Does the 'new Digg' need an Ashton Kutcher?

The revamped Digg's emphasis on following brands may mean that a celeb who goes bonkers over the social news site could be the best thing that's happened to it in months.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
3 min read
Ashton Kutcher on "The Early Show."
Does social news site Digg need to be rescued by a celebrity white knight like Ashton Kutcher? CBS Early Show

It's still too early to tell whether the redesigned and revamped Digg, which went live on Wednesday following a limited private alpha test, will be enough to resuscitate the once-hot social news site. The usual suspects of the blogger punditocracy seem to agree: it's all dependent on how the community reacts, and Diggers are unpredictable.

The "new Digg," which puts a focus on a customized news lineup based on content chosen from social-network friends as well as celebrities and brands that the user opts to follow, is a big change from its predecessor, in which Digg power users had built up so much clout that the site became too insidery for its own good. Traffic growth slowed, as did the parade of rumors that companies like Google and News Corp. wanted to buy Digg for hundreds of millions of dollars. The company had to do something.

"The redesign may be too much of a shift for Digg's core users, who traditionally have driven much of the activity on the site, even after the 'Top Digger' list was removed," Mashable writer Vadim Lavrusik wrote. On the flip side: "Digg may attract a whole new audience looking for a place to discover news through curated sources."

TechCrunch's Jason Kincaid: "At this point I'm skeptical, but it won't be clear for some time. In order for this to lead to the resurgence Digg needs, user behavior will need to change, especially among casual users."

My CNET colleague Josh Lowensohn's early hands-on of the new Digg, internally referred to as Digg v4, agreed that the relaunch was a big improvement but echoed fellow tech bloggers' concern that it might be too little, too late.

With the redesign, though, Digg may be able to count on more than the community. Celebrity and brand usage of Twitter and Facebook has helped propel growth (especially for Twitter, where actor Ashton Kutcher's endorsement led to some early mainstream momentum) and Digg has aggressively reached out to media companies to start using the new version. It's unclear, though, whether Digg will be able to find a celebrity who takes interest in the new version with a geek-chic firepower that matches Kutcher's, and even if it does, whether he or she will experience the kind of traction that Kutcher (and eventually the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Kanye West, and Lady Gaga) did on Twitter.

Digg founder Kevin Rose, who took over the role as the company's CEO after predecessor Jay Adelson stepped down in April, and who has said recently that a replacement CEO is imminent, filled that role himself to an extent on the "old Digg." Rose became an influential fanboy hero, something which then carried over into his massive Twitter following and the "Diggnation" podcast produced by Revision3, another company that he founded.

But Rose isn't nearly on the caliber of a recognizable celebrity outside of the tech industry, which may hamper his clout on the new Digg. Will a celebrity in need of a self-promotion outlet find its way to Digg and help revive the social news site in the process? Time will tell--but on the Internet, obsolescence comes on fast. Just ask the old Digg.