There's no loyalty on the Internet (and why should there be?)

Digg's demise repeats a familiar pattern of popularity followed by abandonment

The news Thursday that former social-media superstar Digg was sold for a paltry $500,000 has kicked off a vigorous round of "I know what led to Digg's demise" on Internet comment threads. Just at the bottom of this Wall Street Journal article alone, we are told that: * "facebook and twitter didn't have anything to do with digg's demise, it was reddit. * "It had nothing at all to do with Reddit. It had everything to do with Digg's leadership foisting on their users one of the most abhorrent redesigns in Web history." * "Their main problem is that they refused to listen to their users." * "It was Digg's redesign combined with Reddit's established community making it a simple transition for most people." While it's hard to precisely apportion "blame" for Digg's demise -- was the redesign 60% responsible, or was it 65%, etc. -- it's an interesting forensic exercise. And it's likely that all of the reasons cited above played a part in Digg's rapid crash-and-burn. But the overarching reason that Digg caught a bullet train to MyspaceVille is one I've mentioned many times before: Loyalty on the Internet is fleeting, and if you make a misstep, or another company fulfills user needs in a better way, you may not be able to recover. As I wrote about Myspace:

Myspace had an Achilles heel, one shared by many Internet companies, including Facebook: What it offers isn't essential. Fun? Sure. Entertaining? Yes. Interesting? Sometimes. But who really needs Myspace? Do you know any former Myspace power users who feel a void in their lives now that they've moved on? Do you know any former AltaVista lovers who fervently wish for those heady pre-Google days?

Of course not. That's because something better -- or at least preferable -- came along. Plus, the cost of conversion is zero. Why do you think wireless companies force subscribers to sign two-year contracts with hefty early-termination fees? Because they need an artificial barrier to retain customers. They need to create a cost of conversion.

With the Internet, however, users simply can just stop showing up.

Which happened with enough Digg users that the social-media site once valued at more than $160 million was sold to Betaworks, a technology development company, for less than one-third of 1 percent of that amount. Facebook is trying hard to create a cost of conversion, or at least of abandoning Facebook, and that's by infiltrating every aspect of an Internet user's existence. Many people now opt to log onto other sites and services via their Facebook account because it's "easier." This also is intended to make it easier for people to stay with Facebook because dumping it will make online life much more difficult for many users. Is it working? It appears to be -- for now. But you can bet it won't last forever. Nothing ever does on the Internet.

Chris Nerney writes ITworld's Tech Business Today blog. Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisNerney. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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