I worked at Digg in 2009 and 2010, so it wasn’t much fun reading some of the headlines this week about the company’s final chapters, with Betaworks buying the brand and website for a rumored $500,000. (Combining the Betaworks deal with others which sold patents to LinkedIn and the engineering team to the Washington Post, Digg sold itself for something closer to $16 million).
But among the coverage, a story I did like is the one by Brian Morrissey at Digiday. Not only did Digg pioneer the idea of socially-curated news, Morrissey says, it also broke new ground in the arena of digital advertising.
Digg was an innovator in one important way: It showed the way with an innovative ad system that was truly native to the experience. For all of Digg’s mistakes, it got the ad part mostly correct. Rather than splash the site with IAB units, Digg chose to make its own ads in 2009, determining that the ads themselves should be promoted content from the site. Advertisers were challenged to adapt to Digg’s community, contributing content that they could then pay to have surfaced more prominently. Users could comment on advertiser posts, promote them and bury them. The more an advertisement was Dugg, the less the advertiser had to pay, rewarding those with good content.
Sound familiar? It’s pretty much the blueprint Twitter is following now, along with Tumblr. Social platforms three years on are still struggling with how to adopt advertising. Tumblr appears to be agonizing about how to introduce ads and not lose its indie cred. Facebook’s Beacon foray was a disaster. Its most promising ad format is Sponsored Stories, which are like some Digg Ads in which brands would promote stories others had Dugg.