Could Twitter Ever Replace Digg?

By Josh Catone
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Hitwise Research Directory Heather Dougherty reported yesterday that for the first time ever, Twitter had passed Digg in terms of overall share of US traffic. This report is rather suspect and was rightly questioned by a few top bloggers.

According to other measurements — such as Compete and Quantcast — Twitter is no where near Digg in terms of traffic. Yes, Twitter has been getting a lot of mainstream attention lately by being featured on an afternoon CNN television show in the US and by becoming the place where pictures of last week’s New York City airplane crash first landed (bad pun acceptable because no one was seriously hurt!). However, Hitwise’s numbers covered the week between MacWorld/CES and Tuesday’s inauguration of the new US president Barack Obama, which caused activity on Twitter to spike 500%, but not the inauguration itself, and did not include traffic that comes over Twitter’s API — which sees more action than

That a week without a major (planned) event could cause traffic at to outstrip traffic to Digg seems unbelievable, and could be, as my former colleague Marshall Kirkpatrick said at ReadWriteWeb, “a Hitwise problem [rather] than a changing of the online landscape.” However, it does bring up an interesting question to muse over: could Twitter ever replace Digg in terms of link discovery?

We here at SitePoint take Twitter pretty seriously. Our Twitter account has over 20,000 followers (and we’d love you to be one of them!), and because we Tweet about every new article, Twitter has become a pretty big source of traffic for us. In fact, you may very well have landed on this article via a link seen on Twitter. It is definitely a more steady source of traffic than Digg, but even with our much larger than average number of followers, Twitter has never come close to Digg in terms of sending traffic to a single article — which is perhaps another knock against the Hitwise report.

However, even while Twitter might be great for link promotion, providing you have a sizable following, does it really do well at link discovery?

Previous attempts at discerning popular links on Twitter have mostly fallen flat. Sites like Tweetmeme, for example, tend to be rather all over the place and have never done a great job of pointing me in the direction of links I often find interesting.

But I think Twitter actually could be a useful method of link discovery. The key is in recognizing that the power of Twitter isn’t that it can point out what the crowd likes (as Tweetmeme and its ilk try to do), but that it can point out what your friends like.

If there were a Twitter tool that could look at my friend graph, and then pull out all the links my friends have tweeted and arrange them by popularity (how many times have they been tweeted, weighted toward my friends) and retweets (how many of my friend’s friends thought it was a worthwhile link), it would expose a sort of Digg-like picture of people I already presumably find interesting. The tools to do all this already exist, but nothing that I know of ties it all together by linking it to your friend graph.

Such a service could probably also suggest new people to follow based on the type of links your friends tweet and retweet and the ones that you respond to (maybe it could have a “retweet” button that automatically retweets your favorite links).

In answer to my original question: could Twitter replace Digg? In a broad sense, no, probably not. But could it potentially expose more useful and interesting links on a user by user basis? Yes, that’s definitely a possibility. Hopefully someone will build something like what I’ve described above so we can find out.

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  • Justin Avery

    As you covered in the blog post, I found this latest post through following @sitepointdotcom on Twitter.

    It’s great to hear how it’s increase your traffic for each post, but what I’d really like to know is how much traffic increase has twitter provided sites like tiny url?

  • Fred

    Twitter is growing so fast that’s it’s amazing how much growth it has got just the last 6 months. I am sure it’s on the way to replacing Digg, unless Digg does something to improve it’s popularity.

    Article Spinning

  • Vince

    Can someone tell me what the big fuss about twitter is besides being over hyped? I just checked sitepoint’s twitter page..its called an RSS feed :-)

    Nothing beats visiting a site in full, then again, thats just me.

  • Chris W

    Didn’t know where to post this, but I wanted to say that Josh Catone is among the best tech bloggers out there. I stumbled upon some of his old articles on ReadWriteWeb and was struck by how insightful and level-headed his posts were. Found him here on SitePoint and have been reading for a few weeks now.
    For example, I was impressed by how even-handed his analysis of Ruby’s popularity was. Most people who are heavily invested in a particular technology (as Josh is in Ruby) will be loath to say anything about its future that could be negative, but the article was level-headed and showed both sides. I also like how Catone bucks the trend and ends up being right, as he was with Palm’s prospects prior to announcing the Pre.

    The tech blogosphere is so full of ideology, naked fanboyism, and unsubstantiated nonsense that it is great to see someone who gives realistic analysis and projections based on evidence and clear thinking. Keep it up!

  • Good post, Josh (I also ended up here via Twitter).

    While I do find some good links on Twitter, I agree with you that a good, easy way to discover personally relevant webpages is an under-served need.

    My start-up YourVersion is building a next-generation discovery engine to meet that need by making it easy for users to discover and share relevant content based on their interests.

    Dan Olsen
    CEO & Founder, YourVersion

  • Marc – Welsh Scribe

    +1 me to the list of people finding your posts via Twitter.

    Twitter also got a boost in the UK this week when one of our TV celebs, Phillip Schofield, publicly confirmed it was him behind the Twitter profile (@schofe) on his daily daytime show This Morning :)

  • They’re two different things. If possible and appropriate, marketers should use both to drive traffic. It is not an either or question. I come to this post via RSS feed, but no one compares RSS feed vs Twitter or Digg… :)

  • Jack Jackson

    I ended up here via Twitter also, but I subscribe to sitepoint on Twitter.

    Twitter – Digg; Apples and Oranges.

    Twitter is subscription based. A person would have to subscribe to the millions of sources to get the same information that digg’s users provide. Twitter is not used and SHOULD NOT be used for a news source. It is micro blogging.

    Just because a sites performance increases, doesn’t mean it should replace something else. Because my car goes faster than your truck, Everyone should drive a car?