I figured with the Digg sale complete and now that the site is basically dead, this would be a good time to answer questions about what it was like from the inside.

I will provide proof to the mods.

Edit1: Thanks for the great questions. I'm heading to bed but I'll check back in the morning.

Edit2: Wow! FP. That's nice to wake up to in the morning. I'm back to answer some more questions.

Edit3: I think it's about time I end this as the questions have halted to a trickle. If you have any more questions feel free to PM me. Other than that, thanks for all the great questions! I was really surprised by the reaction this got.

Comments: 1140 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

TMWNN374 karma

How was Reddit viewed at Digg? Did it change over time, from "Yawn, yet another Digg imitator" to "Hey, these guys are getting big" to "RED ALERT, this site is about to kill us"?

exdiggemployee559 karma

For me, personally, we never really thought about Reddit too much. It was always just this poorly designed site that was slowly gaining traction. I never really used Reddit until after I left Digg. Basically Reddit is what I missed about Digg in the old days.

Suspected328 karma

I used to really enjoy digg, but I wasn't a hardcore user by any means, so the small changes never bothered. The thing is, when v4 came out, all the submissions were crap. What exactly happened there? Was the algorithm completely changed to favor more commercial websites or something? It's like overnight, it no longer felt like the users had any input on what hit the front page, so nothing on the front page was even remotely interesting.

exdiggemployee396 karma

The algorithm was in fact different on v4. The strategy was to change the algo over time with what we were seeing on the site to fight spam, etc. But it was basically too late by then. As mentioned in another comment, more emphasis was put on following mainstream media and making it easier for them. V4 gave less power and tools to users to choose what goes on the front page. The My News feature was supposed to fight that to make it more social, so you can see what your friends are digging but the majority of users on digg had 0 friends.

Circle_Dot299 karma

What was morale like when you were there? Did you guys foresee the end or were you all oblivious?

exdiggemployee456 karma

Great question. I was there in its heyday but also in the decline. The morale was extremely high during the good times. It was a really fun company to work for and the people I worked with were extremely intelligent. I think that most people don't know that the reason it took so long for us to complete the redesign was because we worked on 2 versions of v4. The version you see on digg right now is v4 version 2. Building 2 completely new versions of digg took a gigantic toll on the engineering group and the morale. We were so burnt out by all the work we were doing that we couldn't see straight. By the time v4 came out we were just so relieved to get something out. We knew it was going to flop, the management didn't care that we were warning them that this wasn't going to be the right solution.

sciendias236 karma

Any idea why the management ignored warnings that v4 was going to be bad?

exdiggemployee333 karma

I think they were receiving pressure from their managers and the board to produce something. Digg's v3 was losing pageviews and users. Something had to be done to make that graph go back up.

allentomdude241 karma

After v4 flopped, why didn't you guys just roll it back to the old version?

exdiggemployee367 karma

The truth is, we couldn't. We built it in such a way that there was no going back after we turned on v4. The v4 redesign involved a complete overhaul of the front end and the backend. It wasn't just a new skin that we could turn off.

arronsky184 karma

Why in the world didn't someone decided to split test (or otherwise throttle the rollout of) this massive amount of a change? You could have set up a separate server farm with the new architecture, right? I'm wondering if it was the engineers, product team, or execs that were the most clueless about how, no matter how awesome an upgrade is, moving a massive community from one product to another is NOT going to be easy.

[deleted]77 karma


exdiggemployee121 karma

I can't imagine what it would take to roll back. But one of the direct results would be that any data created on v4 (Users, Stories, Diggs, etc) would be lost if rolled back. This is based on the the architecture we put in place with v4. I'm sure that loss would have been deemed acceptable by the user base but it would make Digg look (even more so) in disarray.

purpledirt80 karma

We built it in such a way that there was no going back after we turned on v4. The v4 redesign involved a complete overhaul of the front end and the backend.

