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Digg overhaul expected to lessen coveted traffic spikes to publishers

March 15, 2010 |  7:20 am

DiggSay goodbye to the "Digg effect"?

Digg Chief Executive Jay Adelson announced a vastly revised version of its social news website at an event Saturday during the South by Southwest Interactive conference. Users will soon have a personalized news page based on a number of factors.

Digg's changes, which begin rolling out to a group of testers in the next few weeks, are multifaceted.

Users can customize their news page based on who they follow on the site in addition to a practically endless number of topics based on a new tagging system. What stories bubble up for a given user is also determined by what that person has voted on in the past and on what friends on Twitter and Facebook are linking to.

Digg's engine crawls the page, analyzes the content and tags a link automatically. Site users can also add their own set of tags to a link.

The overhaul is a step toward fulfilling Digg's core mission statement, which is, Adelson admits, not as sexy as mantras such as Google's "Don't be evil." Digg means to "enable the social curation of the world's content and the conversations around it."

"One size fits all just doesn't work anymore," Adelson said onstage Saturday.

Digg, with more than 40 million users, has outgrown its old model, Adelson elaborated in an interview Sunday afternoon. News on the site can be hours or even days old by the time it's boosted to the homepage. That section fits a narrow and conflicting personality of the site's core users -- mostly quirky and geeky.

However, the folks who seemed pleased with the current system -- or at least during those times when they successfully got their links on it -- are the publishers.

Having a story hit the Digg homepage is a shot of steroids to a website's hit counter. It can drive tens of thousands of users in a few hours and is often referred to as the "Digg effect." It can cripple servers if they're not ready for it.

While the top stories section will still exist on the site, Adelson acknowledges that the heavy focus on personalization will diminish the impact of hitting the front page. He believes the switch from unpredictable jolts of traffic to a steady stream of referrals is more beneficial to online publishers.

An unexpected rush of visitors is "hard to monetize," Adelson said. "It's like gambling."

"What you need," he continued, "is more predictable traffic."

Whether Web publishers will pay attention to yet another site that drives reliable but relatively small slices of traffic is unknown. Whether Web surfers will welcome the new version is another question altogether.

Digg has some other tricks up its sleeve for publishers -- features that could be months or more than a year out. Analytics tools are in the works, as is a commenting system that can be integrated with blogs. An ad platform for publishers is also being discussed.

-- Mark Milian

Image credit: Digg