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Digg has had its fair share of criticism. But the idea that it’s slow, bloated, outdated, gamed, and policed has all been hearsay. But now, in an exclusive interview with TechConsumer, Digg founder Kevin Rose and CEO Jay Adelson share openly what’s been going on behind the scenes. Here’s a transcript of the interview:
Caswell: Greetings, gentlemen, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview. I wanted to started by asking the following question: What exactly do you do there at Digg?
Rose: I’ll take this one. What people sometimes forget is all the brainstorming that goes on before an idea can be made into a reality.
Caswell: So you brainstorm most days?
Rose: Well, my title is Chief Architect.
Caswell: So what have you brainstormed in the past versus the brainstorming that you’re working on now?
Rose: The best example of my brainstorming in the past is the concept behind Digg, that is, user-submitted stories. My current brainstorming is focused on what to do to prevent my original idea from getting copied and done better by other sites. Luckily, Digg has enough of a following that it’s not too big of a deal if we take as long as we need to figure this out while our competitors move forward. For some reason, we still get tons of traffic.
Caswell: So what’s the underlying purpose of Digg? Would you say it’s to facilitate a democratic way for people to find interesting things on the Internet?
Adelson: Well, yes and no. That’s the beauty of Digg, actually. You see, on the surface it sure feels democratic. I mean, when you first visit the site, you’d have no idea of all the complexity behind the algorithm that determines what’s popular. You just see the way diggs accumulate, one per person, and assume it’s a democratic way for stories to be voted to the front page of Digg.
Caswell: So are you saying it’s not democratic?
Rose: Think of it more as a game, that is, a game where the more you play, the better you are at winning. In the case of Digg, winning is getting content on the front page. But since so many people want to win, it would be too easy if the amount of diggs were the only factor.
Caswell: You’re talking about “gaming,” right?
Rose: Exactly. What fun is playing a game if it’s that simple?
Caswell: Oh, I meant more the idea that… never mind, tell me more.
Rose: That’s why there has to be a secret algorithm that everyone tries to deduce in order to win. It’s not just the number of diggs, but things like frequency, location, friends, etc. And what’s even better is that you can’t win the game in the same way too many times. The community can permanently bury certain sites if they are used too much in the game.
Adelson: And certain diggs can be worth less depending on patterns.
Caswell: But what about sites like Ars Technica or Engadget? Can they get buried in the same way as other sites? They seem to be used as a way to win all the time.
Adelson: Well, it’s true that Engadget in particular often has a snarky one paragraph description of a story with a link to the real story. But these frequently make the front page of Digg for a reason. You see, I don’t normally talk about this aspect of the algorithm, but you should know that it’s rigged to favor snarkiness found in unoriginal content. We feel this best reflects the tone of the Digg community overall: a place with no original content that is instead full of snarkiness.
Caswell: Fascinating insight, thank you. Shifting gears for a minute, I wanted to talk about one more thing before we wrap up. Does it bother you that sites like TechCrunch only seem to give you press when pointing out how your competitors are doing more to innovate in less time (such as creating groups, a news clustering feature, private mail, breaking news faster, etc.)?
Rose: Not at all, I mean, we’re hard at work on the important things. Do other sites have the same level of widgets, gadgets, and visualization tools? Those other sites simply prioritize in a different way that we don’t think is as effective.
Caswell: That really makes sense. Listen, thanks to both of you for a great interview.
Adelson: Thanks for having us.
Rose: Talk to you later.