Thanks for answering these questions. It's nice to have some insight into how it all went down.

My question is this: was the decision to kill the old comments, diggs, etc a business one, or something that had to be cut for time or engineering constraints? Did someone in management just want to break with the past, so to speak? What was the motivation to destroy all that old content? I remember some talk from Kevin shortly after the redesign stating that rollback was impossible - or possibly from Leo Laporte on TWiT (it's not important, I suppose) but when I heard that, I knew it was over...

exdiggemployee137 karma

Wow, yeah, I forgot about that. All the data was transferred to the new system but when you use a product like Cassandra for your DB, those relationships between data are lost. So you will see on your profile that you are missing comments, diggs, etc. That data was intended on being "restored" to your profile eventually but nobody ever did it. It was something that I fought hard for to include with the release because I thought it looked really bad. I lost that battle.

Pilebsa25 karma

Whoever came up with the idea of a database product named "Cassandra" had quite the sense of humor, or in your case, prophetic insight.

exdiggemployee33 karma

Facebook developed it. Even they don't use it anymore.

RAAFStupot51 karma

The truth is, we couldn't. We built it in such a way that there was no going back after we turned on v4.

I'm no computer scientist, but that seems extremely rash.

vaginal_secretions180 karma

Major back-end upgrades are sometimes impossible to preserve backward compatibility. If you migrate data from one format to another, "going back" would require you to write a reverse migration. Data migration in any form is not impossible, but such a contingency on such a large project/overhaul is also extremely uncommon.

exdiggemployee286 karma

Exactly. Thanks....... vaginal_secretions.

DrGrinch230 karma

How mercurial was the decline in quality of snacks available as the site started tanking?

Like was it all free pizza and donuts during v2 and by the end of v4 it was saltines and that shitty witch candy people throw out at Halloween?

exdiggemployee201 karma

LOL. What is this witch candy you speak of? Since I've worked there we had an endless supply of soda and beer. We started to receive lunches when we were working on v4. If you look at other Bay Area startups, free drinks and food is fairly common.

edit: I do miss when we got a delivery of those giant costco containers of cashews. Those were gone in hours.

centz151 karma

How prevalent is astroturfing on digg? There have been a few articles about companies buying FB likes and Twitter followers, how bad did it get at Digg? Secondly, how much influence do the top digg users really have on what makes it to the top of the page, and were there any major engineering decisions based on controlling them?

exdiggemployee305 karma

There were websites out there that were selling diggs for money. Digg had a great community management team that was aware of these sites and fighting to assure that diggs received in this manner were disallowed and users banned. A significant part of their time was fighting spam and gamers.

The top users were basically a clan of users. They all knew each other and would collude to get stories to the front page. We tried to produce algorithms that would give more credit to the original poster than to a power user posting after.

As for my opinion, I despised the power users and thought they all should have been banned for collusion. MrBabyMan was digging stories 24 hours a day. This guy either doesn't sleep or he hired people to digg stories for him. I felt like there should have been more moderation tools for the users so they could better decide what they wanted to see. I like the way Reddit allows moderators and that's something Digg should have done a long time ago.

arronsky86 karma

what do you think motivated mrbabyman to spend every waking hour on Digg? Some weird sense of 'fame', was he being paid by someone, etc?

exdiggemployee124 karma

I know some power users were paid to Digg. I'm not sure if he was ever one of them.

Kredns135 karma

What could reddit do to avoid what happened to Digg?

exdiggemployee212 karma

Listen to the community. Keep developing new features to make the experience exciting. Reduce downtime.

