Why a Digg Review Section is a Dumb Idea

A few weeks ago, Digg announced its intentions to move into restaurant and product reviews. Cashmore was optimistic about Digg changing its demographic, citing Facebook as an example of how that is possible. But I would first point at Netscape. Netscape, under the leadership of ex-CEO Calacanis, tried to take mainstream people and throw them into social media. The (terrible) results speak for themselves.

Check out the graph to the right. Netscape getting ownedIf you take that graph and go back another six months (when the switch was made), Netscape has lost nearly half of its daily page views and has dropped 200 points in the site rankings.

Netscape’s experiment shows that regular people may not be interested in interactive news in the way geeks are. I think it makes sense: how many times have you heard someone gloss over your explanation of something and say, “I don’t care, I just want to use it.” Regular consumers want to consume, not contribute, even if it is as little as clicking a button. This means that even with more readers, Digg’s stories would stay heavily technology oriented, eventually pushing mainstream readers away again.

Also, Digg isn’t Facebook. Facebook can introduce stuff nobody likes and get away with it because hey have the stickiness of a social network. Just look at Myspace and its garbage user interface, friend spamming, and ugly profiles. It doesn’t matter. Besides, Facebook expanded its audience in such a way as to not impact the current core functionality or site experience – another key reason why the expansion was a success.

There are other factors that worry me about Digg’s model being applied to products and restaurants:

  1. Digg is highly anti-commercial. Articles are buried (rejected) for merely being blogs due to suspected “blog spam” (making money from the ads). How would that mix with reviews?
  2. Restaurants are extremely local in nature. Digg is global. Even 20 miles is too far to make a review relevant most of the time.
  3. Fanaticism would run rampant. Anybody could vote up a product review without actually having or used the product. This means simple fan-boy-ism could boost an otherwise crappy product to the top spot without a single person ever even seeing the item in person.
  4. Who is qualified to vote up a review on a restaurant they’ve never been to? Maybe the entire staff at the place? (see next point)
  5. The system introduces a huge incentive for commercial postings. 
  6. The surge of commercial postings creates an reason for users to bury reviews very defensively.
  7. Defensive burying is a problem because genuine reviews require a lot of effort. Unlike news postings, a good review (commercial or not) would take hours to compile. It would be a strong deterrent for first time reviewers if their first submission was rejected for being “too commercial” simply for having ads on their blog.

I think Digg would be making a mistake by entering these markets. Review sites already exist for various products and are well indexed. Digg would, in the very best scenario, be spammed up with links to these sites. In the worst case, Digg would have wasted months trying to go “mainstream” only to further alienate users.

Digg already does social news well, and it needs to focus on doing that better. Digg should really focus on enhanced personalization so that each account gets its own customized list of “top” news items — this was another prong of the original announcement and I think they are dead on there.