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Digg brainstorming new communications tool for users

June 19, 2009 |  4:26 pm

Digg meetup nyc

Photo: A bird's-eye view of the crowds at the Digg Meetup a couple of weeks ago in New York. Credit: Mark Milian

Ever since Digg removed a popular feature that lets its users communicate with one another a few weeks ago, some of the site's members have complained that the company yanked the "social" out of the social news site.

For those who are not steeped in the ins and outs of Digg culture, here's some background. The site used to have a feature called "shouts," which members could use to let their friends know about a story or item that they especially liked. Sounds harmless enough. But it turns out that some skillful Diggers used shouts to game the system and promote their pet posts, many of which landed on the homepage.

The upshot: Digg removed the feature and is now back to the drawing board to come up with another tool that's not as susceptible to spamming. That turns out to be easier said than done. Digg has to tread a delicate line between keeping its core members happy and being a website that is useful to millions of broader readers who rely on Digg to unearth interesting news stories, not just niche posts that were interesting only to a handful of power users.

"What we want is to give our users the ability to communicate," said Digg Chief Executive Jay Adelson during an interview at a Diggnation event in New York a couple of weeks ago. "What we don't want is to create a system that's easy to abuse."

Adelson admits his San Francisco company hasn't yet found a solution. But he did share with us his broader thoughts on what it would look like. First, it would be ...

...a tool that would focus on actual conversations, rather than the mass dumping of links that polluted shouts, he said. Adelson said Digg is considering making the tool a "one-to-one" service, implying that it could be something like a chat function.

"It's not so much a sharing problem," Adelson said. "It's more of a communication problem, where I have one user who wants to talk to another user."

Second, the tool would create conversations in separate categories -- movies, sports, celebrities or science, for example. This dilutes each user's influence, so those who consistently submit popular video game news but are not so great at finding sports-related content would find their prominence rising in just the game category.

"There are users who are just much better at finding good content" in areas in which they have some expertise, Adelson said. "This new tool would create 'tastemakers' in various categories."

Adelson did not specify a time frame for when Digg would likely launch a new tool. In the meantime, avid Digg users have resorted to Twitter or Facebook to talk to each other, an irony that's not lost on Adelson and Co. as they attempt to dig themselves out of their current dilemma.

-- Mark Milian

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