Reddit seems to be working particularly hard on the last point as I haven't seen as much downtime lately.

timetravellingrabbit119 karma

If there's one thing you guys could change, what would it be? Personally, judging by these posts, it seems that Digg was doomed to fail due to a lack of moderation as well as miscalculating the social dynamic of the site.

exdiggemployee150 karma

Pretty much spot on. More user moderation, allowing of any topics (subreddits), better recommendations, less spam.

timetravellingrabbit79 karma

What's the one thing you'd bring over to reddit from the old days of digg to make it better/prevent doom?

exdiggemployee365 karma

One of my favorite features Digg had that Reddit has never had is recommendations. I always found unique stories on that thing. I could see Reddit doing recommendations in a different way. Based on the subreddits I follow and the stuff I upvote, recommend more subreddits that I would be interested in following.

jevon59 karma

I think on Reddit this is kinda achieved through the subreddit info sidebars, listing related subreddits without opening users up to recommendation spam.

exdiggemployee124 karma

Correct. This is mostly achieved through the sidebar info. But if a lot of subreddits are doing this manually then it might show a need to do it programmatically.

JOEY2X115 karma

Was reddit blocked at Digg's office?

exdiggemployee257 karma

Haha. No. In fact we received a delivery from the Reddit offices at one point. They sent us a box full of Reddit alien bobbleheads.

Noxwood120 karma

How was that received?

SendMeYourDickPics793 karma

In a box

exdiggemployee307 karma

100% correct.

exdiggemployee180 karma

I thought they were listening devices spying on us. Someone hung one from a noose at their desk. Haha. Most people just kept them on their desk, no bad blood. I think I have mine around here somewhere still.

Noxwood56 karma


exdiggemployee67 karma

Just checked, none of them hanging, just one of the actual bobblehead.

Noxwood86 karma


exdiggemployee41 karma

There are plenty on Google Image Search

skyscraperdream69 karma

were you there when kevin rose was still actively involved? how did morale change as he spent less time on it and when he resigned?

exdiggemployee118 karma

Kevin Rose wasn't actively involved with Digg from at least 2009. He was involved but had spent time between so many projects (Revision3/Pownce/Diggnation/Angel Investing) that he generally wasn't around at Digg on a daily basis. The person a lot of people looked up to was Jay Adelson, our CEO. He was one of the reasons why our morale was so high. When Jay "left" it was a big hit to the morale.

Zelliba67 karma

Perhaps this is too late, but I read that the Washington post bought the "Digg team" for $12m. What exactly does that mean? Wouldn't they have just hired the team, not "bought" it?

exdiggemployee50 karma

I don't know the specifics of the deal but I know they will be working at SocialCode which is owned by the Washington Post.

gnutela66 karma

I remember receiving an email from digg asking me to get back on their site after the V4 update. The problem is, you guys banned/deleted my account and I can't login so I responded with "fuck off, digg is dead, good riddance." Do you ever read replies from your subscribers?

exdiggemployee112 karma

Haha. I don't think the reply-to e-mail went to a legitimate mail box.

elroy_jetson57 karma

who's to blame for all the crappy redesigns??

exdiggemployee144 karma

It was a number of things that went wrong. It wasn't just one person that you can blame. This biggest problem was wasn't listening to the community. Removal of core features (like the bury button) without providing any extra value to the user was something I highly disagreed with. Although the bury button was brought back it shows that the people in charge of those types of decisions had no clue about the community they were trying to build a product for.

Danielrh950 karma

Since you're posting anonymously, I hope you feel free to answer this:

Why exactly did Jay Adelson leave? I notice in your comments about him you keep saying "leave" in quotes, implying there's more to it. I had read rumors online that Jay and Kevin had clashes, but I never believed it. I've met both of them, and both of them seem like relatively low key and chill guys. Plus, they always seemed to get along in the Diggnation episodes that Jay appeared in.

What exactly happened there? Why did Jay leave, and was there ever any real friction between him and Kevin?

exdiggemployee35 karma

I think Jay explains it better than I can: http://revision3.com/askjay/fired-as-ceo

finkandr43 karma

Digg Labs was amazing. Why didn't Digg rebuild the Digg Labs Engine/Interface after v4?

exdiggemployee43 karma

Agreed. It was one of those features that was put to the side because we didn't have enough time before launch. I'm sure it was going to be re-developed at some point but never happened.

