizcoop Chilling with the boy, regretting the 5:55 AM flight out of MSP, bumming out that Heart put the kibosh on use of “Barracuda” for Sarahcuda.

anamariecox Forgotten Tweet from Google bash: asked vet GOP operative what he thought of the nite’s stagecraft and he said “my eyes are still bleeding.”

Brian Heater bheater @dancosta Microsoft is to the Future as McCain is to Change. Discuss

HowardKurtz So many media folks on this plane, hope the Repubs dont launch an elite-seeking missile.

Kirk Varner kirkv Anyone want to wager that these are the last political party conventions that ABC/CBS/NBC give up any primetime for?

Mr. TV Barn tvbarn Watching the Royals play a makeup game in an almost entirely empty Kauffman Stadium; you can even hear Jose Guillen grumbling in the dugout

geofffox Mixed emotions hoping winds/rain are heavy enough to justify my forecast, light enough not to injure. Always forecast with conscience.

The world summarized in 140 characters or less!

Too Much Democracy

I read a lot of tech news online. It’s pretty tough to find a technical subject I don’t want to delve into.

Finding these articles can be tough, so like many people I harness the power of the Internet by going to ‘aggregator’ sites. These sites don’t usually produce content on their own. Instead, they link to other sites where the articles are kept.

Originally, my favorite was Slashdot. There were times I’d go there a half dozen or more times a day.

The way Slashdot works is, people suggest stories, editors check them out, they get posted. When first discovered, I liked Slashdot a lot.

Over time it got too slow for me. I’m not talking about how long it took for a page to load. It wasn’t pushing enough links my way.

Next came Digg, a San Francisco start-up headed by Kevin Rose, formerly of TechTV. This site also takes suggestions from readers. Instead of having editors pass judgement, Digg encourages their readers to digg a story (or not). Get a lot of digs and your story hits the front page and gets read by lots of people.

The more I liked Digg, the less time I spent on Slashdot.

Then came Reddit. Like Digg, this site’s content is juried by its readers. What I liked was, more stories made the front page and the lineup was volatile from hour-to-hour. There was lots for me to read.

The more I liked Reddit, the less time I spent on Digg. Even worse (for them), Slashdot was falling off my radar.

Now there’s a problem. A small community, like Digg or Reddit, can easily be overrun by single issue zealots. For Reddit especially, that means supporters of Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich.

Stop – I’m not criticizing either of these candidates. What I’m concerned about is how their supporters have hijacked these sites to get their points across. I want to read tech, not hear about who feels short changed and why.

Having no editor should lead to a democratically juried site. Instead, it’s leading to anarchy.

At the moment, I still read all three. Their order of importance in my life is currently Digg, Reddit, Slashdot… but Reddit is getting very close to dropping to number three.

Digg And The HD-DVD Crack

Among the geekier sites I visit on a daily basis is Digg. Most of its users are younger, smarter and more computer savvy than I am. Hanging out there is like being in the world’s nerdiest club.

All of Digg’s content is submitted by its users. Mainly you see links to other sites and attached comments from Digg users.

The site name comes from its modus operandi. An entry’s popularity (and hence its position on the site) is decided by how many registered users “Digg” it.

Right now Digg’s home page is a shambles. Digg’s users are in the midst of a protest. The site has been rendered worthless.

What’s going on maybe a harbinger of the anarchy ahead within Internet ‘communities’.

It started this way. Someone cracked the digital rights management key that protects HD-DVDs. Though HD-DVDs were designed to change encryption schema under just such an occasion, this discovery is so deep within the process, it pretty much leaves these disks (the disk makers actually) defenseless.

Though worthless to me, having this little string of numbers will allow a skilled programmer to do anything he wants with these disks.

Digg’s users, propeller heads that they are, posted the story and the magic number on the site. That in turn brought on a takedown letter from the attorney’s representing the HD-DVD alliance (here’s a similar one that went to Google).

What was Digg to do? Leaving the number up opened the site to legal action under the federal DMCA. On the other hand, once the secret was on the Internet, it was public knowledge. There’s no way to protect the key anymore.

Digg acquiesced and its users went nuts!

Now, every story on Digg’s home page contains the number! Some of the entries have the number hidden in plain site while others make no pretenses about what is being posted. Some of the posts are cleverly sophomoric. All are worthless to regular Digg users.

Digg’s real content has been buried. That’s what an online protest can do.

I have no idea how this will turn out – right now it’s ugly.

