by Matthew L. Schafer
Digg, a popular social media news sharing platform, has seen users run from it since last year’s release of version 4. After the website redesign, users complained that the diversity of sources once prevalent on Digg was now a collection of just a few “big names.” A new study by LWR, however, appears to show that even before the website redesign, the majority of sources at Digg was comprised of mainstream media outlets.
Apart from a lack of source diversity, the new version of Digg also received hordes of criticism as it dropped beloved features like the “bury button,” the “upcoming page,” and a section where users could see their friends submissions. This, along with consistent website crashes caused Digg to fall from a top 50 website to a top 200 website.
“There was a launch that was in violent disagreement with what our community expected out of the Web site,” Now Digg CEO Matt Williams said. “It’s truly a tragedy of the ages, to some extent.”
The study by LWR looked at the polical news pages of Digg, The New York Times, and Yahoo! News. (You can read the whole thing here.) In an effort to see if Digg and Yahoo! News simply focused on the same thing as the traditional mainstream media (here, The New York Times), LWR gathered data for a two-week period in 2010 from February 24 to March 9. From this data, LWR can also take a look at the variety of Digg sources before the tragic redesign.
The results are somewhat surprising: Digg was never that democratic. Moreover, it largely followed the same issues as The New York Times and Yahoo! News did. Indeed, it can easily be said that of the almost 600 Digg stories sampled, about 80% of stories came from what one could call “mainstream media.” While Digg users aggregated news stories from 62 separate news websites, blogs, or independent general interest websites, the majority of those were the likes of Huffington Post, TPM, CNN, POLITICO, and MSNBC–not exactly your independent content produces.
Moreover, Digg was talking about the exact same issues as were The New York Times and Yahoo! News. LWR looked at the correlations between what Digg and the other outlets were talking about, and they were surprisingly high. (For the statistics fluent folks: The Spearman’s rho correlation between Digg and and Yahoo! News (r=.782). The Spearman’s rho correlation between Digg and The New York Times was (r=.741).)
So why does this matter? Well, according to founder Kevin Rose, Digg was founded to put the editorial power back in the hands of the users, but it appears that it never fully realized this goal. When version 4 came out, Digg lovers felt betrayed, because they believed that the crowdsourced aspect of the website was in jeopardy.
“Digg V4 breaks [the crowdsource] covenant,” MediaCaffeine said in 2010. “Despite what Rose, his team, and their beloved mainstream celebrity buddies believe, the people do not have the power right now.”
Yet, if we take a look at this pie chart below, which captures the sources on the front page of Digg, and compare it to the 80% of mainstream news outlets that comprised Digg stories in early 2010 (in the word cloud above), it appears that v4, while not democratic in the grandest sense of the word, didn’t make Digg less democratic.
While Digg will likely never regain its once prominent place in the Internet ecosystem, it would be wrong to dismiss it as “selling out to the man.” From this data, it seems to have grown more democratic. Nonetheless, it’s still not nearly the democratic media it promised it would be, and probably never will be.