Getting global with Digg's Kevin Rose, part 2

Dot-com rock star talks about the company road map, how he sees Digg fitting into the future of the media, and offers advice for young entrepreneurs in a tough economy.

Digg founder Kevin Rose, in a photo taken at the last Future of Web Apps conference in Miami. Caroline McCarthy/CNET News

LONDON--In the first part of our interview with Digg founder Kevin Rose at the Future of Web Apps conference, CNET News asked the Web start-up poster boy about everything from the company's Series C funding round to whether he's concerned about when those election stories stop rolling in.

In part 2, Rose got a little more specific: What would happen if Digg got hit with a stock-plunging news hoax? Will he be making acquisitions? And most importantly, does "digg" mean anything dirty in any foreign languages?

CNN had that big debacle with a user-submitted story , about Steve Jobs having a heart attack, which turned out to be fabricated. What's your policy for what happens if something gets "dugg" that isn't true and which could have a big impact on stock performance or elsewhere?
Rose: The good news is that we have a lot of people that are actively looking for that and who flag and bury content based on whether or not it's inaccurate. There's probably not a day that goes by that there isn't a piece of content flagged on the site as inaccurate.

Do you employ anyone to keep tabs on that?
Rose: No. This is all done by the masses. We're fortunate enough to have millions of people come to the site every day, and thousands of people vote. (They can say), "this is bad," and we can apply that tag to it. We'll display a little stamp that gives a warning that the community has flagged it as potentially inaccurate. We see that every single day.

If a company serves a takedown notice because something was dugg about them that isn't true, would you comply? In the past you've been very vocal about not interfering with the community.
Rose: We'll only take things down that we receive like DMCA cease-and-desists that come to us. Often it's something like that there's a link to a pirated copy of Photoshop. But normally that sort of thing gets buried on its own because users won't promote piracy directly...We get a few a month but it's never a big deal because it's usually just blatant piracy.

So talk about internationalization. It's coming late next year. As a bit of a hint, are there any countries where Digg is extremely popular and a language translation might make sense?
Rose: Well, London is our largest city overall. But outside of that, as far as different languages are concerned, there is demand from certain users coming in and writing to us, but we see a lot of Digg-type clone sites, and those are the ones that we kind of keep tabs on. So we say, OK, where are our competitors and how are they doing? There's a Spanish version of Digg, there's a German version of Digg that's called Yigg or something like that.

And they're unofficial, or do they use your API or anything like that?
Rose: They're unofficial. They do their own thing. And then there's also a Digg in Japan that has some traction as well. So we look at this stuff and we say, OK, what do we do? Do we open up a version of Digg out there? Do we acquire these companies? It's all stuff that we talk about and I think that where you'll see this expand first is a combination of both requests from users and where our competitors are starting to take off.

So you might acquire a smaller competitor?
Rose: Sure, potentially.

Would you look at all into "crowd-sourced" language translations that we're seeing on sites like Facebook and Hi5?
Rose: The translation, we don't have a ton of things that would need to be translated. It's not like we would be translating the U.S. submissions. It would be their own submissions and a whole separate engine running an instance of Digg outside of our own, but still connected so that you could go to the U.S. version of Digg and it would show up in your profile and everything. But yeah, I don't think we're that far along. Right now we're just looking at different areas and where we want to expand and the code that will be needed to make that happen. It's all stuff that we'll be doing over the next couple of months.

Do you have any offices outside of San Francisco now?
Rose: We have a small group of people. We have someone that's working for us in Scotland and also someone that's working for us in Amsterdam. No official Digg logo on the side of a building anywhere.

So do you have any plans to open more offices?
Rose: I'm sure, eventually.

When you expand internationally, you're not going to have to change the name of the site or anything? It doesn't mean anything offensive in any language?
Rose: Somebody told me it did in one language. I can't remember what it was.

Your talk today was about the future of news. How do you see yourself in the news industry as a whole, beyond the niche of social news?
Rose: I don't know that we do actually. I think we're just kind of that platform to level the playing field. We will never become a news publisher in any way, in that we won't produce our own content or host other peoples' articles. We'll always be kind of directing the flow of traffic.

When you expand into other countries and if you launch localized versions, are you planning to have to deal with governments that may not agree with Digg's views on freedom of information?
Rose: Absolutely. I think that we have always wanted to create a neutral, level playing field, and I would not be OK with changing that point of view when it comes to Digg. I'm not going to bend our rules when it comes to story promotion or our algorithms that look for a unique, diverse crowd of people thinking that something is interesting, and wouldn't allow anyone, any government to manipulate that. That might mean that we can't actively compete in some markets, but those are kind of our core principles, and those will never be compromised.

You were talking a lot about how you've got a ton of data that you haven't sourced out yet. Have you thought at all about adding an additional revenue stream by licensing analytics to clients?
Rose: Yeah, one of the big things that our business development team spends a lot of time working on is relationships with publishers. They're constantly coming to us and saying that (we) have a lot of data about their users--what they do, what they enjoy, where they're coming from, what other articles and other sites they're posting on--and it would be cool if we could get some of that data into a type of dashboard.

That's all things that we're looking at as far as tools for publishers, like some of the other things I mentioned today like a recommendation engine for publishers. It's definitely on the road map and it's stuff we want to develop, but it's just important that I'm not going to build a custom suite for CNN and not provide it to a blogger. I just want to make sure that when we do build a tool, it's available to everyone.

At this conference, there are a ton of young independent developers eager to learn. Given this financial climate, things are tougher when it comes to getting venture funding or getting a job. What would your advice to them be?
Rose: E-mail us at jobs dot digg dot com. (Laughs.) You're absolutely right in that I've talked to a lot of investors recently, some of our angels, a couple of VCs, that I know and communicate with, and it's definitely a weird time right now. Start-ups that don't have traction and don't have that kind of hockey-stick-like growth on Alexa or Compete or whatever are going to have a really difficult time raising an additional round of funding. I think that a lot of the advice going out there to start-ups right now is to pare back a little bit and get into a mode that you can survive in.

There's a way to, they call it, " raise an internal round " of funding just by cutting back on things that you don't absolutely need. Cut that out of the budget and it's like raising money because you're not spending it. I really unfortunately think that there's going to be a lot of start-ups that go by the wayside in the next 12 months. The advice I hear out there is that if you can raise money, now's the time to do it and then just put your head down for the next couple years. I know a lot of start-ups are trying to do that.

 

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