Digg.com CEO Makes Content Curation Exciting

Before the music portion of the South By Southwest festival this year, Austin's convention center was filled to the beams with digital creatives. Among them was Digg.com CEO Jay Adelson, who told host Liane Hansen about his company's history and future.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Before the music portion of South by Southwest this year, the Austin Convention Center was filled to the beams with digital creatives. The interactive festival attracted thousands of technology entrepreneurs. Start-up companies launched applications and veterans shook up their business models.

One of the established dot-com companies represented was the very popular news collection Web site Digg. It's founder, Kevin Rose, and the Digg team put on a raucous party at South by Southwest for the site's most loyal, hardcore users. Above the roar of the crowd, Digg CEO Jay Adelson previewed some dramatic changes to the Web site and talked about Digg's mission.

Mr. JAY ADELSON (CEO, Digg.com): Now, when Kevin and I sit around the offices and talk to each other about what Digg is all about, we - you know, work inside because we don't use this with the press or anything else, but we say to each other, Digg's vision is to ensure as we enable the social curation of the world's content and the conversation around it. I know that's really long and boring. Probably don't want to hear that. Let me say that again: the social curation of the world's content and the conversation around it.

HANSEN: The next morning, we met up with Jay Adelson at the historic Driscoll Hotel in downtown Austin. I wanted to know more about his background. He said that in college he had been a communications geek and was naturally attracted to the computer's potential. Adelson's goal was to connect the news media and their consumers.

Mr. ADELSON: The key being crowd sourcing. So, we're going to let the entire planet tell us what stories are most relevant to those users. And you'll see them all over the Internet, these little buttons next to articles. You know, you'll see them on Web sites like The New York Times or, you know, NPR or elsewhere. And if you click that button, you're basically sending a signal to Digg that you care about that topic. It doesn't necessarily mean you agree with the content. It's just a signal.

And we collect it all using crowd wisdom and we put some magic behind that and some algorithms and math and then we bubble up to the surface the stuff that's interesting.

HANSEN: Yeah. How has Digg changed from its official launch? What was it then? What is it now?

Mr. ADELSON: Digg originally had this, you know, one size fits all homepage of stories where if something was qualified it made it to the homepage. That was fine when you had 10,000 like-minded individuals. But when you have 40 million and the content skyrockets, what you really need to do is figure out a way to break that up so that if you have particular interests, you have your homepage and someone else with different interests has theirs. Now, every user will have their own personalized experience on Digg as they enter it.

And furthermore, every type of content, instead of having a fixed taxonomy of topics, any word can be its own category and its own Digg site and we'll go ahead and allow users to experience and share it.

HANSEN: What do you see as your future goal? What do you see as the next mountain to climb?

Mr. ADELSON: You know, I think that we have to give the media back to the people. And I think that there's a big problem here where, you know, whether it's governments owning the press or even just press being driven by sensationalism and finances that you really have sort of a world knowledge that is dictated by these other factors that don't always align with truth.

So, I believe that if we give the press back to the people worldwide, I think it can have a positive impact on things like democracy, giving a voice to everyone in the world. And maybe, just maybe, if we can expose truth, oppression can be lifted.

HANSEN: But not all user information is true or accurate or sourced or even edited.

Mr. ADELSON: You're absolutely right that left on its own, anyone's voice has no traditional and journalistic checks and balances. There's no question that there's going to be more voices and we know there isn't enough editors in the world to curate all of this content. So, Digg's philosophy is the only way we're going to do it is by crowd sourcing the actual curation and editorial. Saying, okay, look, two people aren't going to be able to tell you if it's true or not. Millions can.

So, if I say, look, here is this crazy guy's opinion on a blog, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's been tested by the public.

HANSEN: Do you think you're a rock star?

Mr. ADELSON: A rock star? No.

HANSEN: Well, I mean, I, you know, was hearing about the Diggnation party, man, and...

Mr. ADELSON: Oh, well, now, I should clarify something about the Diggnation party. So, there is a show that another company I started called Revision3 -Revision3 makes these television shows that are aired all over the Internet and they have millions of viewers. It's really an interesting and successful model. Sorry - that model produced this one show called "Diggnation." It happens to be about Digg, I mean, from the standpoint that two people, in this case Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht, will sit on a couch, drink beer and talk about their favorite stories on Digg.

(Soundbite of show, "Diggnation")

Unidentified Man: Here we go. (unintelligible). You'd just like Alex to be like, okay, I'm going to moderate this contest and (unintelligible)...

Mr. ADELSON: Maybe they're more of the rock star. I think of it that way.

HANSEN: There's a story that I read about your parents who owned a store.

Mr. ADELSON: That's right.

HANSEN: And to a certain extent your fiscal philosophy came from them. Can you tell us about that?

Mr. ADELSON: That's - yes, sure. My parents, Sheldon and Elaine, when I grew up, first they were schoolteachers initially, and then my father inherited a small electric supply business in Detroit, and at the time was a very small and struggling business. But his goals were to build sustainability. You know, this idea of the family business is something that can stay afloat, make the family, you know, secure, feed the kids so to speak, and really it should be about creating that kind of sustainable model.

Now, the problem with venture investing and the problem with a lot of the start-ups is that is not the intent when they're built. They're intent to flip, they're intent to create millions, they're intent to these giant exist. And what I found is that if you can focus on those elements of sustainability, I think that the irony is, I think you end up with the bigger exit anyway.

Now, what those governing principles are towards sustainability, I mean, I could spend all day talking about that.

HANSEN: But you managed to kind of miss the dot-com bust because of your fiscal model and your fiscal philosophy.

Mr. ADELSON: There is some truth to that. I could be wealthier but the truth is, my passions for what I do have driven my choices and vocation. My passions for having an impact on the world, for seeing whether or not my efforts can have a more long-term impact - the way I look at it is I have the rest of my life to kind of build something, you know, that makes me wealthy.

HANSEN: Jay Adelson, thank you so much for your time.

Mr. ADELSON: Hey, my pleasure to join you.

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