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digg vi logoFacebook has undergone plenty of redesigns in the past, and each one has come with some amount of controversy. However, imagine how people would react if Facebook decided not just to dramatically redesign their site, but also to delete every piece of content and every user account that had ever been created on their site. Photos? Deleted. Wall posts? Gone. And imagine if this happened as a complete surprise to its users, with no present way to come back in and retrieve their years and years of content. This sounds like too far-fetched a scenario to ever play out, right?

Well, Digg[1] has done just that. Today, they launched the new version of their website, complete with... nothing. Their entire seven-year history of user accounts and content were just removed. Surprise!

Digg was once the poster child of social media, the so-called "Web 2.0". It was a website that allowed users to post links to articles and resources from around the Web, and other users could vote on content, discuss it, and even vote on each other's comments. Stories that received enough votes would appear on Digg's front page. It was functionally very similar to the now-popular website Reddit, and its user community was once so large that websites appearing on its front page would often collapse from the sheer volume of user traffic coming from Digg.

That all started to change on August 25, 2010, when they launched a new version of the website, called Digg v4. This redesign was intended to increase the site's appeal to mainstream audiences by automatically bringing in and promoting content from major news publishers, rather than focusing solely on user-submitted links. The Digg community's response was sharply negative, as many felt that the changes undermined the community aspects of the site. Almost instantly, Digg saw a steep drop in user traffic, as many users left for alternatives like Reddit.

Just six days after the v4 launch, Digg co-founder Kevin Rose was replaced from his position as CEO, and he later resigned from the company. Over the following two years, Digg held onto a smaller base of loyal users, but it never managed to recover from the drop. In July 2012, the Digg brand and assets were sold to a company called Betaworks for $500,000, a far cry from the $200 million that Google had once offered for the site.

With the new assets, Betaworks announced that it would be launching a new version of digg intended to restore its position as a social media giant. The company said that it would operate like a startup, with a light and tight team pushing out rapid updates. The first release came out today, and long-time Digg users woke up to something they had not expected: the new Digg really was a new Digg. It was created from scratch, not just in terms of its look and functionality, but also in terms of its data. All user accounts had been deleted. All posts had been deleted. The entire seven-year history of comments and discussions had been wiped out. Users were asked to create new accounts, using their Facebook accounts (which, based on the comments[2] on the Digg blog's announcement post, many long-time Digg users don't have and refuse to sign up for).

Welcome to Digg v1Not only that, but the new Digg currently has even less focus on user content than before. There is no way for users to discuss articles or vote them down. Story categorization—which users had previously been asking the Digg developers to expand—is now nonexistent. The site appears to have kept the most-criticized elements of the failed Digg v4 redesign and thrown away everything else.

Now, this doesn't mean that what we see on the Digg website today is what Betaworks ultimately envisions for the site. They have been very clear that this is a work in progress, and it is likely that some of the social features will be coming back over the next few updates. The company has also stated that they will be creating a website for users to download their old content, although it doesn't sound like they intend to fold any of it back into the Digg website.

SFWeekly LogoHowever, the reaction so far appears even more negative than when Digg v4 was released. Almost every comment on the blog post is expressing feelings of disappointment and betrayal, with many once-loyal users finally throwing in the towel and looking for alternatives. Criticism is also coming from other angles, such as the huge loss of search engine relevancy signals[3] from all of these deleted links, not to mention all of the inbound links that are now broken across the Web.

Beyond continuing its work to rebuild the site, Betaworks is going to find itself with a new problem on its hands: convincing the world that they should trust it with their content, after the company was so quick to toss it all into the trash. At the end of the day, social websites live and die by their community, and I for one am not optimistic about Digg's future.

1: http://digg.com/

2: http://blog.digg.com/post/28441399381/welcome-to-digg-v1#disqus_thread

3: http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2012/08/digg_betaworks.php