Digg into Perpetual Beta

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The concept of Perpetual beta, coined by Tim O’reilly within the explanation of one Web2.0 pattern, end of software release cycle , describes as software becomes ongoing services, “the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis”, and “engage your users to be real-time testers, and structure the service to reveal how people use your product”.

Being as the once wildly popular social news website, Digg had experienced both the high time with numerous copycat websites featuring its story submitting and voting system, and also the disastrous user revolt toward its notorious release of Digg v4, and followed by  dramatic decline in web traffic and fierce competition from Facebook.

After the acquisition by Betawork, Digg had its second act successfully regain popularity among social news community by rebuilding the website from scratch. Through the launch of Rethinkdigg.com, digg invited users to participate in the decision of user interface design and user experience by answering the survey. Based on user’s idea, the new digg v1 came back with newspaper-like front page and more images, new story ranking system integrating Tweets and Facebook likes, to be counted with its traditional thumb-ups, “diggings”.

Critical Success Factor comes from frequent and early release

Through its nine-year long run, Digg has its new version released almost every year between 2004 to 2007. however, despite the “extensive overhaul in 2010“, it took nearly 3 years for Digg to introduce version4, which was, eventually proved to be an death knell for Digg. Luckily enough, Digg got a second life and came back to the market after 6 weeks sprint transformation by the new team. The new team plays well with the concept of Perpetual Beta by frequently introducing new features and fixing bugs almost every week, and so do its mobile apps.

Actively engage users in the development and test cycles

The new Digg team is very keen on extracting the “Digg experience” from its users. Even for the new Digg Reader, users are invited to have their says and participates in the decision of core features and UI. Since only users know what kind of service and features can meet their need, the developer can rarely go wrong if following closely with user requirements and expectations. Plus users can perform the task to test the platform, in real time, and feedback straight away. Thus the process is shorten and the efficiency is improved.

My suggestions for Digg:

Capture the implicit facts that users interact with Digg

I got to admit that the new Digg team really has done a good job by getting Digg back to the old good times. And indeed, surveys and questionnaires do offer a lot of essential information about user experience and provide directions for improvement. However, what users do often tells more than what they say: according to Digg’s survey about what topics that users enjoy to read most, the result is as follows:

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However, the statistics measured by SimilarWeb, suggest another thing:

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Interestingly, part of the users who visit Digg also like adult websites. But the option is not even on the list of hot topics voted by the users. Apparently observing user behaviour and capturing the implicit usage data can reveal more facts and possible approach to boost website traffic.

Right before the new Digg team started to launch the overhaul, they conducted a survey and which indicated a stark statistic that: 92% of Digg users would NOT recommend Digg to friends. And straight after the big triumph they made, they happily reported that according to the survey done after the relaunch, now 81% respondents said they would recommend Digg to a friend. But, why can’t they just add a feature like “invite your friends to Digg together” and see how many users actually do it? Maybe the survey is simply an indicate of user satisfaction, but I believe there exist more user behaviour facts awaiting Digg to “dig out” and act on it. In order to compete with Reddit, SlashdotStumbleUpon and other social news websites, Digg still have a long way to go.

Reference List:

SXSW: Digg’s Big Redesign Taps Into Social Web
* Digg – Yes, That Digg – Is Building A Google Reader Replacement, Complete With API
* New Digg Vs. Reddit Vs. BuzzFeed: Your Mind On Viral Content
* Digg’s replacement for Google Reader due in June; might cost money
* What is Web2.0? – Page 4,  End of Software Release Cycle

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