Kevin Rose on The World of Digg
Kevin Rose, 31, is the founder of Revision3, Pownce, and most notably the social-bookmarking website Digg.com. He is formerly the co-host working on TechTV’s popular show The Screen Savers and currently stars in Diggnation. Digg.com launched in 2004 and soon received $2.8 million in venture capital from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen.
Question: Why did you start Digg?
Kevin Rose: Well it started off back in-- kind of middle of 2004. There was a lot going on online. There was some pretty cool new websites that were merging and starting to take off. I was a big fan of Delicious, which was social bookmarking. I was also a fan of Friendster, which is obviously one of the big, first social networking sites, and also Slashdot, which was a really hard core tech news site that was all user submitted content. The difference being is that it was user submitted but it was still a handful of editors that would choose which stories made the front page. So it was kind of seeing all these things come together and the different ways that people were opening up and kind of different levels of transparency that were starting to happen as far as what I’m doing online and what I want to share with people that, you know, it all kind of was going around in my head and I said hey, we should apply this to news and just see what happens.
Question: Card: How does Digg work?
Kevin Rose: Sure. So essentially every single registered user on Digg acts as an editor to the site. So these people are going out finding news stories, finding videos, images, things that they find of value that they want to share with the masses. You come to the site, you submit a story, you give it your own title and description, assign it a category in what you think it falls under, and once you do that the story goes into like our upcoming area. And the upcoming area is not on the front page but it’s like the second page of content where all the stories live. And people dig through those stories, find their favorite ones, click the dig it button, add one to the overall count, the overall number of digs on a story, and once there’s enough kind of critical mass around a story that story’s promoted to the front page for everyone to see. So that happens all day long. We have about 130 or so stories per day that are promoted to the front page, and that’s how content is exposed to that large, you know, 26 million unique visitors per month audience.
Question: Stories are promoted based solely on popularity?
Kevin Rose: I-- the algorithm is very, very complex. It’s something that we’ve been evolving over time. I mean initially when we launched the site it was, you know, at the fixed number of digs, and then we added this really kind of wonky karma system that worked well for a while but then a lot of people tried to game it, and now there’s just a bunch of different factors that go in there that really look and determine-- they look at the digs around the story and say okay, does this story have a unique diverse pool of people digging it. And once we determine that and once we say okay, yes it does, then we can push it to the front page. But we had a hired a couple of, you know, math PhDs
Question: What’s the bury function?
Kevin Rose: Yeah, so the bury function is the same thing as a dig except it’s just the, you know, the opposite, in that if you don’t like a story or think that it shouldn’t belong on the front page you can just simply click bury it. And once again the same thing, we see that critical mass of users that is diverse then we will remove it. You know, if you went and created 300 accounts right now and all buried the same story, nothing’s going to happen. Like we have-- there’s a lot of kind of behind the scenes factors that we take into account to make sure that people aren’t using-- abusing the powers, both on the digging and the burying side.
Question: Can you customize your Digg homepage?
Kevin Rose: Yeah I think that Digg, the front page of Digg, has been this evolution of kind of different types of content depending on what’s going on. Obviously the election season has really pumped up the politics. But we had, you know, an all tech front page, then we launched videos and videos was dominating for a while, and then, you know, now politics is obviously a huge number of stories on the front page with everything that’s going on. So for all these people that-- I mean one of the things that was very important to me is every step of the way I wanted to offer tools to allow the user to customize their own experience on Digg. So you can go into Digg today and say okay, I don’t care about politics and I don’t want anything to do with celebrity gossip and uncheck those boxes, click save, and you’ll get just that version of the home page for you. In the future we’ll be, you know, allowing people to customize the home page in different ways, saying that-- I’m starting to get into product stuff that we haven’t launched yet, which is when I get phone calls from our PR agency being like you talked about what. But we will customize the home page even further so that-- we’re getting smart about understanding and learning from-- based on what you dig, what you’re into, and so we’ll be giving you dials and knobs and fun things to play around with how you can adjust the flow.
Question: What are Pounce and Revision 3?
