I spent some time today at the Future of Web Apps Summit at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Gavin Clarke of The Register called the event the Web equivalent of Star Trek convention. Some of the main actors in the theatre of Web 2.0 held forth on stage, starting with Kevin Rose of Digg, regaling the crowd with a demo of the site and then a walk through its origins and development.
Rose talked about how Digg was conceived in October 2004 and launched at a cost of $2,000 using the open source LAMP stack and $99 per month hosting, and promoting it via blogs, tapping into a core audience of passionate tech enthusiasts. To this date, Digg has grown by word-of-mouth, not a single dollar spent on advertising, Rose said. Traffic this month is about 10 million pages per day, and Digg has a staff of 15 people.
Rose outlined his philosophy for making feature desicions:
Tools for self expression
Stay away from me-too features
Simple and rewarding--one click
Destroy the garbage--such as digging and burying comments
Experiment-Flash-based applications such as Stack, Swarm and bigspy activities for users
Rose advised the audience to give developers time to experiment. He showed BigSpy, which changes the size of headlines, based on the number of diggs, as the stories stream into the site in real time. He also advised fellow entrepreneurs to hire experienced DBAs.
Future plans include learning about user interests. If you have an interest in Debian and Oolong tea, could Digg could introduce you to people with similar interests, Rose said.
During a Q&A after his presentation, Rose said that an API will be published in the next 60 days that will allow people to Digg stories from within a site. Rose also said that Digg's search "sucks," but has plans to improve it and allow searching by the number of diggs.
On the question of paying submitters (Digg has 500,000 registered users), Rose said that it's important that there are no outside motivations for contributing to the site. "It's not that we don't want to pay people, but we don't want to discourage people who are not getting paid from submitting quality content," Rose said. He also said that he wasn't willing to share all of Digg's development plans with its user base in an open way because of concerns that some very large and well funded competitors are lurking in the shadows.