Your Digg Questions Answered

Jay Adelson

Last week we solicited your questions for Jay Adelson, the CEO of Digg.

In his answers below, he shares one of his greatest lessons from running the company:

“With democratic systems and large groups of people, there is incredible opportunity and power, and it must be approached carefully.”

This power is now well known to the folks who run websites like Nancy Pelosi‘s, which last month was crashed by the Digg effect.

In addition to responsibility and democratic media, Adelson discusses why he has the right to wear bangs, what Kevin Rose does all day, and how many Diggs it takes for an article to get to the front page.

Thanks to Adelson for his answers and all of you for your questions.

Q: What do you think of other sites that are using the Digg model?

A: In terms of “Digg clones,” we’ve seen hundreds of them and are flattered that the concept of empowering the community to prioritize online content is working.

Some have used the concept in ways that compete with us and others have used it to go in different directions. Regardless, we have just kept our heads down, focusing on our community and providing them with the new features that keeps Digg fresh and relevant.

Q: What’s your typical work day like?

A: In addition to being a web site, Digg is also a complex and fast moving business that requires my attention into all hours of the day and night.

I typically split my time between San Francisco and New York; I’m also frequently on the road, so my work day varies depending on where I am.

When I’m in San Francisco at the Digg headquarters, I spend about half of my time in meetings with staff, partners, and others, and the other half working on Digg business strategy, such as new feature development, partnerships, and community relations.

When I’m in New York I do most of the same, but via web video. Regardless of where I am, my mornings generally start with a quick check of emails and the latest content on Digg, followed by a welcome cup of green tea.

Q: Who is your favorite Beatle, John, Paul, George, or Ringo?

A: I hate having to answer this question because I’m a serious Beatles fan. Still, back against the wall, I’m going to have to say it’s Paul. The question is totally not fair, though. Imagine how worse off we would be without John, George, and Ringo having been part of our lives? Maybe I should re-think my favorite … goo goo g’joob.

Q: What are some of the best lessons you can share from your time with Digg? Is there anything you would change in terms of your management decisions when you look back?

A: The number one lesson I can think of is the power of the public. With democratic systems and large groups of people, there is incredible opportunity and power, and it must be approached carefully. We’ve learned a great deal over the past four years on engaging community and harnessing the wisdom of the crowds. This information is critical for us going forward in the development of new features, algorithms and experiences.

As for management decisions, the one that stands out to me is something as it relates to our offices. We definitely should have gone with the bigger, more powerful espresso machine. We probably should have planned on having bigger offices, as we have quickly outgrown our space.

Q: How does one with an idea for an Internet based venture and a full time 9 to 5 job move forward implementing the idea? Is the answer simply to quit your job or work into the wee hours of the night after your 9 to 5?

A: You hear entrepreneurs say “quit your day job” all the time … but we didn’t! I continued at Equinix and Kevin Rose worked at G4 when Digg was founded. The key is getting a business plan together in your spare time, and if it’s a web-based idea, try to create (or have someone create) a prototype.

It helps if your business can take advantage of the low costs of starting companies now. For example, when Kevin started Digg, he only needed a few thousand dollars of his own money to get things up and running, relying heavily on open source tools and the low costs of renting servers, bandwidth, etc. When you’re ready to take it to the next step — which usually means that somehow you’ve proven that the business has merit either by profits or adoption — investors will be easy to find.

Entrepreneurs are a distinct breed, so I would also recommend doing a lot of research on the qualities of entrepreneurs and the impacts on your life before taking the plunge.

Q: Typically, how many “Diggs” does it take for a website to go to the front page?

A: The promotion of content on Digg is based on a proprietary algorithm that ensures that the most popular content “Dugg” by a diverse group of people moves to the top. Our goal is to give each article, video, or image a fair chance of getting promoted, whether it is from an obscure blog or mainstream media such as The New York Times.

While the total number of Diggs is one factor evaluated by the algorithm, there are several others, including the diversity of people digging the content, the patterns associated with activity for that piece of content, the content category, buries or other user flags, etc.

So there is no specific threshold of Diggs that moves content to the home page.

Q: Do you think it’s appropriate for any man old enough to hold a driver’s license to wear bangs? How about a CEO?

A: I think after several startups, including my last one that now has a $3 billion dollar market cap (Equinix), I’ve earned the right to wear bangs.

OK, the truth is that my wife and kids like it, and if they say “don’t cut your hair,” I do what they tell me. If you take a look at my older haircuts, I think you’ll agree this is a step in the right direction.

Q: Is there an iPhone version of Digg coming in the future, and perhaps a Digg application?

A: We recently released a new mobile version of Digg that is designed to deliver key features to the iPhone as well as other phones that offer smart browsing.

Included in this are multiple views of the most recently popular content and comments on Digg, as well as the ability to Digg and post comments. We will be adding to this offering in the future, and we also intend to develop additional specific applications for the iPhone in time that leverage the unique capabilities of that device.

Q: Recent trends on Digg such as the poor quality of comments and the popularity of Top 10 lists seem to show that web 2.0 is failing at harnessing the “smart mob” effect, and instead catering to the lowest common denominator. What are your views on the matter?

A: … One thing that we have learned is that people with common interests, perspectives and personalities tend to congregate with each other, even online. Thus, we are also developing features that foster micro-communities within Digg, ensuring a more personally relevant experience. Of course, users can always go to the Digg home page to see what the larger community as a whole is interested in, but we are definitely moving in the direction of a more customized/personalized approach.

