TR: Stories appear and disappear on Digg’s main pages with tremendous speed. Does Digg move too quickly for most people to usefully understand what’s actually there?
KR: We try to make sure there isn’t too much information flowing through the system. We are constantly tweaking our promotion algorithm to make sure that [Digg] doesn’t become overwhelming. As we grow, we also have to continue to raise the bar required for stories to get promoted to the front page. One of the things that I’m really focused on is improving the experience that’s off of the front page. Already you can get recommendations from friends, but soon the system will start recommending stories that you might have missed or that you might find interesting, based on what you’ve dug in the past.
TR: You had a small scandal recently, where you published the encryption key for the digital-rights management protection of high-definition video discs. First, under industry pressure, you took down the post; then, under pressure from your users, you put it back up. What is your policy?
KR: Well, we sort of take everything on a case-by-case basis. If there’s a link to a copy of Adobe Photoshop and we receive a notice about it, we will definitely pull it down. Things that are very clear violations of our terms of service come off the site; we don’t allow pornography or pirated software, for instance. But when it’s in one of the gray areas, it gets tricky.
TR: Digg watchers say that 100 users are responsible for more than half the stories on Digg’s home page. That creates the potential for abuse. How do you know when someone is gaming Digg? And what can the company do to stop them?
KR: The system knows. Our main job is to evolve the platform so that it promotes news and videos to the front page that have a diverse crowd of people digging them. We have to make sure that when a story does make the front page, it was actually chosen by individuals who wanted to see it on the front page–and not spammers trying to promote their own stories.
TR: Would it surprise you to learn that publishers are ambivalent about the traffic they get from Digg? It’s hard to sell it to advertisers because it’s unpredictable and the quality of the audience is immeasurable.
KR: I think that’s probably true. But I find it a little hard to think of Digg as a source of traffic–it was designed as just a way for people to share things with their groups of friends. Also, this trend is much bigger than us. I mean, you’re going to start seeing a lot of different sources of big quantities of traffic coming into websites. Digg isn’t the only social platform that produces a serious hit and crunch on servers that results in a huge spike and then a drop-off. If a story is popular, it’s going to spread. We often see a chain reaction occur, you know. A story will hit Del.icio.us, and then it’s on Digg and then it’s on Boing Boing. I think publishers will have to deal with that reality.
TR: Historically, Digg has been a haven for geeks interested in science and technology. Can you imagine a day when Digg will truly be a general-interest site?
KR: Yeah, definitely. Politics is one of our most popular sections and will soon overtake technology. We started off with that large tech base; we were 100 percent technology for, like, the first year. So that was kind of our roots. But we’re quickly expanding outside of that.