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

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

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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.

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