Can Todd Garland restore Digg to its former glory?

In the mid-2000s, Digg was one of the most powerful websites on the internet. Powered by its army of users, the platform would send gargantuan amounts of server-crushing traffic to any content featured on its front page. Millions of people visited it each day, and it turned its founder Kevin Rose into an internet celebrity.

But you probably know what came next. A misguided redesign triggered a user revolt, and its audience abandoned it for Reddit and other platforms. Before long, it seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of Myspace and Friendster.

Its story didn’t end there. In 2012, the site sold to the startup studio Betaworks, which immediately went about trying to revive the Digg brand. In 2018, it was purchased by a company called BuySellAds.

I recently interviewed Todd Garland, Digg’s new owner and CEO. We discussed its current editorial operations, its monetization strategy, and his plans to restore Digg to its former glory.

To listen to the interview, subscribe to The Business of Content on your favorite podcast player, or you can play the YouTube video below. If you scroll down you’ll also find some transcribed highlights from the interview.

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This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Why Todd decided to buy Digg

While Todd had plenty of experience on the advertising side of the publishing business, he had little to no understanding of how to run the content side. “Digg is one of those sites that we assisted with their ad sales. And so we knew the audience, but we had no idea how to actually run that business, to be candid. I'm a little bit older in terms of internet years. I remember trying to get to the front page of Digg. And I remember those days where it kind of felt like the Wild Wild West on the web. And I still felt as though there's something really special about Digg despite it not being what it once was, and just really wanted the challenge of trying to figure out how to take it to its next phase of life.”

Even though Digg’s peak was behind it, it still had a strong brand. “Even today, I'll speak to people and somehow Digg will come up and they'll say, ‘no way, you run Digg? I love that site.’ I think there is still a very solid, passionate base of users who are very loyal and return to the site multiple times per day, per week, et cetera. They're also different from the users of many of the other sites that you might visit every day on the internet. They seem to have a knack for unearthing stories that you don't find elsewhere in many cases.”

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How Digg’s editorial team operates

Digg used to be completely powered by user generated content. These days it’s staffed with an editorial team of five, and they’re responsible for the day-to-day content. “I stay out of the editorial process, and that was one of the deals we made with the edit team upfront: that I wasn’t going to have influence over how they're managing the front page. We kept the business units completely separate. That being said, we basically aimed to hire people of the internet, and what I mean by that is that we sought out people who are in tune with the heartbeat of the internet and are familiar with how content bubbles up and becomes viral. While Digg’s purpose isn't necessarily to showcase all the viral content of the web, we try to find the things that are most interesting that should get more attention.”

The editorial team produces between 150 to 200 posts per day. About 12 of those make it into Digg’s daily email. “The goal of the email is to get people to the site basically. We'll mix in stories that we have on the site, as well as stories that link directly out elsewhere. It’s kind of like a daily pulse. Instead of waking up and checking Twitter and trying to sort through 500 tweets since you went to sleep, it gives you that short and sweet version of some interesting things to start your day, first thing in the morning.” 

Why Digg is experimenting with user generated content again

I reached out to Todd for this interview after I saw a tweet linking to an article published to Digg by a non-staffer. From the looks of it, it seemed like Digg was experimenting with a Medium-like publishing platform. I asked Todd about it. “I would consider it as one of the experiments we're doing to figure out how to drive more growth with Digg. Basically the gist of it is that we're in the process of opening up a way for people to write and contribute articles directly on Digg in the same way that you would contribute to something like Medium. Not that we think we're magically going to become a better Medium, but we feel as though there is room and space for an alternative to people who currently publish on Medium or who currently publish on their own blog. We can help bring a different audience to them. We also believe that there's a better way to monetize than what Medium is doing. Through BuySellAds, that monetization is like the lowest friction way for somebody to make money on the web.”

Ultimately, Todd would like to get Digg back to a place where it’s largely user driven. “We think there still exists an opportunity to provide people a fresh place to build a community on the web. I admire what the initial version of Digg was, and I take it as a personal challenge to see if we can bring it back to its former glory. Not that it needs to look and work exactly the same, but I think Digg still has a great, iconic brand, and it deserves an honest fight to figure out if we can bring it back to its former glory.”

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.