Digg Townhall, a live session hosted online by Digg founder Kevin Rose and CEO Jay Adelson. Like before, Kevin asked Digg users to post their suggestions on Digg as to what topics should be covered. (The thread is here). Now that the event is over, we can review how well those questions were addressed.Last night was the second
Using a fairly democratic system, Kevin and Jay announced that they would respond to the top ten comments that were posted on that thread. However, at session's end, I counted only nine from the thread (maybe one was considered a "two-fer"), although more questions were addressed than just those. The additional questions came in live during the townhall having been sent in to a special email address that Kevin announced at the beginning of the session.
Comments System: The first topic covered was the announcement of the new Digg comments system that is about to be rolled out. Kevin said "it's ready" and it should be out this week. (See the video here).
Data Portability: Up next, Kevin made a brief mention of the data portability changes implemented on Digg (our coverage: Digg Does Data Portability: Is This All We Get?) and the Facebook/Digg integration, which is where Facebook users can import Digg stories into the Facebook mini-feed/Newsfeed.
Infrastructure: Jay then discussed the internal infrastructure updates, saying that Digg receives 230 million+ pageviews/month and 26 million uniques - traffic that necessitated major internal upgrades. (He also mentioned Digg is hiring.)
Meetup: Finally, Kevin announced the next Digg Meetup/live Diggnation will be on June 4th at 7 PM at Studio B in Brooklyn, NY.
Politics on Digg
Q: As we mentioned earlier, some of the users' top suggestions for topics to be covered included the decline of tech stories on Digg as well as the decline of quality stories in general. However, at the time of the townhall, the comment with the most diggs was one which reflects today's current political situation. The commenter, BigManOnCampus, wrote:
...you have to wonder if digg itself hasn't been completely hijacked by activists for particular sides. Most of the time the main front page is all about Obama. I myself don't mind hearing about the man, but Digg use to have easily-accessible-information that was useful to me. Now it's all about what political cause is most represented here. Is anything going to be done to finally obliterate the mob-mentality that seems to have risen to completely dominate digg?
A: Kevin responded that politics is hot right now and that there never really will be the ultimate homepage that satisfies everyone. Instead, Digg is looking into adding new features that will allow you to further customize your Digg experience as well as recommendation technologies to help you find the types of stories that you would enjoy. Jay added that when he talks to some people who are into politics, they see Digg as a political news site - that it all depends on how you use Digg. What they want is for you customize and personalize Digg, so you won't have a bad experience.
Note: You can personalize your own story selections under your profile's settings page. Click "customize topics."
Decline of Tech Stories on Digg
The decline of tech related stories that hit the front page. One thing that I would LOVE to see is a site filter. Meaning, if an article is from xyzsite.com, you can block it from your view completely.
A: Jay announced tech content on Digg is "alive and well" and "growing" (Note to Jay: uhhh...not quite). He then said that the front page of Digg.com is designed to reflect what all of the Digg userbase is into at the time, not just tech. As for blocking specific sites, they have no features planned that would allow you to do this. Again, the recommendation was for you to customize your settings and even go into your profile and change your landing page.
Where's the Official Digg Forum?
Q: Another Digger asked where was the Digg forum announced at the last townhall?
A: Jay said they are still committed to this project, but they are focused on finding the right solution. They've narrowed it down to one or two and it will probably go live second half of this year. Their goal is to have it integrated into the Digg experience - they don't want "just another bulletin board system." In addition, they mentioned they are still working on the search feature as well, evaluating various technologies for that, too.
Word-Based Blocking System
Any chance that we can get some word-based blocking by which I mean that you can go to your settings and set certain words that you do not want to see stories about. An example of this use would be if you wanted to block all stories tagged "NSFW" or "(some politician)". The reason that I would really like this is because I frequently check the Top 10 stories and as of recently a lot of them have been about Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama and I would rather see the Top 10 stories on Digg that are not related to Obama or Clinton.
A: They responded that they are, in face, working on an NSFW filter, but they aren't providing any details or release dates for this right now.
Upcoming Section Improvement Needed
The upcoming section needs help. I'm not sure what it needs but browsing it is slowly becoming more and more overwhelming. If i browse by most popular I have to go through about 20 pages of stuff before i get to articles with 30 or 20 some diggs. Which i think makes the upcoming section more dependent on large friends networks which makes it harder for users with small friends list to get past 20 diggs and for it to get seen by people who don't have you befriended.
A: Kevin said he agrees "100%" - Upcoming "was awesome when it first launched" and there were only 100 stories per day, he added. Now Digg is working on a story recommendation engine where your view of Upcoming will be a list of recommended stories, but where you can switch to default view at any time. In addition, this section would also display recommended users and a gauge showing how recommendation is working for you.
Jay added that if you're not registered as a user Digg, you will be missing out on some of these features in the future, like the recommendation engine, so you should really register.
Honest Discussion About the Direction Digg Has Taken
I want to hear an honest discussion about the direction Digg has taken. I joined in 05', because I heard about it on TechTV and I really liked the concept of finding odd, unique tech stories. Ever since Digg added the non-tech related sections, there has been an explosion of user growth, which was great because more stories were coming in, but also spam went way up. I didn't like the politics section, so I removed it.
Still, there are special interest groups who have been sneaking them in, and its upsetting. I feel like digg has been hijacked by rude, agenda driven people who have made the digg experience less enjoyable.
A: Jay agreed that there are some issues with spam getting in, but that future changes to the algorithm will address this problem. However, he added, Digg gets 15,000 submissions per day, so, overall, they're not doing so bad.
Why Am I Getting New Fans?
Q: Digger Branchex was suspicious of all his fan requests and wondered how he could know if they are legitimate?
A: Kevin said they will be adding a text box where users can type in why they want to be a fan of someone. Jay added that incorporating external social graphs into Digg will be helpful, too, specifically mentioning Facebook and Ning, but not confirming anything involving either.
Link Under Digg Stories to Report Duplicate / Alternate Sources
There should be a link under Digg stories, where you can click "Report as duplicate" or "Submit alternate source." If you reported it as a duplicate, you would be required to choose the Digg story it was a dupe of, and if enough people did this it would show up under the main story as an alternate source. And if you wanted to submit a story but it was already frontpaged, you could just submit it as an alternate source...
A: Jay responded that "this is a pretty good idea" and they would take it into consideration. He also said he loved how the suggestion included voting on the alternates, as that focuses on using user behavior to highlight good stories. If they were to implement such a thing, Jay continued, their number one priority would be to automate this with their de-duping system, a new version of which is being tested now. Kevin mentions that the new system will search for dupes prior to you filling out the submission form (finally!).
Sliders Instead of Checkboxes?
A: Kevin enthusiastically responded that this is an awesome idea and they will definitely look into that one, too.
Emailed in Questions
In addition to the questions from the thread on Digg, a few emailed in questions were answered, too, including questions on the following:
- Facebook/Digg integration: One user was concerned that when linking Digg and Facebook, this could lead to a bunch of "noise," especially if you have a busy day on Digg. Kevin responded that the integration doesn't mean that all your stories get sent to the Newsfeed of all your friends. Instead, Facebook's API selects certain stories to share with certain friends. He cited an example where he had dugg 15 stories but only 3 or 4 got shared. Kevin admitted "I don't know how they do it" but that it works.
- Podcast section: Another user wanted to know about the Podcast section, saying it's dead, but it still has potential. Jay said it's true that they have not released updates to that section, but since many podcasts are videos now, they're going to integrate podcasts into the video section instead.
- Separating politics out of world and business?: A third user wanted to know if politics could be its own section since political coverage was drowning out the other news. Again, Jay mentioned that customizing and personalizing your settings would help with this but also agreed that a slider bar instead of checkboxes would be even better. Kevin thinks it will die down after the elections are over.
- Fixing Screwed Up Submissions: Another question involved how there is no way to fix a submission after it's sent in - like correcting typos, misspellings, etc. Kevin reminded everyone there is a "preview" before it's sent in and that if you are using a browser like Firefox or Safari, you have spellcheck built-in. He also mentioned you could email support for help, but Jay jumped in to say they can't honor every request because the system would be abused.
- Social Media Sharing Feature: Another digger wanted to know if they could integrate a social media sharing button or feature. They responded they are working on this (and reminded everyone they are hiring).
The final comments weren't as important - someone wanted to know about the dog walking by on the screen (Digg is dog-friendly), another requested a feature just like Digg Spy causing Kevin to laugh, and the final question was to get clarification on the upcoming comments system and its "controversial" filter drop-down.
The final announcement was that the next Townhall will be August 14th.
Overall, it seems that they are aware of some of the issues with the UI and Digg experience, and are working on addressing them via new or improved features. However, it's clear that they have no plans to revert to the good ol' Digg of the past that focused on tech stories. Instead, they said several times during the townhall that users should use Digg's built-in tools to customize their settings to filter out the types of stories they don't want to see.
Unfortunately, this suggestion misses the point - the problem isn't in seeing stories or not seeing them, but concerns that tech - the category that made Digg what it is today - is getting pushed to the wayside so Digg can go mainstream. This change means tech stories now have less of chance today to "go popular" as Digg makes way for a more diverse selection, a topic we previously explored here.
Obviously, this is a calculated move orchestrated by changes to the algorithm, and no amount of complaining will change their direction. Digg may not be a tech-focused site anymore, but does that mean that techies will really stop using it? Maybe some will, maybe some won't. But since both Jay and Kevin vaguely hinted at "micro-community features" that will be implemented in the future, it's possible that Digg is trying to find a way to retain their techie fanbase before they leave for Mixx or another competitor's site.