With Digg on the Wane, Where Are its Former Power Users?

With "king of all social media" on the wane, where have all the Power Diggers gone?

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This isn't to say Sorcini and his fellow power users didn't attempt to hold on to Digg, or that they didn't try to lobby its employees to reverse some of the drastic changes it made in its disastrous Version 4 redesign. He had been one of several who were called in to Digg's offices to preview the new updates prior to their launch in order to give feedback. "When I saw what they had intended to do through Version 4, my jaw dropped," he recalled. "I was dumbfounded. Basically what they were doing was taking away the content curation from the individual users and allowing publishers to essentially hook up their firehose of RSS feeds into the submission engine and allow them to submit everything they want. And I told them when I saw this that this is a huge mistake. You're going to drive your regular users away in droves. I strongly advised them not to make that particular change."

Nonetheless, when the new version launched not long afterward, it was evident that the Digg team hadn't followed his advice. Neal Rodriguez, another power user, said that he saw an immediate and precipitous drop in traffic that Digg sent to a website; depending on the relevance of the link, it could send as few as 600 visitors, whereas before a front page article could guarantee a minimum of 10,000. Even more worrisome, the redesign made it difficult for the power users to collaborate and digg each other's stories. "Prior to the redesign, there was one page called the friends submissions page," he said. "You could go on there and digg on all of your friends' submissions. But then they took that away, and that had been the real key to the movement on Digg. That's where you could submit something and people already had the understanding that people with whom they were friends were going to digg their story to continue that reciprocal support."

Despite these hurdles, the power users continued to work together, forming Facebook, Twitter, and Skype groups so they could promote each other's submissions. Digg, meanwhile, continued to install features that downplayed the role of its most active users. "They had this recommended users feature," said Sorcini. "So people like Lance Armstrong and Katie Couric--people who had maybe visited the site a couple of times to check it out and then never came back--were getting thousands of followers. In the meantime, the regular submitters, the people driving the site on a regular basis, were not getting any attention. The attention was focused away from them. I think that kind of made top users of the site disenfranchised."

Not all the power users went to Reddit, and even those who did also began spending time building up their followings on more decentralized blogging platforms. Sorcini has a popular podcast he hosts and said he spends a lot of time on Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter. Rodriguez used his contacts at Digg to secure speaking engagements at conferences, and he now spends much of his time developing content for Forbes, Huffington Post, and YouTube.

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Some of the users went to other niche social news platforms similar to Digg. A program called Pligg, for instance, allows you to build any site from scratch with a social voting function like Digg's, and there are a number of specialized sites that have amassed their own small communities. One former power user, Marcus Hirn, attempted to migrate the entire Digg power user community onto a site he created called Thruzt. A kind of mashup of Pinterest and Digg, Thruzt was founded out of the hope that the power users could essentially reverse engineer Digg's success by combining their influence on the site. "I started contacting [the power users] one by one," he explained. "It's about 200 people, so it's a lot of work." Everyone in social media is mistrusting, Hirn said, so he made the case through chat and E-mail that if they could launch a site with an already-active user base--albeit a small one--then it could grow and attain power quickly. "I think I had all of them, 99 percent at least, of all the former power users have accounts on Thruzt," he said, though he admitted that many of them aren't very active.