Rendonsmug43 karma

What was it like inside of Digg HQ during the whole 09 f9 event?

exdiggemployee52 karma

I didn't work there at the time. But hearing stories from other employees, they were worried that the site was going to get shut down. It seemed like a very exciting/scary day.

Pmart_629441 karma

When did you see the end of Digg coming?

exdiggemployee88 karma

Probably when Jay Adelson "left" Digg and other key employees started jumping ship.

plainpat29 karma

what was your job exactly?

exdiggemployee50 karma

I was on the engineering team.

likwidfuzion27 karma

How much weight did the community's opinion matter on v4's design and architecture prior to launch?

exdiggemployee84 karma

We held a beta for that purpose. It's funny, the feedback we received from the beta was much less negative than when we launched.

Edit: Now that I think about it. I think the reason why we didn't get much negative feedback is because we propagated the data from the live site into the beta. The beta was never a true separate site until it went live with v4. So it wasn't a proper test.

macaeryk25 karma

Can you confirm that Digg was overrun by media types? If not, can you discuss the differences between Digg and Reddit?

exdiggemployee41 karma

Digg wasn't overrun by "media types" but as you saw, products were put in place to make the stories from the MSM easier to insert into Digg (Auto submission of RSS feeds).

kcufsiht18 karma

Do you think Reddit will ever suffer the same decline as Digg, and if so what site do you think would be the Reddit killer?

exdiggemployee54 karma

I honestly don't know, but if you take a look at the way that popularity in websites progress:

  • Altavista/Lycos, Yahoo, Google
  • Friendster, Myspace, Facebook
  • Slashdot, Digg, Reddit

There is definitely a trend of people moving to new products when the old ones stop innovating. I can picture Reddit living out its days as a niche product that will never truly go away (like Fark) but might lose popularity to something new. The reason Reddit is on top right now is because we don't know who that might be.

edit: cutting down on the confusion.

johnnygoette17 karma

If you had a time machine, what would you specifically do to save Digg?

exdiggemployee58 karma

I didn't have the power to save digg. Employees definitely voiced their opinions but eventually they fell on deaf ears. Some got frustrated and left the company. The thing I would have done though was listen to the regular users more, give them more reasons to participate and to give them more tools to moderate the community.

johnnygoette58 karma

That is disappointing. I was definitely one of the ones who ended up joining Reddit after V4, because I was told by a friend it was "like Digg, but with funnier comments". I was sad to leave Digg because it was my first social news aggregate site I was really into, but it was time. Thanks for doing the AMA.

exdiggemployee40 karma

It was very disappointing. I was sad to leave Digg too, as a user and as an employee. I was a huge Digg user before working there. It's users like you that I wanted to save Digg for. Thanks for asking good questions.

Itsmiroki14 karma

What are you considering doing now? Getting another job in a webiste?

exdiggemployee41 karma

I currently have a job now at another startup. I haven't been there for quite sometime. If it wasn't for Digg I wouldn't have the job I have now.

Itsmiroki23 karma

Goodluck to you sir

exdiggemployee18 karma


Valexannis8 karma

Hi! I'd like to start by thanking you for doing this AMA =) You'll probably see a lot more hits in a couple of hours when people start waking up on the East coast.

I'm afraid that I never really saw Digg during it's heyday. The first time I remember going to the site, it was already in decline. What exactly was Digg like during the good years? How does it differ from Reddit? The two sites seem, well....the same.

exdiggemployee17 karma

Thanks. You were definitely right about receiving more hits.

Well, before the site grew too large, and power users controlling the front page, it was a place that you could break news. Digg was the tastemaker for a brief moment in time. I remember Digg being one of the first places that broke the news of the London bombing. Nobody else was reporting on it at the time. It's hard to describe without being a part of both communities.