Digging into the Digg 4.0 alpha

The new Digg alpha appears to be much easier to use and more social than ever. Sadly, however, Digg's content seems unlikely to change.

I admit it. I am not the biggest Digg fan in the world. Nor am I a particularly avid or frequent Digg user. So I can't begin to explain why I was invited to check out the new Digg 4.0 alpha. Maybe they have me confused with someone else. But in any event I was invited, and I have to say overall I'm pleasantly surprised.

[ See also: Facebook's privacy controls are seriously broken ]

The good news? It's much better than the version of Digg currently available now in several key ways. The bad? I'm not sure it's good enough to change my opinion about it, which has more to do with who uses Digg and what that does to the site's content than Digg itself.

Brent Csutoras offers a more detailed preview of the new Digg at the corporate BlueGlass blog. I'm just going to talk a bit about how 'social' the new Digg is. 

The biggest news from the perspective of TY4NS is that Digg is much more like what I think of as a social network than any version that came before. From the cleaner presentation, to the list of Diggers it suggests you follow when you log on, to changes in the terminology (friends and fans are now "followed" or "followers"), it's in many ways like a plus-sized version of Twitter.

digg alpha integrates facebook twitter google

Also notable is that you can use your Facebook, Twitter, and Google log-ons to locate friends on Digg. But as far as I can tell, that's all they're used for. There's no reciprocal cross posting on FB or Twitter of stories you've Dugg, and the site did not automatically add an app to my Facebook profile. I did not see any red privacy flags at all along the way, which is so unusual I suspect I must have missed something. Then again, this is just an alpha, and very few of my FB, Twitter, and Google posse are accessible via this version. But for now, this appears to be a very low profile, user friendly way of cross pollinating with other social media sites.

Another highlight: It's waaaaaay easier to add links to Digg. If you're logged in, just copy a URL, paste it into the Submit a Link window, pick a topic like "entertainment" or "technology," and hit "Digg It." That's it. (They've also greatly reduced and simplified the list of topics, praise Allah.)

digg alpha submitting links

Frankly, submitting links to Digg has been such a pain I simply avoided it. Not with the new version. (Though I can't say how well the new version will work with Digg buttons on third-party sites; when I try them, I still get the old Digg.)

What hasn't changed, though, is the content and who's submitting it. While Digg will let me choose between "top stories" (submitted by everyone) and stories submitted by people I allegedly know, even the latter are, well, pretty dicey. Here's a selective sampling of the headlines my peeps are Digging right now:

  • Is it ethical to "scent brand" public places?
  • A*** f****** got a lot better in 2006
  • College building body farm for rotting corpses by landfill
  • The girl who must eat every 15 minutes to stay alive

(I made the mistake of clicking the link to the latter story. Don't do it. Trust me, you'll be sorry.)

What turned me off Digg initially was that it seemed to be run by a handful of 12 to 15 year olds, who controlled what stories did and did not rise to the top of the Digg ranks. The ones that did rise invariably were of hot chicks (not that there's anything wrong with that), stupid animal videos, stories containing the phrase "Epic Fail," and anything having to do with Apple or the iPhone. In other words, not exactly the Masterpiece Theatre of the Internet.

Though I can see how the new iteration of Digg could reduce the influence of the teen mafia -- or at least help you filter it more effectively -- it seems unlikely to negate that influence entirely. Which means the new Digg, better though it may be, is still not for me.

Author Dan Tynan also eats every 15 minutes, but he's just doing it to avoid deadlines. Catch his inimitable brand of sophomoric humor at eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech.

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