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Digg gets a fresh start with new site and app

Heather Kelly, CNN
Social-news site Digg's completely revamped homepage.
Social-news site Digg's completely revamped homepage.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Community-based news site Digg gets fresh start and new design
  • New owners Betaworks worked for six weeks to revamp entire site
  • This version is very basic, but new features will be rolled out over the next few months

(CNN) -- Six weeks after Digg was acquired by incubator Betaworks, a revamped Digg website and iPhone app have been released, one day ahead of schedule.

The core assets of the fading community driven news aggregation site were purchased by New York-based Betaworks for a rumored $500,000 in June. Why the breakneck turnaround? New Digg CEO John Borthwick told the BBC that the old Digg was too expensive to run. This new slimmed down version, with a new code base and fresh infrastructure, costs around "one-fifteenth to one-eighteenth of the cost" to maintain, said Borthwick.

The pared down site has three sections: Top Stories, Popular and Upcoming, all of which are on the main page. Stories show a big image, a headline, one-line summary, URL and selected tweets about the article. Readers have the option to "digg," or vote for, an article they like, save it to read later on the companion iPhone app or share it on Twitter or Facebook. To digg or save for later, you must log in with a Facebook account -- a limitation Digg says is only temporary.

While the core of the site -- being able to digg stories -- still exists, the old algorithm for determining what stories are most popular (and what users are most powerful) is gone for the moment. It has been replaced with a relatively simple tally system. Stories will display a score that is the sum of three numbers: the number of diggs, how many times the story is shared on Facebook and how many times it has been tweeted. A team of three moderators will manually manage where stories appear on the homepage for the time being, giving more weight to the number of diggs a story has.

At its peak, it was rumored that Google wanted to buy Digg for $200 million. An unpopular redesign and increased popularity of competitors such as Reddit contributed to the site's fall. The fact that Digg had little left to lose when it was bought by Betaworks might have been its saving grace. This level of radical do-over isn't usually possible with products that have been around a while.

The next challenge for the Betaworks team is to rebuild an active community, the gas that keeps a crowd-sourced site running. The absence of any ads is a sign that the focus will be on building a good product, but also notably missing are comments. Recreating a working commenting system requires more work than could fit into six weeks, so for now the only conversations are pulled from Twitter.

"We now have a solid foundation on which to build, and we expect to build fast," the site announced in a blog post. This redesign is just the start for Digg v1. Betaworks said it will be building and rolling out new features over the next few months, including comments, mobile features, targeted content based on users' social networks and a new API.

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