Digg: Kevin Rose talks 'The Real Deal' in exclusive interview

KEVIN ROSE, FOUNDER OF DIGG Talks "The Real Deal" in Exclusive Interview: Are user self-submissions democratic? Will Digg displace The New York Times?...
Written by Donna Bogatin, Contributor
I am honored to welcome Kevin Rose, Founder & Chief Architect of Digg, as the first interviewee in my new “The Real Deal” CEO interview series at this Digital Micro-Markets Blog!

I spoke at length with Kevin today. Below are my “Real Deal” questions and Kevin’s responses in italics.

(responses may be slightly paraphrased)

1) You recently announced that you are changing the Digg story promotion algorithim to enhance diversity of digger input with the goal of keeping digg as useful, democratic, and devoid of misuse as possible. You also have said that users like Digg because they are contributing to true, free, democratic social platforms devoid of monetary motivations.

How does user self submission of stories jibe with “democratic” and “devoid of monetary motivations”? For example: 1) self-nominations have been problematic in democracies and 2) bloggers, writers and Websites submitting their own stories are driven by monetary motivations.

Anyone can submit. There are 4000 newly submitted stories daily. We don’t have a problem with people submitting their own stories. It is not up to the person submitting story if it makes it to the front page. It is up to the community if that is something they want to see on the front page.

We know that it requires a much larger pool of people to promote the story to the front page. Regardless of source of story, it has to receive a lot of diggs from the community. It doesn’t matter what the motivation of the submitter is. People are going to make money, when users click through to the stories, they have ads on the pages.

We have sophisticated anti-gaming processes. We are spending a lot in R & D to prevent gaming. Motivations don’t matter.

2) You are number 28 on the “Top 30 Diggers” page. Of the 30, you are the only user to enjoy a 100% popular ratio, meaning each of your 151 submitted stores was promoted to the home page; the next highest popular ratio of the “Top 30 Diggers” is 61%.

Are your story submissions subject to the same algorithmic treatment that the story submissions of the other 29 top diggers are subject to regarding promotion to the home page?

Absolutely. I have a standard account like any other user. There are no super accounts. There is no way to by-pass the algorithm.

3) Your partner Jay Adelson said in June that Digg leverages “the collective wisdom of the Internet masses to sift through these stories and apply their interests to it." Recent published Digg metrics are: 10 million pages views daily, 500,000 registered users, 20% of the traffic coming from registered users.

The Digg motto is that it is “all about user powered content. Every article on digg is submitted and voted on by the digg community.” The 80% majority of the Digg community, however, are non-registererd users who do not submit, digg, or bury stories.

How can Digg homepage stories be considered “the collective wisdom of the Internet masses" if only 20% of the Digg community is reflected within the digging?

It is the wisdom of the half million registered users of the site. It is a big base to work from, we are doubling every few months.

4) Recent published Digg demographics indicate that the Digg community is 94% male and generally twenty or thirty something techies earning $75,000 or more. Your partner Jay Adelson indicated in June that Digg aims to provide mainstream news sites a view into what the public considers newsworthy. He said specifically "If you want to know what a particular group of people or the mass public care about today, I can know within seconds, versus waiting for the publication cycle to happen so you can look at your subscription data or Nielsen ratings."

Two questions: 1) How can the homogeneous Digg community be considered the “mass public”? 2) Will you be mining and selling, or commercially exploiting in any fashion, Digg user activity data?

1) Those demographics are prior to the latest generation of the site, Digg Version 3.0 We have grown since. In December 2004 when we launched we were largely a tech news site. We have a variety of other areas now, politics, entertainment… After Version 3., we saw a huge spike in new registered users from the other categories. We have more diversified users.

2) We will not sell user data.

5) Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, what are two of the decisions you made at Digg since 2004 that you would have done differently?

1) We would have hired a DBA sooner. Once you hit a certain level of growth, it helps you scale, you have to add servers. It is important to have good database administrators.

2) I would have pulled the crew together sooner. We were all working remotely. It is better to have everyone under the same roof, in the same office. Productivity goes through the roof.

6) You have said that although Digg could “slap on lots of ads and be profitable tomorrow," you are taking a different path to profitablility. How long can your $2.8 million in venture funding last to finance your preferred path?

We are fully funded. We have decided to keep a small team. We will be able to turn a profit, we won’t need to go for another round of funding. We are a 100% ad-based model.

We will look completely different a year from now. We are creating an exciting system for users to discover and share news. We are learning about users and behaviors, we will make actual true connections between users, making new friends, recommending stories...

7) Will Digg displace The New York Times?

We have a symbiotic relationship with traditional media sites. We can’t survive unless bloggers blog and The New York Times writes stories. We create a level playing field, good content gets found and recognized.


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