An Interview with Kevin Rose – Founder of Digg

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Kevin Rose is a well-known Internet entrepreneur and a founder and chief architect of Digg.com, a popular community-based news website. Kevin is also the founder of Revisions3 Corporation, a company that produces technology-related podcasts and videocasts.

Andrey: There is a debate raging in the search marketing community on what constitutes a social search engine. Do you see Digg as a social search engine or something else?

Kevin: Search isn’t a large component of Digg’s architecture at this time. The site does act as a filter for user-submitted links to online stories, videos, and more, but Digg is unique in that it is completely user-driven – we do not import stories from other news feeds, crawl sites, or give priority listing to any content. In the future, we’ll expand our search capabilities allowing you to see result sets with a certain threshold of user interaction or results based on degrees of social separation.

Andrey: Despite the fact that the range of topics on Digg was expanded some months ago, most of the top stories seem to be technology oriented. Do you plan to try to capture a wider audience?

Kevin: Since Digg introduced several new content areas (Sports, World & Business, Entertainment, etc.) in June, the site has experienced significant growth (now at more than 1.8 million daily unique visitors). In September, Digg passed an important milestone when daily submissions for the new content areas began outnumbering tech submissions.  The new content areas have been growing their share ever since.

We have many new features planned that will further expand the Digg methodology to other content areas. More on this soon.

Andrey: I’m sure you are well aware that social media optimization is becoming an important part of the search engine marketing efforts of many companies. How do you feel about marketers messing with Digg’s results?

Kevin: As long as sites like Digg, or Google or Yahoo! for that matter, are successful, there will always be attempts to circumvent the system. There is an entire SEO industry based on manipulating results. The large search engines characterize it as an “arms race” where they are constantly making adjustments to prevent new and creative attempts to influence the system.

Digg’s first line of defense is the Digg user community.  We give them the tools to bury, report or ban content and users.  This constitutes an editorial staff of over 700,000 registered Digg users that provide a very scalable defense.

We can also detect a lot of other abuse, such as spam, people trying to manipulate Digg counts, people trying to maliciously bury stories, etc.  We’re able to do a lot by examining the patterns of behavior on the site.  We’ve spent the last two years developing and perfecting our methods – this will continue going forward.

Andrey: Within the last few months we have seen the appearance of services that sell “diggs” for as little as 20 cents per vote. Do you see this as a threat to the whole system? If so, how do you plan to combat this new threat?

Kevin: Through a variety of methods – it is very easy for us to identify and stop this activity.  None of these groups can successfully game Digg.

Andrey: Lately, there has been a lot of buzz about the fact that Digg is using moderators. Apparently, people were not aware of this and it is not disclosed anywhere on the website. Have you tried to keep this under wraps? If not, why not disclose this practice? Please explain.

Kevin: Digg does not use any moderators other than the 7,000,000 registered users that participate in Digg.  That is the value of the Digg system. We have two people on staff that ensure that the Digg Terms of Use are not violated.  The buzz you are referencing is a system we had in place to push Digg-related news directly to the frontpage without Diggs.  This was the method we used to communicate new features with the community.  However, a little over a year ago we replaced this method with our header notification system (the single news line at the top of the Digg homepage). The bloggers reporting on this were new to Digg and didn’t understand how the site worked in the past.

Andrey: In one of your posts on Digg you acknowledge that any moderator has the power to promote a story to the first page with just one vote. Wouldn’t the fact that one person has the power to decide what should be removed from the results and what should be promoted work against the whole idea of user-driven search?

Kevin: As mentioned above, when I first designed Digg I wanted a way to promote Digg news stories directly to the front page.  That’s the way we wrote the code over two years ago.  As for all other news stories (non-Digg related), they are promoted via our promotion algorithm.  The promotion algorithm uses a variety of factors to ensure a unique and diverse pool of individuals like the story before it makes it to the front page.

What are your plans for the future? Where do you see Digg in two years?

Kevin: We are headed into different areas where a collaborative filter will also be useful. Right now, we have only implemented a fraction of my vision for Digg.  Expect to see improvements in Digg when it comes to sharing information between people within the site.

About the Author

Andrey Milyan was the first editor-in-chief of Search Marketing Standard, the leading print publication covering the search marketing industry. He has been following and reporting on industry developments for over 10 years. Andrey now works in the paid search sector of a prominent search marketing agency.

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