New Digg CEO apologizes to site's fans

Some six weeks after he was hired to be the new chief executive of news aggregator Digg.com, Matt Williams greeted community members for the first time today, apologized for  the site’s botched attempt at a redesign, and announced officially that several old features would be returning.

Williams sounded candid in his first ever post on Digg’s official blog.

“As many of you know, the launch of Digg v4 didn’t go smoothly, and we’re deeply sorry that we disappointed our Digg community in the process,” he wrote. “Thank you for your patience and your extremely candid feedback — we hear you loud and clear. In the next few weeks we’ll bring back the bury button, restore all user profiles (including comment and submission history), add filters and navigation for videos and images, provide a tool for users to report comment violations, and update the Top News algorithm and overall site design based upon your feedback.”

The last time someone higher up in the company talked to community members publicly, it was ex-CEO and site co-founder Kevin Rose, who tweeted out a survey last week designed to gauge the interest in possibly returning the “bury” button. As a longtime member of the community myself, I know that the move made a lot of core users happy that they had Rose’s ear. It also angered many of them, because they felt it was something the new CEO should have done.

Regardless of exactly who is doing the talking at the top, the fact that Digg’s top brass is listening to users has many members of the community pleased. “Matt Williams at least seems to understand the value of the ‘Digg community.’” said Victor Barrera, social media strategist for Village Voice Media. “Although he hasn’t been very vocal, he seems to be pushing the company in the right philosophical direction by encouraging user feedback. At this point in the game, Digg is looking to piece together its empire one loyal user at a time.”

That will be an uphill battle though. The redesign attempt, new site navigation as well as frequently-occurring glitches in late August and throughout September left a large portion of the community dissatisfied enough to leave and head for greener pastures, including competitor Reddit.

There are also ongoing concerns from publishers and others who leverage the Digg community to bring page views to their sites. Many publishers still report lethargic or inconsistent referral totals. In the past Digg has mentioned tighter publisher relationships as part of what it is hoped will bring money to the company and a return on the investment of those who have funded it over the last five years. The Washington Post and other large publications have never made it secret that they relied on Digg referrals to help them reach traffic goals.

“Look, Digg referrals aren’t as consistently high as they once were,” said Amy Vernon, director of viral marketing strategies for BlueGlass Interactive. “There are so many other places people can go to to find cool content that didn’t exist at Digg’s height. But referrals are still generally solid — and, more importantly, Digg’s authority is still high and so it carries significant weight in search.”

As for the return of the ‘bury’ feature to the site, not everyone is happy. “Personally, I do not want the bury button back because most people use it to bury stories they just don’t agree with or like,” said a longtime user with the moniker ‘BeShirtHappy.’ “There needs to be moderators, maybe, to keep the spam off the top news, but not a bury button. It will be misused.”

Others like the return of older features because they may make the site feel more stable, which is important for bringing back those who left. However, it’s going to be a slow process building back user trust. “Basically it comes down to, the more stable Digg gets, the more traffic they will see in the short term and the long term,” said Barrera.

Other improvements may help bring people back. Williams pointed out that the site’s numbers appear decent on the surface. There were still 23 million unique visitors in September. He also highlighted site speed improvements: “Digg today is a much faster web site, operating on an open source platform.”

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