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Google to buy Digg to avoid death by Social Media?

Google are apparently in talks to acquire Digg. Assuming this is true and I’m right, Digg could help Google avoid a death by Social Media…

Google are apparently in talks to acquire Digg. Assuming this is true and I’m right, Digg could help Google avoid a death by Social Media…

Digg logoFor anyone buying Digg, they’re not just gaining a brand or even a Social Media website, but a passionate and arguably troubled community.

Sometime in September 2007, Digg added some Social Networking smarts, which rather bizarrely left many of its members divided, some even taking their exception as far as actually leaving Digg. That said, one particular new feature was (and still is) so annoying, I was prompted to write an article about how to hide Shouts on Digg.

Back to the present, and looking at this latest rumour holistically, it makes a lot of sense for Google to buy Digg, especially since Google have no clue of their own when it comes to either Social Media or Social Networking.

Digg — Google’s ticket to the Social Media clue train?

Back in early May 2007, I put forward a case for Google to make like StumbleUpon and add some democracy to their too bar:

“You see, here’s Google raking in all of this data … much of this data is tagged and associated with individuals. People like you & me, you know?

If you’ve got a Google Account, then Google know (sorry, see) what you’ve found. If you’re making good use of your Search History, then Google knows what you value.

If you’re on Google Groups, chances are that you’ve voted on something, which adds even more value to the structure and the relative weighting of the content you’re making use of.

So with all this wealth of data, with contextual values associated with this data, Google should be able to stab at much better guesses as to what floats your boat.”

As you know, none of that ever happened, even though Google did court with the idea of voting for a short while:

“… deep in the basement of the Google Labs, something very social is happening to search that might just be worth a vote of confidence.”

The experiment was short lived and vanished as quietly as it appeared.

Now imagine Google squeezing in some of Digg’s democratic nuts & bolts, along with some other options similar to the StumbleUpon tool bar and you have the makings of a service to be rivaled by none — not even StumbleUpon.

In similar fashion, the same tool bar could allow us to submit content right into the Digg property, as well as comment and vote.

Google have the infrastructure and a mostly clued up audience to quickly populate their index with a very valuable dimension — the power of the vote.

Right now, Google acknowledge blog comments as a kind of metric, so why not the vote? Might the Digg purchase represent such an intention?

And because all those comments and votes would be directly accessible to their fabled index algorithm, they could enrich their listings in ways that are, right now, most probably a technical impracticality.

Joop of The Next Web outlines four reasons why Google buying Digg would be good news. Only the latter two ideas really make any real sense.

It is inevitable that Google would supplant Digg’s own search engine with their own and then add their AdSense throughout the whole of Digg.

It’s also highly probable that Google will litter their various other web properties with the Digg vote button, especially Google News.

That being the case, the signal-to-noise ratio on Digg will sink even further.

Digg versus Google?

But the major benefit is averting a future where Social Media & Social Networking totally destroy Google’s principle source of revenue, that being their Sponsored Links:

“Instead of ‘Googling’ for something, we find stuff being sent to us as emails from friends, in our profiles, in a friends’ lists of favourites, or any number of user-generated websites, ‘blogs, RSS feeds, Social Networks and Social Media portals.

While we’re busying ourselves voting and commenting on this stuff, we’re not using Google’s search algorithm, and we’re not clicking on Sponsored Links, either.”

That is the future Google face; one that is built around vast and global Social Networks mostly free of Google’s advertising services.

I suppose it’s easier for Google to just form alliances with the big Social Media websites and Social Networking platforms, but that’s to admit a complete lack of long-term strategy. Advertising deals can come as quickly as they go these days. You only have to ask Yahoo! about that.

So a long-term strategy to help ensure continued advertising revenues, Google buying Digg makes a ton of sense. And pissing Microsoft off by kicking their current advertising deal with Digg into touch would probably raise several smiles at the top, too!

The content copyright conundrum

Right now, Google are struggling to get a grip of YouTube and the legal morass that’s formed around the legally questionable video content to be found on there. Digg is often the happy recipient of this video content, so perpetuating the cycle of illegal viewing.

Might purchasing Digg not only further burden Google’s legal fight against the copyright holders?

On the back of such conflicts, if Google think they’re having problems with YouTube, they’re going to love the nest of vipers / Pandora’s box that is Digg. I say this because the brand of democracy that followers of Digg cite as being one of its strengths, is actually as flawed as the democracy you get anywhere else:

“… democracy is indeed alive & well on the web! I say this, because here in the world outside of the web, corruption within the confines of democracy abounds.”

However, because of the largely nebulous cloud of content, often only loosely tethered to any particular group of people, certain topics are often censored by roving bands of like-minded individuals with their own hidden agendas.

This is something that Google will need to meet head on, probably being the first true test of Google’s “do no evil” mantra.

However, when I look 2-3 years hence, Google buying Digg could do them much more good than harm. Whether the capricious stalwarts of planet Digg are likely to be in agreement, that is another thing entirely.

The downside is, if Google still don’t have a clue about Social Media, Digg would most likely edge further and further away from its sci-tech / geek-gadget present towards a future of vast diluted silos containing Google’s own Knol pages, syndicated news trivia, LOLcats garbage and fluff PR stories.

On the upside, Google would get their hands on a massive source of UGC (User-Generated Content), which for the most part could help them get a fix on Social Media.

Any [ahem] algorithmic irregularities would be removed from Digg entirely, along with the very mechanics that allow for such things as Bury Brigades, freeing up breathing space for more content to be offered up to a possibly much wider, less corrosive and more appreciative audience.

Maybe then we’d all be doin’ it and Diggin’ it?

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

4 replies on “Google to buy Digg to avoid death by Social Media?”

Guys, I’d like to apologize for the “Bait & Switch”-esque title. I meant for the title to read: “Google to buy…”, but after writing the article, I totally forgot!

I heard the deal was off yesterday. Mmm, maybe I need to check my feed reader and see if it’s back on again. 🙂

Seriously, you raise some good points here, Wayne. Looking from the outside, digg does seem an excellent purchase for Google (or maybe Microsoft now Google have pulled out) – but obviously, we aren’t privy to what was turned up in due diligence…

I think that the basic problem is that (a) Google needs to be THE source for useful, relevant content, (b) social networks are a rich indicator of valuable content, and (c) Google will have a diminishing role in search if it does not successfully incorporate information from social networks. I don’t think that the purchase matters one way or the other. If Google screws up Digg, someone will create another similar network which will draw passionate former Diggers. And social media is growing too fast for Google to be able to own it all. The only value that I see is that it MAY make them better at incorporating social information into search.

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