In 2013, Digg ditched comments and community for curation and the occasional original article. Now, it’s experimenting with running content for other publishers.
Since December, Digg has run articles on behalf of “Reply All,” an Internet-focused podcast from Gimlet Media, creator of the Startup podcast. Posting directly to Digg, “Reply All” has written posts summarizing and adding to its episodes with tweets, videos and other behind-the-scenes tidbits. The posts are essentially the “DVD extras” for show’s episodes, according to Digg managing editor Anna Dubenko.
“Our mission here is to promote great stuff that you might not see otherwise,” she said. “We like what ‘Reply All’ does and their audience is pretty similar to ours in terms of interest and tone, so it makes sense to try this with them.”
While no money is changing hands with the deal, Dubenko said that it is a win for both sides. “Reply All” gets exposed to new potential listeners, and Digg gets content that its readers are interested in. While Digg is now built around linking to other publishers, it has also tried its hand at original content, which is aimed at getting visitors to stick around. Dubenko said that working directly with publishers is something Digg wants to do more of.
“We’ve always found that whenever Digg picked up out stories, we had massive pickup,” said Reply All host Alex Goldman. “We got a ton of traffic from people who weren’t already listening to our show.”
“Reply All”’s Digg strategy is to create posts that stand on their own but also tease episodes in such a way that they encourage readers to listen to the show itself. It’s an effective way to market podcasts, which with the exception of high-profile examples such as “Serial,” rarely go viral.
Goldman said that it’s been tough to measure how much posting on Digg has boosted its listener numbers but estimated that “Reply All” has seen a 6 percent increase in listeners between episodes since the show started to post to Digg. That number used to be closer to 2 or 3 percent. “The audience there is super-engaged, and they’re really interested in anything that appears under the Digg imprimatur,” Goldman said.
Digg’s audience may be engaged, but it’s not particularly massive. The site got just 342,000 unique visitors in February, according to comScore, a 37 percent decline from the same time last year. That’s a big fall from 2009, where Digg’s audience topped 32 million unique visitors. (Digg’s internal numbers say its monthly uniques are closer to 12 million.) The bigger traffic drop is a function of the change in product: Whereas the old Digg relied on users to generate content and was heavily community-based, its new incarnation is much smaller scale when it comes to content.
Complicating the effort further is Digg’s history with publishers. One of the many factors that helped take down the original version of Digg was the outsize influence of certain Digg power users, who used their influence to promote content in exchange for cash. The current incarnation of Digg is aware of the history, which is why it has consciously pushed back against efforts that might compromise its autonomy. It’s a delicate balance.
“We try and stay away from any untoward relationships,” Dubenko said. “We’re trying to rebuild trust and make sure everything on the page is on the page because editors like it, not for any other reason. So we’re trying to be careful about what partnerships we make.”