Are there different rules for the Internet? Does information really yearn to be free? Can Digg’s owners regain their website?

Right now at least, there are no answers.

Blogger’s addendum: This is big enough that it’s now made the front page at Drudge. On top of that, the Digg site seems to be down. This story has not ended.

Update @ 2:47 AM – Normally I’d create a second entry to continue this story, but I want to keep these together. Kevin Rose, the guy behind Digg, has posted this on the Digg blog:

Digg – Move Over Slashdot

For years, I’ve been a huge Slashdot fan. Slashdot is techie news in a modified blog form.

Slashdot’s slogan says it all: “News for Nerds. Stuff that matters.”

Why Nerds is spelled with a capital “N” is beyond me. We’ll let it pass.

Over the past few months, my allegiance has shifted. Now my favorite techie site is Digg.

As far as I can see, Digg is sloganless.

Slashdot solicits stories from readers (basically references to things published elsewhere), which are perused by editors. So, what is posted is what strikes the editors as interesting.

Digg works differently. Readers still submit stories, but on Digg they’re juried by other readers. Are they good enough? Have they been “dugg?” If a story is approved by enough readers, it is promoted to the home page.

Digg is the product of Kevin Rose, who I remember from The Screen Savers on TechTV. Someone I know, who tried to solicit business from Kevin, described him as a genius. I have no doubt.

Someone must be making a fortune, because this site costs relatively little to mount and the Google ads displayed&#185 can be lucrative (I made $3.22 Sunday!).

I find Digg has more stories than Slashdot, and since every story submitted (good or bad) is available, I can always kill time looking at what others have found interesting. Slashdot only lets me see the editor’s choices.

I have become an online news junkie. I can’t get enough. It is an addiction. Digg does a better job feeding this addiction – it’s that simple.

Actually, my addiction goes beyond tech news. I have become a sponge for what’s going on whether it be politics, business, technology. I don’t care. I like a good story. I like to read.

Often, I am upset or disappointed that more isn’t going on… or that websites whose content I enjoy aren’t updated often enough (especially true on weekends).

I don’t know how many more Internet new junkies there are? I can’t be alone.

&#185 – In order to check out Google’s ads, I had to turn off Adblock, an amazing extension for my Firefox browser. I see hardly any ads on this PC and never see pop-ups or pop-unders. Never.

More Television Future Shock

Do you need a TV station to have a TV show? Yes and no. The advantage of a TV station is, it is a known commodity, usually with a well visited address.

If our newscasts on Channel 8 were to move tomorrow to the SciFi Channel, ratings would plummet. That’s not to say bad things about SciFi, we just have better channel position with more traffic.

The disadvantage of a television station is it usually has high fixed costs. Smart operators are trying to work those costs down through automation and other technical advances. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t – but it’s obviously the wave of the future.

This leads to a question. Is it possible to have a successful TV show without having a TV channel (or cable network) behind you?

I’m wondering if the answer is yes after having seen a show produced by systm.org. It features Kevin Rose who was on Tech TV’s The Screen Savers.

The show I saw last night was well produced, but on a topic so technically dense that few except the chronically nerdy would have watched. There were no commercials – how can it be economically sustained? Using the bittorrent protocol it took around 10 minutes to download.

Of course, it was free.

What I watched looked as good as anything produced for over-the-air or cable TV. If it had been something more attractive to a wide audience, with some way to pay the freight, I think it might be successful!

Bittorrent is an interesting distribution method, because it uses the collective bandwidth of the users, not a central server paid for by the program’s distributor. That’s a major cost saving when each viewer needs to receive hundreds of megabytes of data.

For attractive media (defined as something a specific group of viewers would seek out, because it scratches a specific itch) this might be a godsend.

Think of subject matter like photography, knitting, ham radio and kayaking. Each of these has a dedicated base of fans who want to see more on their hobby or avocation, but there’s not enough audience tonnage to make this work on an established channel. Because the audience would be sharply targeted, each set of eyeballs would be worth more to advertisers or underwriters (this is non traditional media – why not a non traditional economic model).

It could be commercially viable – though more on the retail level than the mass marketing we’re used to on TV. In other words, it makes sense for a person or small group of persons to do this. It doesn’t make as much sense for a larger, high cost basis organization to get involved.

The big question is, will people do all the things necessary to download these files? Is there a way to preserve the cost structure as it is and make it seamless for the end user?

This could be very exciting.