One era of the Web bleeds into another. Web 1.0 was defined by the rise of static websites and the ubiquity of browsers. Web 2.0 incorporated the infrastructure of 1.0 and added a social layer to it, giving the Web a new backbone. One of the icons of Web 2.0, Digg, was sold to Betaworks yesterday and will be integrated into its News.me platform. This is the inflection point at which we see the definite transition of the Web 2.0 world to Web 3.0: The Mobile Era.
The Mobile Era has been built on the infrastructure of websites created in Web 1.0, and on the social layer of Web 2.0. If we are to describe The Age of Mobile with the Web 3.0 moniker, it's natural that all that has come before will be incorporated into it. The Mobile Era incorporates its own bits into the aggregate, offering up dynamic new ways of computing (smartphones and tablets) where users interface not just through the Web and a browser, but also through applications available on these platforms that were built upon the principles of earlier eras of the Web. Each era of the Web does not exist within its own bubble but builds upon the era that came before.
When tracking how Web 2.0 became The Mobile Era, Digg is perhaps the perfect company to monitor. When the rise of Web 2.0 became a mainstream phenomenon in the mid-2000s, there were several sites that defined the coming of the new era. Myspace was pre-eminent among these services, and the fledgling Facebook was budding into the company that would define Web 2.0. But, when it comes to how basic interaction with the Internet evolved between 1.0 and 2.0, Digg is a pertinent case study.
The Three Webs
Web 1.0 was, by definition, a completely one-way platform. It started in the early- to mid-1990s (with digital historians placing it near 1993 with the rise of the World Wide Web, or in 1995 when Netscape became the first dominant browser). Websites were built in basic frame models and were used as ways to broadcast information. Thus, the Web was primarily a content-consumption platform that did not have much in the way of interaction or user-generated content. It was defined at the time as “The Information Superhighway” because it was the beginning of the time when all of the world’s accumulated knowledge became available at the click of a button. The dominant companies of Web 1.0 were America Online (which acquired Netscape in 1999) and Microsoft, which would eventually face monopoly lawsuits in the late 1990s over its Internet Explorer - the browser that supplanted Netscape as the most-used browser in the world (a fact that has been true until this year, when Google’s Chrome has overtaken IE, according to various metrics).
Digg was started in late 2004 as a news aggregator that let users vote stories up or down. The “up vote” mechanism is now commonplace on the Web, with popular sites such as Reddit and Hacker News using it as a primary feature. The up vote can be seen in many different social sites these days, with the “Like” from Facebook and “+1” of Google+ as derivatives of the concept.
The beauty of Digg as a general concept was that it took the static nature of Web 1.0 and made it interactive. Thus, it created a community centered around content and gave a voice to people looking to add their own opinions to topical information from niche, local, national and international perspectives. The concept of an online community was not created by Digg, nor was adding a social layer to the Web. Digg was not a revolutionary platform; it was just the right idea at the right time and the natural bridge that brought the one-way Web 1.0 into the era of interactive content of Web 2.0.
The defining innovation of Web 2.0 was likely the concept of the “web log,” what we commonly refer to now as the blog. Digg helped people embrace the blog as an alternative content source alongside mainstream news sites. Digg was not just a new way to interact with the Web 1.0 world but was also firmly ensconced in the practical habits created in Web 2.0.
We often mark the passing of eras not by celebrating the new entities that have thrived and evolved through the era, but by the decline of companies that were once seen as the pinnacle of the movement. The events that shifted Web 1.0 into Web 2.0 were seeded with the dot-com bubble that burst around 2000. Many people claimed that Web 2.0 had died when Myspace sold off the remnants of its business in the middle of 2011. That was definitely a signal that Web 2.0 was in a state of change, but in the long run it was just one sign among many.
Rumors of Its Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
Let's get a couple of things straight. Web 1.0 never “died.” Neither will Web 2.0. Each era of the Web that we have seen is not defined by a parabolic graph where it rises, peaks and then falls. When it comes to the Web, the graph does not go back down. It continues to rise, and the foundation of what came before is folded into the new generation. This is precisely what is happening in The Mobile Era and, in parallel, what has happened to Digg.
Digg was acquired by Betaworks, an incubator that created one of the first popular link shorteners in Bit.ly. It has also created an app, which started as an in-house project at The New York Times, called News.me. Betaworks will incorporate what is left of Digg into News.me’s iPhone and iPad apps.
News.me is a news aggregation service created for the era of social and mobile. It takes news from your Facebook and Twitter streams and creates morning news summaries out of it. It checks news links for popularity through Bit.ly to determine which stories will be included in its morning summaries and delivers them through its iOS applications.
The evolution makes perfect sense. One of the defining companies of Web 2.0 now is folded into an application that makes use of social signals and delivers it to mobile devices. Digg was not a perfect company; it made questionable business and development decisions that ultimately led to its decline. But, if we look past the business of Digg and look at it as a service, the picture becomes clear. The rise and fall of Digg as a service is the most pertinent case study showing us that Web 2.0 has evolved into The Mobile Era.