Can Adding Staff Curators Help Digg Recover?

Digg has had a rough time since it launched a redesign of the site several months ago; users reacted badly to the loss of certain features and the site’s new focus on more “mainstream” sources of content, and the new CEO spent his first few weeks apologizing and rolling back many of those changes, then laid off almost 40 percent of the staff as part of a wave of cost-cutting. Now the site has added staff-curated links, in what seems to be an attempt to recover some of its old magic — or an admission that things just aren’t working, despite all the recent changes.

As a staffer describes in a blog post, a new “breaking news” module has been added to the site, which appears regardless of whether the user is looking at the My News, Top News or Upcoming view (My News — which shows links from people and sources you follow, Twitter-style — was added with the redesign, while Upcoming was removed, but has since been restored). The module is designed to highlight stories that the site’s editors feel are worth reading but haven’t made it to the front page yet.

More than anything else, this seems to be an admission by Digg that the site’s ranking algorithm — and/or the way that people are using the network — is no longer enough. The original idea behind Digg was that users would vote for the content they liked, and would inevitably drive the best or most interesting links to the front page, apart from the occasional experience with the “bury brigade” (which would gang up and vote down certain links). It was one of the first large-scale experiments in what some would call the “crowdsourced” aggregation of content.

Digg isn’t the first site to decide an algorithm isn’t enough to highlight all the best content that can be found online. Gabe Rivera, the founder of the technology link-aggregator Techmeme, added human editors to the site two years ago because he said the human element added something that even the best algorithm couldn’t. But Digg was different from a pure aggregator; it was effectively powered by humans from the beginning, and their votes theoretically determined the look of the site. That no longer seems to be working. But will human editors change how users look at Digg?

The bigger question, of course, is whether any of these changes can help the site recover from the traffic plunge it has suffered over the past year — a decline that has come in part as a result of the redesign, but also due to growing competition from other link-sharing networks such as Twitter and Facebook. These struggles have led some (including me) to wonder whether it’s relevant any more.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):