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Not even a few months ago, Digg was on the verge of being bought out by Google or Microsoft. While those rumors have largely disappeared, the possibility (and even likelihood) of one of the two giants snatching up Digg is still prominent.
I had a debate with a friend of mine over the usefulness and future of Digg. It got me thinking about which direction Digg is headed. So I am performing a thought experiment to explore the possibilities (I love these).
What should each of these companies do with Digg if it bought the social media and user-chosen content powerhouse? Where would the integration points be and what would be the long-term strategy and direction for Digg under new overlords? And how would an acquisition affect the Internet landscape?
I’m going to start with Google (Microsoft will be next week). After that, there will be one more article about the impact of Digg on the internet.
So without further ado, here’s 7 things Google should do if it buys Digg:
1) Integrate Digg with Google News and the news algorithm
Google is a company of synergies. Utilizing its unparalleled efficiency in search in all of its products gives it a distinct advantage. Integrating your email with Google calendar keeps you on the Google servers (and makes life quite easy, too!). You get the idea.
The same would hold true for Digg if they buy it. There are many ways to incorporate Digg as the preferred social content destination of the Google empire. I’ll start off with Google News.
Google News aggregates the major news into one simple and efficient interface. But its relevancy and popularity rankings for stories of similar topics can always be improved and Digg would help in that endeavor.
Yes, the male-skewed demographic of Digg may not be the best source of demographic information for Google News, but it is a good indicator of the popularity of major news stories, of the most popular article within a certain topic, and can help find more obscure stories that should be on more peoples’ radars. Also, over time, the Digg demographic would become more representative of the general internet population. See #5 below.
Google could do a few tweaks to the Google News algorithm, nothing big, to improve the rankings of news articles within categories and to bring out some of the more obscure but very interesting news of the day. Also, Digg icons next to Google news stories. News stories are what reach the Digg front page the most often, so this integration feels natural.
2) Place Digg icons in search results (but do it methodically)
Let’s get a little more controversial. Digg is the largest player in the social media space, but Digg is still small compared to the vastness of the Internet. Google isn’t though, and it can leverage that size and reach to really combine the social with the computational. Social search engines like Mahalo and Wikia Search are already beginning to fill their niches. Although it’s unlikely, it’s possible that one of these engines innovates enough to knock Google on its ass, or at least give it major headaches. Hell, just look at Microsoft’s Windows Vista and Internet Explorer.
The other thing is that people power can actually improve search results, weed through irrelevant data, and bring up the best information. To that end, if Google bought Digg, it must be committed to integrating social data into its overall data empire, and it starts with Google Search. The first step in this process would be integrating Digg into Google Search results.
Next to the “Cached – Similar pages – Note this” and other link items that appear with all Google search results, there would be a link with either “# Digg(s)” or “Digg this.” Perhaps limit it to certain topics, to sites with a previously popular story on Digg, or don’t have the Digg link appear until there’s a predetermined # of Diggs (by algorithm), but integrate Digg if you buy it, Google. Hell, Google has something similar to the Digg/Bury system in its Google Experimental Search program.
Yes, this suggestion is a bit more radical, but there’s no other way if Google buys Digg. It must expand the site, its demographic, and its influence on the web. The Digg community would be a lot larger if Google took it over.
3) Heavily tweak the Digg algorithm based on Google’s massive stores of data
Sorry kids, the Digg algorithm isn’t perfect. It can be gamed, it can be manipulated, and poorly researched or really strange items sometimes crawl their way to the front page. But if Google took Digg over, it wouldn’t have to be this way. Certain things would (and should) happen:
Google would bring in more users, and thus it would take more votes for an item to become popular. This makes it harder to game the system by begging for Diggs.
Google’s engineers would use their data to spot low-quality. It will know that the website is poorly made, that the content is poorly written, and that the credibility is suspect. It doesn’t mean the item wouldn’t front page; it just means it would take more Diggs.
A plethora of changes to the Digg algorithm based on Google’s research and wealth of information. I can’t even begin to imagine the many tweaks Google engineers would apply to Digg. Knowing what’s popular in searches can really bolster Digg’s usefulness to those beyond the current Digg demographic.
4) Digg integration with Blogger, Google Reader, Orkut, YouTube, and Google’s many other services
I talked about news, I talked about search, now what about all of the other many wonderful nifty services Google owns? Oh, they’d get the Digg treatment. YouTube and Blogger are prime candidates. YouTube is one of the most popular websites on Digg, and Blogger websites would probably get a boost to the detriment of rival WordPress.
Orkut, Google’s social network, would probably include streaming your activity on Digg to your Orkut account (yes, people actually use Orkut); Google Reader would probably display Digg stats for the blogs you read. We could go on and on with all of Google’s other services, but really, there’s more that would be done since Google would probably add many more features to Digg after the acquisition.
5) Expand Digg’s demographic and reachNow that Digg is integrated with most of Google’s services, the real work for Google begins: turning Digg into a mainstream social destination. Digg is the main player in the social media world, but as I’ve said before, it’s small when compared to the rest of the internet.
Digg is ranked #116 on Alexa. While that’s a number I could never ever dream of reaching with this website, it is trumped by the Amazons, Microsofts, Googles, and even the Megauploads of the world.
A website where the popular will brings out the best the internet has to offer. Doesn’t that sound like something that could be absolutely mainstream? I do, and that’s why I think Google would broadly expand the user base of Digg. Methodically, of course. You can’t change it so fast that its current users abandon it – the community’s very tight-knit and is, rightly so, defensive of its community. But Digg will expand in users as Google integrates Digg into its other services. People who simply come to Google for search and email will learn more and more about the site that generates great content, entirely by the will of the internet. And Digg will grow. Hell, it will balloon.
Digg would be unstoppable if Google buys it. 6) Use Digg data to tweak Google search results (the human factor)
Here’s the most controversial one, one I’m not even sure I agree with. This one would not come until YEARS down the line, after Google has expanded Digg’s demographic and after it has gathered a ton more data through Digg. Remember those social and human-powered search engines I told you about? Well, this would completely eliminate the threat.
Use the social data and commentary from Digg and integrate that data to improve Google search results.
Okay, so Google search results are pretty damn good. Hell, they’re extraordinary. But they are not perfect, and as newer and nimbler companies innovate, Google must respond. Search, in my opinion, is innovating in two directions: Semantic Search and Human Search. In buying Digg, it can most effectively end the threat of human search.
Digg information will be able to better help Google understand demographics, reach, popularity, trends, and more. These are all important in advertising and in search, and using the human data from a more mainstream and more efficient Digg would all assist towards Google’s goal of gathering the world’s information and making it universally useful and accessible. It could use it to create an experimental human search engine or to tweak Google algorithms.
Digg’s information would also help increase advertising revenues by improving advertising targeting.
So I’m going in a million directions, but I’ll just say this: Google search would benefit from information from Digg. Digg would benefit from Google’s reach, engineering, and management.
7) Transform Digg into the destination for social media contentConclusion Time.
If it isn’t ambitious, it isn’t Google. Google doesn’t buy anything just because it’s a hot property or because it’ll rake in some extra side cash. No, Google buys or builds something because it’s going to create long-term value, create a plethora of synergies, or dominate an industry with an iron fist. DoubleClick? Google wants to rule advertising. YouTube? Google wants to rule video.
Digg? Oh yes, Digg too. Google would buy Digg only if it could use it to rule social media and social software space. So if it does buy Digg, it’s going to make Digg the king of social media. And with Google’s reach and talent, it would almost certainly succeed. - Ben
(oh, and while we’re on the subject, add me as your friend on Digg)
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