New Digg CEO calls previous launch 'a tragedy'

Matt Williams uses a video interview to let its users know that the company is working to fix last summer's launch that rejuvenating community is "our top priority."

Matt Williams was named CEO of Digg late last summer, just a week after the social news service pushed out a long-awaited relaunch that went terribly wrong, taking its site down and upsetting users (and when Digg users are angry, they let you know!).

Now, five months into the job, Williams is finding a voice of his own separate from Digg founder Kevin Rose and is trying it out on the Digg community; the longtime veteran of Amazon.com participated in a well-received Digg Dialogg video interview posted yesterday to answer user questions. (It is viewable here.)

"There was a launch that was in violent disagreement with what our community expected out of the Web site," Williams told Leo Laporte, who facilitated the interview based on Digg users' questions. "It's truly a tragedy of the ages, to some extent."

But Digg is still a "very vibrant Web site" with close to 20 million monthly unique visitors, Williams said, and the opportunity to hone an focus on social news that other companies may not have.

(Plus, despite layoffs, a perceived lack of relevancy relative to other social start-ups, and multiple leadership changes, Digg still has plenty of money in the bank.)

"It is our top priority to rejuvenate the community," Williams said.

Digg's latest launch, called V4, was seen by many as a move to devalue the site's homegrown community. V4 was the most significant in a string of product changes that took power away from the small body of users that set the agenda for the news site. It gave a stronger voice to publishers and to Digg's own curators. And V4 was also an overdue complete technology overhaul that left out many much-loved features.

In the Laporte interview, Williams quickly tackled precise details about previous features the Digg community wants reinstalled, for instance noting the site has already brought back the "bury" button, allowing users to counteract other users' votes on submitted stories. He said Digg is also planning future features such as honing its news-ranking algorithms for slower weekend traffic, when less worthy stories may make it to the top.

Beyond those tweaks, Digg will make large-scale efforts to become more personalized, said Williams, and to create communities around specific topics. That's not necessarily something that the old-time crowd will love, but it may make the site more useful for a broader audience.

Williams encouraged users to not just visit the site, but to comment on and vote up stories with Diggs; those participatory behaviors have decreased as a portion of overall traffic since the launch of V4, he said.

Being the voice of Digg is no small task, and it's not just because of the company's hypercritical userbase. Digg has long been associated with the founding presence of TV and online video host Kevin Rose. And until Williams joined, Rose had been interim CEO after longtime leader Jay Adelson was pushed out of the company in April. Now Rose is now occupied with his many angel investments and a new video show and newsletter called "Foundation."

Digg users were uncharacteristically positive in the comments section of the Williams interview entry. (The friendly tone makes me wonder if the old crowd has indeed high-tailed it somewhere else!) "Digg is in good hands," said one. "I must say that Digg is doing a fantastic job listening to the community and implementing new features," said another. One user even acknowledged, "I realize changes take time to implement."

 

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