Kevin Rose: So Revision 3 started right around the same time as Digg, it was just a couple of months after I had created Digg. And the reason was that I-- we were all working in traditional television for quite some time. I was hosting a television show called the Screensavers on Tech TV and I just felt as though we were kind of-- it was cool in that we could do really fun tech content for television but we were limited to the number of minutes that a segment could be.
And it was live television so if a segment was kind of running long others would get cut. And we really didn’t have the platform to deliver kind of the in-depth technical content that we wanted to really share with people. So we thought hey, if we do this on the web we don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff, you know. This is something that we can create, and if we want a show to be 20 minutes or we want a show to be an hour and a half, it’s up to us. So really we started experimenting around with some long form content for the web. We created a show called System, which is, you know, really did a deep dive on a lot of stuff that we just glossed over on Tech TV. And it just started taking off from there. We launched other shows around that whole kind of geek culture type of programming. And then Pounce was just an idea that we had while we-- when I was working at Digg with Daniel Berka, [ph?] who was the head designer at Digg. And we had a really hard time sharing files with each other and we were getting some of those firewall connection issues that you get, and you’re like I’m sitting right next to you, why can I not use Aim or something else to like, you know, send a file to someone. So we wanted to really fill the gap where email broke down and where IM was having issues. And so we created a way of platforming which you could blast media to the masses, to your friends, and have a conversation around that media.
Question: What have you learned?
Kevin Rose: I think when launching the site, obviously it was a very small type niche group of people that initially kicked things off. So we’re talking, you know, a couple hundred users, everyone knew everyone else, you know, there was-- it was very easy to kind of communicate and answer all the emails and like it was just a really fun time. And then obviously we started growing and becoming bigger and bigger, and as with every community site you run into issues, you know. I mean you get too many kids in the sandbox, you know, things start breaking down. And so for us it was really listening to the feedback from the community and building tools to help them manage what’s going on on the site, you know. We never really wanted to have a heavy hand in kind of the management of Digg stories. And so we added tools to help users remove stories from the site, such as burying stories, and we later added things like Digg Meetups, where we’d have the community get together and talk about issues on the site. We do these live kind of town hall meetings now where we’ll broadcast out-- we’ll actually submit a story to Digg and say dig up your favorite comments and your favorite questions that you want to ask us. And so globally it gives our entire community one story which they can say this is an important issue to me, this is something I think that Digg should address, and then we can go back and answer those questions. So I mean we’re still learning. I can’t really say that we’ve gotten it right yet. I mean it’s just-- I don’t think you ever can get it right when you’re dealing with like 26 million users a month. There’s always going to be someone that doesn’t quite, you know, isn’t quite happy. But you just do your best and you take in feedback and evolve.
Question: What’s the future of Digg?
Kevin Rose: Well I think that, you know, Digg will eventually become more of a verb in that it will be an action that people take to spread content to the people they care about, you know. Right now we have people that come to Digg and-- to find their group of friends within the Digg system, their own little social network inside of Digg. And when they dig something, you know, their friends will get updated, like friends feed within Digg so they can say okay, my friend-- this, you know, story about Hillary Clinton or Obama or McCain or whatever, it was really interesting and I should check it out and also read it. So they use that as a way to come and get together and share news with each other, you know. These are very early days for us when it comes to that type of functionality. I mean we have integration-- we had an announcement with Facebook where they came out with a feature here about three months ago or so, two or three months ago, that essentially allows any Facebook user to input their Digg stories directly into the news feed. So now as I’m digging around and finding stories I like, those stories are published without the use of a Facebook application to my mini feed Facebook and then pushed on to that main global news feed for all of my friends to consume. And so that is-- like I use Facebook as my fully defined social graph in which I want to spread and share stories to. So in the future, you know, you’ll see integrations with all these different sites. So that, for me, you know, if-- I’ll be happy if a year, year and a half, two years from now I’m on a website and I see an article I like and it’s just a no brainer. You see that dig button and you think okay, I don’t have to go to Digg, I can just click it right there, the number’s going to go up, I’ll stay on this site, I’ll stay on this experience, but I’ll know by doing that not only am I saying this is something I’m into, this is something I care about, this is something I want to promote to the masses, but I’m also saying that this is something I want to share and spread to my friends and people that I care about. So it’ll just be a function of saying I like this and I want other people to know about it. And if we can achieve that, that’s extremely powerful.
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