ProgrammableWeb, the social news community at Digg.com may be on the verge of opening up. In a recent message shared on the Digg mailing list, developer Jeff Hodsdon announced that the forthcoming Digg API will allow people to "not only read data, but also contribute data, too." In other words, a Read/Write API.According to news posted this morning to API-tracking website
The implications of this decision are huge. Whereas before Digg was the place to find and share interesting links from around the web, that role has, as of late, been taken on by microblogging site Twitter.com. To combat Twitter's threat, Digg has tried launching new features like the DiggBar and their own URL-shortening service, but nothing they've done so far could have as big an impact on their future as the new API.
Digg Knows How to Get Traffic and the API Will Deliver That Much More
To drive traffic to their service, Digg launched a couple of different initiatives this past year including a browser toolbar and a URL-shortening service. First, there was the controversial "DiggBar" which initially drove traffic to Digg.com via a short URL service that displayed the news story within an iframe wrapper. Later, they changed the way their short URL service operated to redirect anyone clicking the URL directly to Digg.com - even if they weren't currently logged into the Digg website. This quickly became known as Digg's attempt to "bait and switch" its users. Instead of being sent to the news story as expected, users unwittingly wound up on Digg.com. Despite the outcry (and a confused founder Kevin Rose who wasn't aware of the change), the site continues to operate their URL service in this way. And why is that? Because, at the end of the day, Digg.com needs traffic to stay competitive. The soon-to-launch read/write API will simply be another way to get those valuable clicks.
With a read/write API, developers will be able to add "Digg This" functionality to their third-party applications. Adam DuVander on ProgrammableWeb notes this means developers could do a number of things like "automate posting stories and incorporate it into a publishing system,... save a link once and have it go to Digg, your bookmark service and Twitter... allow anyone to create their own interface to Digg, which would also provide Digg itself with additional content." The potential is nearly limitless. Heck, you could even incorporate a "Digg This" button into a Twitter client app like TweetDeck, for example.
To encourage developers to actually build apps or integrate Digg functionality within their existing applications, Digg recently allowed commercial use of their API. That means developers can actually monetize their applications "with full ownership and free of fees," says the Digg API license agreement. That gives the developer community even more incentive to put the API to use.
Digg Needs Traffic to Fight the Real-Time Web
The API change is arguably a brilliant move by the (potentially) fading social news site to combat the threat that comes from the real-time web.
There was a time when Digg.com was the king of link-sharing on the social web. Getting "dugg" sent massive amounts of traffic to your website, often overwhelming servers and bringing the site down - a problem that soon became known as the "Digg effect." While Digg still has that power today, Twitter is quickly becoming the link-sharing site of choice for many users. The reasons for that are many, but one key reason is that Twitter levels the playing field a bit - getting "dugg" is notoriously hard and getting something to the front page seems to be controlled by an elite crowd of diggers... no matter how hard Digg tries to combat that problem. Twitter, on the other hand, is easy. Anyone can share links, and through the power of "re-tweets" large amounts of traffic can be driven to websites, too. Although there's no "Twitter effect" just yet, its time may be coming soon.
With Twitter. we've seen the dispersal of information sped up. Where it can still take hours - and sometimes even days - to see a hot story make the front page of Digg.com, breaking news on Twitter moves at a much more rapid pace. Within minutes, the news spreads like wildfire, overtaking people's timelines and making its presence known in the Twitter trends. Although today Digg is still going strong, if they can't transform their service into more of a real-time news site where information isn't "old news" by the time it reaches an audience, then they will eventually find themselves outpaced by other services.
By opening up their API, Digg could deliver even more traffic to their site than they've ever done before. And with the additional traffic, stories could move through their system faster. Getting the necessary number of diggs needed to make a story "go popular" could, in theory, take minutes instead of hours if enough diggs came though. With additional traffic speeding up front page turnover, Digg could remain competitive with other real-time services that are attempting to steal their glory. Soon, one of those services may be bit.ly, whose URL shortening service is now the default for the Twitter community. According to recent news, bit.ly plans to mine links it collects to create a real-time news service a lot like Digg's, but based on Twitter instead. There's no doubt that Digg is aware of this potential threat, and that has at least partially influenced their decision to open up.
Still, despite Digg's plans, we have to wonder: will the read/write API be enough for Digg to compete further down the road? Let us know what you think in the comments.