Digg CEO: All's well, wait till you see what's next

Digg is painting a positive picture for the company's efforts over the next few months, despite news that founder Kevin Rose has scaled back his duties there.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
4 min read

When the news broke late last week that Digg founder Kevin Rose had "resigned" from his post at the company to go after something new, things did not seem well for the start-up. But fear not, current CEO Matt Williams says--all the good changes coming from the company over the past six months were done by a group of people, not just the Digg founder.

In a blog entry on Digg's blog posted this afternoon entitled "the Digg goes on," Williams once again addresses Rose's departure, while sharing some insights about the company's recent gains in traffic, and its product plans over the next few months. But the gist is that Rose's scaled-back role is nothing new.

"Kevin continues to be committed to Digg's success; his role as founder, board member, and Diggnation host remains unchanged," Williams said, echoing the company's statement from last week. "When I took over as CEO last September, Kevin stepped back from the day-to-day decisions. I'm proud of the great team we've got at Digg, and they're the ones to credit for the changes you've seen and the new direction we're pursuing."

A frame from a February video of "Digg Dialog" in which Leo Laporte asks Matt Williams about response to recent site changes. Digg Dialog/Screenshot by CNET

As for where that leaves Digg with a company figurehead, Williams told CNET in a phone interview that the job had long ago landed on him.

"That has been my role since taking over," Williams said. "Kevin has purposely been the face of Diggnation and continues to do a series of interviews, but most of them have been around investing and start-up investments, more so than on Digg. In fact, just last week I was (at) South by Southwest speaking on the topic of the future of news, and so all the speaking engagements and PR and press activity, and frankly all activity around Digg, I'm handling."

So what about that "future of news"? Williams touted to CNET a yet-to-be-released version of the site, due in the next few months, that he says should make Digg more of a target for people to find the "best of" content on any particular interest.

"Without going into the depth of how the product will work, what I can say is we naturally want to take any type of interest you have and find the 20, 30, 50, or 100 people that really care about that topic--that community--and pull together them and the news and discussion around it," Williams said. "I think many Web sites have built some around news and categories, and some around comments and discussion around topics, but what we're going to do is pretty different from what's out there."

Unlike the personalized news feature, however, Digg expects users to be in charge of making the decisions.

"Digg made a name for itself in being able to have a community that could curate and build the best of. And if you could imagine a day where there's a best of for many different interests that you have, and then you get to meet new people and have conversations with them around those interests, that's where Digg can play a big part," Williams explained.

That grand vision plays into two other areas the company is focusing on this year, Williams said: personalizing the news to have it feed into these communities, and the company's social ad platform, which lets advertisers publish ads to Digg's home page that look and function in a similar fashion to user-submitted stories.

On the topic of the company's health, Williams said traffic is going in the right direction. The site now has more than 6 million registered users, which Williams said is growing by "hundreds of thousands each month." That traffic accounts for 20 million monthly unique visitors worldwide, with some 1 million uniques a day, he said. Other numbers that have increased are the time on the site and the number of Digg votes on stories, both of which are up 20 percent since the company's "low point" in 2010.

He said the company itself is growing once again as well, with new hires; that includes some recovery from layoffs, along with spots that had been left vacated like the VP of engineering, which earlier this month was filled by Ben Folk-Williams. "We had a pretty hefty cash burn when I joined, we've really had to cut back the team pretty significantly about 35 percent of the staff at that point," Williams lamented. "Since then we've lost a couple people, but we are definitely growing the team, especially in engineering."

So will all these things add up to a comeback success for the beleaguered company? Williams seems to think so.

"A lot of people still love content on Digg," he said. "In fact they have a hard time finding the kind of content that we've got on Digg today."