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Reddit considers itself a benefactor of Digg user revolt

August 31, 2010 | 12:51 pm

Reddit-staffersDigg launched a new version of its social-news website last week, a long-overdue metamorphosis to hopefully compete with Facebook and Twitter. But those changes reignited an old competitor in Reddit.

For about five years, the two sites have filled a similar purpose. They both let users submit links and curate news pages.

Digg's traffic has long dwarfed Reddit's. That hasn't changed, but Reddit received a boost this week in the form of displaced Digg refugees, who say they feel dejected by drastic changes to the site's dynamics.

Traffic to Reddit on Monday was way up. That's when, as Reddit lead developer Christopher Slowe put it in an e-mail to The Times, "there was a concerted effort for boycotting Digg."

Reddit saw unique visitors increase by about 48% on Monday, according to reports provided by the San Francisco company. (Independent metrics firms couldn't verify traffic data from so recently.) That trend continued into Tuesday, though exact figures weren't immediately available because the load on the site's servers makes retrieving measurements difficult, Slowe said.

Slowe believes his site will be able to hold onto those new folks because in addition to the traffic spike -- thanks to a number of links to Reddit submitted by Digg users -- he said sign-ups doubled.

The timing is fortunate for Reddit, which has mostly coasted in terms of growth and recently got into a spat with its owner, Conde Nast. The publishing company asked its geek culture site not to carry advertisements promoting marijuana use. So Reddit's small staff responded by making those types of ads free.

RedditThen Pet Holdings Chief Ben Huh, which owns the Cheezburger Network of Lolcat and Fail Blog fame, made a public offer to acquire Reddit.

"I believe that Reddit is one of the best communities I have seen on the Internet," Huh wrote in his letter. "I also believe that Reddit would benefit from more resources and less corporate interference."

Digg doesn't seem too concerned with Reddit's renewed fame. Since launching the new version of Digg, the company has struggled to keep servers from going down from all the attention, and to iron out bugs and address complaints.

"I think that Reddit is an awesome site," said Kevin Rose, Digg founder and interim chief executive, in an interview Sunday on the podcast This Week in Tech. "They're great guys. ... They could use more resources."

Reddit has half a dozen employees and two part-timers, after adding two more Thursday. On the other hand, Digg, a private company that says it's profitable, has dozens of workers.

Version 4 of Digg takes the focus away from a central homepage curated by millions in favor of individual pages catered to each person. The links shown on one My News page are, like Twitter or Facebook, based on who that user chooses to follow rather than what the masses declare interesting. (Though the Top News page is still a click away.)

But it was the relatively minor changes that upset Digg's most loyal followers. Among various publicly expressed gripes -- on, where else, Digg -- they're unhappy that one feature that let you take a peek at the stories that were about to hit the most-popular page is gone, and that the Top News section now seems to be dominated by large websites instead of a smattering of big and small blogs and newspaper sites.

"I worried about handing power to publishers," Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, who is not involved in the company's day-to-day operations, said in an interview with The Times. "It seems to go against the principle of [having] readers as editors."

Digg's Rose is confident the changes will bring his aging website up to speed with the competition. (In Internet years, Digg is getting long in the tooth at almost 6 years old.)

"Twitter has taken some of our traffic, no doubt -- Twitter and Facebook," Rose said.

But he relented when Digg's most vocal users began flooding the site with pleas to revert to the old version, to make drastic changes, or for fellow Diggers to exile to Reddit. Rose outlined a laundry list of planned changes on his blog.

-- Mark Milian
twitter.com/markmilian

Photo: Reddit developers at a faux meeting. Credit: Reddit

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