I Can Digg It
The new version of the old-school news site shows the virtues of slowing down and savoring the Web.
Betaworks, by contrast, had a plan for the site. For a couple years, the company had been building News.me, a personalized news aggregator for mobile devices. Its other products—Bitly and Chartbeat in particular—also suggested that the firm knew how the online news business worked. Betaworks wanted to channel all of its expertise into rebuilding Digg into a modern version of what it had once been—a place that gathered the most popular stuff online.
There is no deficit of news digests on the Web. In addition to News.me, there’s Flipboard, Zite, Wavii, and Summify (which Twitter purchased earlier this year). Some of these services are terrific, but they all aim for something that the new Digg, to its credit, doesn’t: They all want to “personalize” the news, to corral your various interests into a front page designed just for you.
There’s a place for personalized news, but what I like about the new Digg is that—so far—it doesn’t try to give me what it thinks I want. Instead, the site just tells me what’s popular. The old Digg tallied popularity by counting “diggs”—votes by the crowd on Digg.com. You can still “digg” a story on Digg, but the site now defines popularity more broadly, also calculating tweets and Facebook “likes.”
But the new Digg isn’t just a slave to the crowd. While it takes empirical measurements of popularity into account, the page is also the product of careful curation by a team of editors and designers. Much like a newspaper’s front page, Digg’s design conveys a sense of the importance of each story, a powerful signal for people who aren’t following this stuff obsessively. I love Reddit, but it’s best for people who have time to follow it closely and familiarize themselves with its in-jokes. Reddit’s motto—“The front page of the Internet”—more properly belongs to the far more accessible Digg.
And that gets to the other great thing about Digg: It’s just a front page. At any given time, there are only a few dozen stories featured on the site, and you can get through the whole thing in three or four scrolls. It has a better signal-to-noise ratio than just about any other site online. And, in another effort at reducing noise, Digg doesn’t feature comments. The site will show you one or two related tweets under some stories, but for the most part, it is unburdened by the cacophony that drowns out the rest of the Web.
There is a downside to Digg’s snapshot model of news. If you are constantly in search of new stuff online, you might tire of Digg’s lethargy. When I checked it this morning, most of the stories I saw—from the Verge’s piece on “body hackers” to a designer’s new take on Wikipedia to the news that Starbucks will begin accepting payments through Square—were things I’d already seen on Twitter, Facebook, email, or other aggregators. Compared with just about everything else online—even compared with the old Digg—the new Digg is slow.
But so what? For some people—maybe even most people—news on the Web moves too fast. Digg proves slow isn’t bad. It might even be better.
Farhad Manjoo is Slate's technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter.