LONDON–Digg founder Kevin Rose had a message for the audience at the Future of Web Apps conference on Thursday: It’s time to grow up.
“We have to do better,” he said in his talk, called “The Future of News,” and said that it’s time for the social news site that he founded in 2004 to to expand beyond the geek set and get some real-world relevance. “Why click a button and make the number go up by one? Why does that matter?”
Digg, after all, gets more than 30 million monthly visitors, but Rose said that the site only has slightly over three million registered user accounts–those are the people actually “Digging.” That indirectly confirmed what Digg critics hve been saying all along: that it’s reflective of only a tiny and vocal subset of the Web, resulting in a heavy bias toward anything iPhone, anything Linux, anything Barack Obama, and plenty of wacky local news stories.
I’ve been fortunate to speak to many groups over the past year or so, and I frequently survey each crowd about technology and services that they’ve (1) heard of, and (2) use. Routinely, only one or two hands will go up for Twitter, RSS, LinkedIn, Digg, Flickr, Delicious, etc. to my first question. But almost no one ever admits to using these tech media darlings. Meanwhile, it’s not unusual in talks with local groups within our pilot area to have half of the hands reaching for the ceiling when I ask about Front Porch Forum.
Kevin Rose’s call above seems on target to me. When you offer a service globally, it’s not outrageous to find a million tech professionals and hobbyists to jump on board. But try raising an online crowd within a local community… especially one that stays plugged in over time… very difficult.
In our pilot area, more than 11,000 households subscribe to Front Porch Forum, including one-third of Burlington, VT. We have people in their 80s using FPF. I spoke with a homeless person the other day who’s on board. College students love FPF. And we have droves of non-techie grown-ups… folks who are too busy with their lives to look into why they should tweet or digg. Busy or not, they do know that Front Porch Forum is the place to turn to borrow a couple saw horses, find a babysitter, recommend a roofer, learn about a rash of break-ins, give away their couch, buy a bike, hear from their school board member about the budget, etc.
I’m looking forward to more online offerings aimed at the rest of us… not just the heavy tech consumers. Of course, it’s tough for the traditional and new media, as well as funders, not to be dazzled by shiny bells and whistles, especially when these sites attract a sizable group of early adopters from the global masses. This top-down approach has worked incredibly well for Google and a host of others. And it will continue to draw most of the media spotlight and funding.
I’m eager to see more efforts coming from the other direction — the grassroots on up and out — such as we’re doing with Front Porch Forum… the Craigslist and Angieslist approach. That is, get traction in one metro area, then spread to others.