Another element to Digg is in providing effective tools for the community to self-police the site. We see this as a way of balancing the rights of self expression with the needs of the larger community. We’ve seen that many of the tools we have rolled out in this area have been effective and we have more ideas to implement in the future.

Finally, in open communities, often the loudest and the most volatile users tend to get the most air time. Part of our way to address this in the future is to encourage an increasing number of Digg community members to participate and engage. It is our belief that as this happens, the comments and content on Digg will become even more representative of our larger 29 million member community.

Q: What is your educational background, and was it from a young age that you decided on entrepreneurship as opposed to a regular career path?

A: No, I had not planned on being an entrepreneur at an early age. My early aspirations were more focused on being a race car driver, a rock and roll singer, or a filmmaker.

I received my BS in film and broadcasting, with a concentration in computer science, from Boston University. At that time, I was very interested in film production (or post production, to be precise) or wanted to somehow work in data communications. But the two had little to no connection in those days.

When I finished college, the Internet was in its early days and I was intrigued by the power of this new medium to disintermediate the traditional way of doing things. Working at startups in the early nineties whet my appetite for starting my own business. This eventually led me to start Equinix, and then on to Digg and Revision3.

Q: Do you really think that Digg can last forever? What changes are you making to ensure that Digg stays fresh and interesting?

A: Yes, I believe it will, but it will change frequently. Ever since we started, Digg has been constantly working to improve the user experience on the site.

One of the ways Digg does this is by maintaining a continuous feedback loop with the users of the site. They are a tremendous resource and have helped to keep Digg new and fresh. As Digg grows, we are also making updates that adapt to the changing dynamics of a larger community. Kevin Rose, the founder of Digg, is an incredible idea factory. At this point we have only implemented a small fraction of the vision that he has for Digg. Stay tuned … great stuff in the works!

Q: What does Kevin Rose do all day?

A: If you walk by Kevin’s desk at any particular time of day, you’ll probably see him with some kind of mock up of a new feature on his screen. He also is a serious Internet power user, exploring technologies and social media across the web. Most of all, Kevin is so fascinated by Digg and the content that is surfaced by the Digg community that he spends a significant amount of time on the site working to develop new ways to improve the user experience.

He’s also the face of Digg to the public as well as users of the site. In his free time (if he has any), he’s been spotted at the local rock climbing gym and hanging out drinking tea at his favorite cafes.


Chris M

You can tell everything's fine when lots of people complain, but they can't agree on the problem. To wit:

#3 "seems to be dominated by a vocal and politically-minded *minority*."

Followed immediately by:

#4 "populated with idiots, tyranny of the *majority* prevails"

To be fair, this is a reflection of the society in which we live. Not many people seriously care about politics, and the ones most likely to to do so are those with some intensity to spare and an axe to grind. One the other hand, the vast majority of people aren't interested in much of anything at all, and are more than happy to participate in the banal and the pointless.

Mr. Adelson and his crew have managed to give us all exactly what we like, and has done it so well that we complain about it almost as much as real life. Good on him. It's just too bad that, as the late Mr. Carlin put it, "Maybe it's the public that sucks."

Read more...

ccc@9gag.com

Love his answer on how one with an idea for an Internet based venture and a full time 9 to 5 job should do to move forward implementing the idea.

Though there's nothing new, it's still inspiring.

:)

Lina

Sites were being slashdotted (mentioned on slashdot.com) before there was any talk about the Digg effect :)

Peder

In response to Dave,

I thought he answered that under the question:

"Q: Recent trends on Digg such as the poor quality of comments and the popularity of Top 10 lists seem to show that web 2.0 is failing at harnessing the “smart mob” effect, and instead catering to the lowest common denominator. What are your views on the matter?"

Just replace 'Top 10 lists' with whatever you are annoyed at.

In my opinion this was a good post and it's very interesting to get a little look inside the inner workings of such a typical modern startup.

Andrew

The Beatles debate is more relevant than Dave would give credit; it typically boils down to McCartney v. Lennon, where Paul represents the mainstream, pop voice of the band and Lennon is more interested in experimentation.

As an entrepreneur, it's interesting that Adelson would choose Paul, but whether any correlation can be made between musical taste and business sense is doubtful.

My problem with Digg is similar to the above-voiced concerns, where there's a disincentive to participate in discussions due to the relevance of comments and lack of a functional "idiot filter". The comment diggs seem to be analogous to Slashdot's karma system, but realistically inane comments are seemingly as likely to get dugg up as intelligent ones.

Keith M

I used to love Digg way back when, where it was full of cool tech info, tricks, and gadgets. While lately it has been improving a little bit, the past year has been riddled with heaps of stupid videos and pictures of LOLcats. Essentially, when a democratic community like Digg becomes populated with idiots, tyranny of the majority prevails, the quality of the comments declines, and the content you used to love becomes ever more difficult to find buried under the heaps of crap.

Here's to hoping that the ever-popular Freakonomics blog doesn't suffer the same effects.

DJ Kod

I wonder if this story will make the front page...

Dave

Annoying - he answered the questions about his favorite Beatle and his haircut, but he completely ignored the more substantive questions. Specifically, he failed to answer any of the questions on why Digg content increasingly seems to be dominated by a vocal and politically-minded minority. He failed to address any of the concerns (raised here and elsewhere) that Digg is not at all a purely democratic process and is not any sort of ideal model for Web 2.0.

Nina

Paul is my favorite Beatle too. :)

beattlepaul

looks like digg dialogg took the ideas from some college kids, i bet they didnt get anything from it.

http://www.tervoo.com is their website.