Social media has been a boon for savvy online publishers who make a concerted effort to take advantage of it. Back when social media was coming into its own, Digg was one of the popular services that publishers latched on to.
The reason was obvious: hitting the Digg homepage could easily drive massive amounts of traffic in a very short amount of time. Few publishers, of course, dream of anything less.
But over the past several years, Digg's position has changed. Thanks to the growth of Twitter and Facebook as content sharing and discovery tools, Digg is arguably less important to many publishers than it once was. After all, if a single tweet on Twitter can snowball into thousands upon thousands of referrals, why focus as much on Digg, where it usually takes a 'digg' from one or more power users to get any real traction whatsoever?
Digg is apparently aware that it has competition and is gearing up to launch an ambitious overhaul that appears to be far friendlier to publishers than Digg's power users.
As detailed by ReadWriteWeb, one of the biggest changes present in this overhaul is the way stories are submitted. Up until now, Digg has frowned on publishers who submit their own stories. It makes sense: if your content is really good, someone else will want to submit it.
But the new Digg reflects a change in this philosophy. Apparently publishers will now be able to submit their stories in an automated fashion through RSS and "a number of other mechanisms that the company plans to unveil in the next few weeks". That's potentially a boon to publishers, who would be able to submit stories without much hassle.
Another possible boon to publishers: Digg is reportedly preparing to allow anonymous diggs. While there are obvious abuse issues here, a major problem publishers have with Digg is that when a users click on a 'Digg' button, they have to log in to Digg or sign up for the service. Needless to say, that inevitably leaves a lot of potential diggs unrealized, and is probably one of the reasons I've noticed some publishers pulling down or deemphasizing Digg buttons. After all, if only a small subset of your user base can digg in the first place, why promote Digg button over, say, buttons for services like Twitter and Facebook, which are more widely used?
Finally, it appears that Digg recognizes that it can't beat the rest of the social web. So it will begin to look at signals from other services as part of its algorithm, and use these signals to personalize content:
While there will still be a role for those users who regularly discover new and interesting content, the new Digg will put a strong emphasis on votes and signals from your friends on third-party sites like Twitter and Facebook. Indeed, Digg will create a social graph for you that will take all of this information into account when it create your personalized homepage. On the homepage, Digg will also expose why a story appeared in your feed.
This may be the most beneficial change to publisher, as publishers whose content is shared widely on Twitter and Facebook could receive a welcome boost on Digg with no real additional effort. And because of the increased level of personalization, publishers' content may be exposed more effectively to users who are most likely to have an interest. In short, getting onto the Digg homepage may matter less than getting onto the right users' homepages.
Needless to say, Digg's big changes will likely spark controversy. Something Digg is used to. Power users who may lose some of their influence will probably be especially vocal. But in my opinion, Digg has little choice but to change. It's not the only game in town, and while it's still quite popular, the rise of Twitter and Facebook have definitely made an impact on Digg's position in the market.
To stay relevant, Digg needs to remind publishers of its value. If the new Digg is implemented well, it might just be able to do that.
Photo credit: Laughing Squid via Flickr.