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Getting global with Digg's Kevin Rose

Financial markets worldwide are in a state of disarray, but Rose says he hasn't changed his vision as Digg moves beyond its roots.

LONDON--Perhaps it's fitting that Digg founder Kevin Rose chose the Future of Web Apps conference here as the place to elaborate on his company's international expansion strategy. London, after all, has become the San Francisco-based Digg's biggest hub of user activity. But with headlines dominated by financial disasters, life gets a little more complicated for a company determined to build up and keep hiring.

CNET News caught up with Rose shortly after his presentation on Thursday morning. Here's the first part of our two-part interview.

You're a geek hero. You've got a huge following. How much do you want to be "the Digg guy," especially as Digg is expanding and moving beyond its roots?
Rose: Well, I absolutely love my job. It doesn't feel like I'm working, ever, so that's a nice place to be in when you've spent the last four years feeling like you don't have a job and it's just something you enjoy doing every day. So I don't think that's going to get old for quite some time. I'll be at Digg for a while.

Digg founder Kevin Rose, who has since gotten a much shorter haircut. Caroline McCarthy/CNET News

So what about being such a cult figure (as host of the Diggnation podcast)?
Rose: There's a lot of people that watch our podcast, and enjoy our podcast and say, hey, you know, you guys are funny because we get there and drink beers and comment on our favorite technology and geek-culture stories, so there's that group of people who enjoy what we do as far as making the podcast. I don't know, I'm just happy that people watch and that people enjoy what we're doing. Alex (Albrecht, Diggnation's co-host) and I, when we started the podcast, we really didn't have any idea how many people were going to be into it. We were just, like, "Hey, we used to work together at TechTV, why not just do something fun and hit record?" Even if nobody watches we'll still continue to do it because we like hanging out.

You said earlier this morning that Digg's going to focus on expanding its appeal, that right now only a tenth of Digg's visitors have registered for user accounts. Is Diggnation going to change, too?
Rose: No, Diggnation will always stay the same. It's just kind of a fun show. Only a small percentage of the people who watch Diggnation actually go to Digg, there's only about 250,000 people per week that watch Diggnation, and Digg has millions and millions of people. So it's not like they're really closely tied together.

You said you're going to stay at Digg for a while. You just raised a big Series C round. Does this mean the company's going to stay independent (i.e. not get bought) for longer than originally planned?
Rose: The nice thing about the last raise is that it wasn't, like "oh, we're out of money, we need to raise more," it was more based on the fact that we knew we wanted to expand into different languages and we knew we had to buy racks of servers over in Europe, and all that takes capital to make happen.

We sat down and said, okay, where do we want to be a few years from now and what are the resources that we need to make that happen? We would've ran out of cash had we executed on that plan to expand internationally. That raise was really, okay, let's build the team that we need in San Francisco to continue to evolve the product, and invest in R&D and continue to scale the site, but at the same time let's talk about international next year. So that's what this is for.

What about other social news sites? Are any of them doing things that Digg isn't that you're hoping to emulate in one way or another?
Rose: That's a good question. I really don't use anybody else's product. I've never used their services at all, I think I've maybe "buzzed" one article when (Yahoo Buzz) first came out. We don't really base our product decisions on what anybody else is doing.

But there's been no instance where you saw something really cool and wished you'd thought of it first?
Rose: I've seen some really interesting mashups of other peoples' data that are really fun to play around with, and I've thought it would be really cool to see what Digg data looks like with that, but I can't think of any one feature. I think some of the stuff that StumbleUpon is doing with their toolbar and providing recommendations in the toolbar is really interesting to us, but not right now. We have a very basic toolbar right now today.

How has the current financial situation changed things at Digg? That stuff really started to unfold right after you raised your Series C round.
Rose: Nothing's changed. One of the nice things about Digg is we've always run fairly lean. We have a small team and we're a very text-heavy site, so as far as bandwidth is concerned it's not like we're YouTube spending a million dollars a week on bandwidth. For us it's just always being conscious of who we're hiring and why we're hiring them, and do we need that person or not. We won't be a 400-person company in a year or two years. It's just picking the spots where we need some help and growing slowly, and staging that growth so it mirrors our own Web traffic's always been out of necessity.

Are you anticipating a traffic drop after the election?
Rose: We don't anticipate that, no. That's a good question though...we've always seen traffic grow month over month. We're fortunate enough to be in that position, and we've seen the different bumps as little things that come along. When the Olympics was going on we saw a little bump ther. When there's big tech news or Apple events you always see bumps there. We'll have to see. We haven't really done any estimates on that.