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Sites can block the DiggBar, but is it worth it?

Publishers are biting back against Digg's software free toolbar and link shortening service, but is it really such a bad thing? We dig in.

John Gruber of the blog Daring Fireball doesn't like what Digg's doing with its DiggBar, and has come up with a relatively simple way to block it on his own site. By making a small change to his site's PHP files, any shortened DiggURL created for one of his pages will automatically take users to a separate page Gruber has created that chides the company.

In Gruber's opinion, the service, which automatically shortens a site's URL and adds some of Digg's features to the top of the source content, is bad for both users and sites. Gruber says it's tainting the purity of a site's URL, which also affects search engine optimization and the capability for users to easily bookmark content. "URLs are the building block of the Web. They tell the user where they are. They give you something to bookmark to go back or to share with others," he says.

But is Gruber right?

As for the SEO, John Quinn--Digg's vice president of engineering, came out on Thursday and said that Digg had been in touch with search engines like Google and traffic monitoring services like Comscore, Compete, Quantcast, and Nielsen prior to launching the DiggBar, and that pre-launch testing had shown that it was not, in fact, changing the accuracy of traffic numbers. In fact, in the week since launching, Quinn said that the DiggBar was giving both Digg and publishers a noticeable boost in traffic.

One area where Gruber has a point though is with user bookmarking and link identification. Many sites use URLs that contain the headline, or certain keywords about the story. For readers this is a quick way to figure out where a link is going. For Digg, part of the problem with this is that its users can completely rewrite the headline and description of a story when submitting it to the site, which means the last way to see what something is--prior to clicking on it, is to check the URL, which is what the DiggBar effectively kills.

While Digg retains the source of the story right in front of the description, along with the full URL on the DiggBar, it's also changing what users are seeing in their address bar, which is yet another place where users are used to figuring out where they are and what they're looking at.

So how does this factor into bookmarking, and more importantly--social bookmarking? For personal bookmarking, Digg is replacing a site's Favicon (yet another identifier) with its own, along with replacing the site's standard URL with a shortened Digg one. Add a few shortened Digg bookmarks to your own personal bookmarks and you'll see where this can hinder the capability to sort, and quickly parse saved links.

For social bookmarking, sites like Delicious merely show the hottest links by page title (something the DiggBar does not alter), however when browsing the URLs alone, yet again it's a sea of links.

Where Digg may have to change its tune is in giving publishers a way to opt out of having their site URLs shortened, along with a way to keep the bar from showing up on the top of the page. If Digg were to meet publishers in the middle, and act like any other link shortening service out there (TinyURL,, et al) and convert the Digg URL into the site's normal URL, I think it would go a long way toward preserving the happiness of publishers who want to maintain their site's identity.