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Can Digg make a comeback?

Can Digg make a comeback under the leadership of the Betaworks team? Or is it a house whose foundation is permanently broken?

In the old days, this story would have had 50,000+ Diggs...

Digg's painful downfall has finally hit rock bottom. Does that mean Digg can only go up now?

As you've probably heard, the once-mighty social news Web site has sold to Betaworks for a paltry $500,000. The total price of the acquisition was around $16 million, if you include The Washington Post's acquisition of the team and LinkedIn's acquisition of the patents.

That price is still a far cry from the $200 million that Google was ready to spend to acquire Digg in 2008. And those numbers seem paltry in comparison with the billion dollar deals that have been floating around Silicon Valley recently.

I've read a lot of touching retrospectives on Digg's impact on the world. But nobody has really focused on the question I find more interesting: what is next for Digg?

Betaworks didn't acquire Digg just to display it in their trophy case. John Borthwick is now CEO, and you can bet he has an ambitious plan to transform Digg and make it relevant again.

"We are turning Digg back into a startup," Betaworks announced on its company blog. "The team will take Digg back to its essence: the best place to find, read, and share the stories the internet is talking about. Right now."

It's easy to forget that Digg was one of the pioneers of social media and social news. Bloggers used to get bonuses based on how often they hit the front page of Digg, and The Digg Effect was something to be both respected and feared (many servers couldn't handle the traffic). It was the place that could make or break a story.

Can Betaworks bring Digg back? It's an admirable and lofty goal, but revitalization experiments rarely succeed -- just ask the Avos team about Delicious or News Corp about MySpace. It's tough to overcome years of brand damage., the social news site Betaworks developed with help from The New York Times, shows that the Betaworks team knows the direction news will be taking for the next five years. It's entirely mobile-centric and pulls in your friends' commentary across the social Web. Still, it's missing the tight-knit community that turns social news products into billion dollar phenomenons. Perhaps that's why Betaworks bought Digg in the first place.

I fear that Digg may be a house whose foundation is permanently broken. But if Betaworks (a very respectable and talented team) can wipe the slate clean and find some solid ground for Digg, the site has a shot at becoming an interesting experiment. But as for whether they can make Digg relevant again -- that may be too tall an order for anyone to fill.