Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Why Digg-clones don’t work

There is another TechCrunch article today about yet more Digg-clones. After  noting that Digg seems “hard pressed to break out of its geek-infested niche”, TechCrunch goes on to observe that “other sites are using Digg-like voting mechanisms to attack a much larger and much less tech savvy crowd: celebrity gossip aficionados”.

Outside of Digg and Reddit has anyone seen Digg-like voting systems work? Not here.

So why is that? Why does Digg work so spectacularly well while all these clones bomb. Check out all of the sites that TechCrunch mention in the article (Showhype, BallHype, Conde Naste’s Lipstick, Dotspotter, and SugarLoving (which supposedly has ‘massive page views’). On all of these sites the top ranked stories have about a dozen votes and a hand-full of comments. One obvious consequence of this is that with such little critical mass, any of these sites could be gamed but presumably noone really cares enough to bother.

So why aren’t any of these sites working? Well, you have to think about what value Digg really brings. For one, it is focused on the tech sector, which has such a massive and diverse range of content written about it on a daily basis that there is a definite need for filtering. Digg’s audience is one that will respond to the empowerment of a social filter system the same way it embraces anything open source. Power to the people, comrades.

There aren’t many content niches where there is so much content that a really good blog can’t effectively aggregate that content. There aren’t many content niches where big media companies aren’t already doing a pretty effective job of aggregating news.  Celebrity sites won’t work because there are so many really good big media sites already doing a really good job in this space, and your typical celebrity gossip reader doesn’t care who’s filtering that content. Same goes with sport and just about every other niche I can think of.

The only way you can make this kind of voting system work is by building a community that gets off on this type of interaction.  The problem with these Digg clones is they’re trying to build a community via the Digg-style news mechanism but that’s always going to have the chicken and egg problem. You need a community to make the concept work but you can’t build a community until the concept works.

I can see Digg-style voting becoming increasingly omnipresent around the web, but more so as a “feature” rather than a product in their own right. So I’ll get to choose whether I want to view the content as selected by the editor, or based on the number of votes, reads, links or whatever other ranking system you want to implement.

What it all comes down to is the way you filter news depends on your audience. TechMeme works for the Web 2.0 community because their primary method of interaction with news is based on approval by blogging and linking. Digg works for the Digg-crowd because it is an effective way of using the kind of egalitarian social interaction favoured by these users to sort through vast amounts of content. Blogs work great as an aggregator for many niches because there isn’t so much to filter through, and most of it is just rewritten content anyway, so the value-add that the blog adds is hopefully some informed commentary or analysis.

It’s easy to get enamoured with the Digg model because its a nice low-cost model that means you don’t have to employ editors or journalists but aren’t people wising up to the fact that there are literally thousands of Digg-clone sites on the web and still only a handful have gained any real traction and there all in tech-related areas.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

3 Responses

  1. Erin says:

    Phil,
    I agree with your observations that Digg clones are rarely going to get enough traction to make the user-generated content model work. The reason Ballhype has been able to grow 50% a month since launch, and why we think ShowHype has an equal or greater chance of success, however, is that our sites do not rely solely on the community for content. Our content engine tracks thousands of blogs so that the site is pre-populated with the latest stories in sports or entertainment. So while we have a lot of users who actively submit and vote for stories, the vast majority simply consume the content.

  2. boozme says:

    can i digg this story?

  3. Johnk419 says:

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