Digg, Reddit, and activists

Anyone who seeks to build an online following should pay close attention to the hot steaming mess that Digg stepped in this week.

The social news site announced changes which sounded like a good idea (at least I thought so) a few weeks ago, changes which promised to expand Digg’s following by making it more accessible to outsiders.  The one problem was Digg’s existing audience, which liked the way the site worked just fine.

Over the past 12 hours, Digg’s main news page has been riddled with submissions from competitor site Reddit – and it looks like Diggers offended by the site renovation are more than happy to help the enemy game the system, given the amount of complaints that have been flying about the redesign.

Digg’s mistake lies in not understanding what their community was passionate about.  Diggers liked a community that worked on certain rules and had certain values, and changing those rules and values to let others in diluted what they held dear.  Put another way, you can get more people at the Star Wars club meeting if you let the Star Trek people in; but the people who started coming to the meetings in the first place may not want more people if it means half the room will be wearing Spock ears.

Any membership organization runs a similar risk.  People join groups – whether it’s a social news site, a political party, a club, or a gang – because of some common ground.  When you peck away at that boundary, you risk alienating your members.

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