The Digg effect is overrated

So, yesterday, a four and a half month old entry about Microsoft’s “real-time censorship”:http://virtuelvis.com/archives/2006/02/microsoft-censoring-msn-messenger got “dugg”:http://digg.com/software/Microsoft_censors_MSN_Messenger. Here are some numbers and thoughts:
* How many visits do you really get from being dugg?
* Is the “digg effect” real?
* Which browsers do diggers use?
* Does Alexa rankings have any root in reality?


So, what is getting dugg like, after the launch of “Digg v3”:http://www.digg.com/tech_news/New_Digg_v3_Launched (Warning, the raw page is 848KB, has loads of scripts, hundreds of images and might possibly make your browser become slow or unresponsive), and after the great “Alexa spike”:http://www.sitepoint.com/blogs/2006/04/27/the-great-alexa-spike-of-2006/ (which coincides nicely with when Digg allegedly overtook “Slashdot”:http://slashdot.org/, as illustrated below)?
!http://virtuelvis.com/download/2006/07/alexa-graph.png (Digg overtook Slashdot on Alexa in April 2006, and the traffic rank of both nearly doubled)!
Well. My first conclusion is that the *digg effect is highly overrated.* Others “seemingly agree”:http://hrmpf.com/wordpress/44/the-digg-effect/. At the time of writing, about 18 hours since the entry first got submitted to digg, the numbers look roughly like this:
==

Page Referals
Front page 4858
Digg entry 909
Other 1052
Total 6819

==
Any server and/or software not able to handle 7000 visits (with about 15000 pageviews) in 18 hours from digg, is in my view broken (I’m looking at you, WordPress), and needs either fixing or replacing (which in WP’s case means installing something like WP-Cache).
h3. Diggers and browsers
So, which browsers do diggers use? The table below shows the percentage for each browser that had a referrer from digg.com to the story in question:
==

Browser Percent
Firefox 71.9
MSIE 13.5
Safari 5.9
Opera 5.0
Other 3.7

==
How well these correspond to actual digg browser share, I can’t say, but I was surprised to see *that* low a share of MSIE users, and Firefox being that dominant. This site already is very skewed toward other browsers than MSIE: The usage statistics for this site for June 2006 gives Firefox 35.9%, MSIE 26.6% and Opera at 21.6%.
Another interesting thing to note that 75% of the Opera-users in these numbers are already on Opera 9. With only about two weeks since the Opera 9 release, this satisfies me.
h3. The Firefox anomaly
I really can’t tell exactly what to make of this. Entries in this weblog contain links to the previous and next entry. At the time of writing, the entry itself has a bit over 8000 reads. The _next_ entry in the weblog (marked with a rel="next" attribute-value pair), a relatively uninteresting entry about me shutting down the trackback feature has been accessed a bit over 5600 times. About 95% of these accesses are from Firefox. The previous entry to the dugg story, about Opera Weekly builds (marked using rel="previous") has a slightly better placement on the page — it’s the link directly above the “next” entry. The Weekly builds entry has *37 reads!* Conclusions?
# Diggers are hit’n’run. They read that one story, and then leave.
# Firefox preloads rel="next" links (at least in diggers’ configurations).
h3. Conclusions?
The “Digg Effect”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digg_effect is overrated: While getting dugg is a significant traffic increase, it’s not that impressive. Back during the “WordPress spam affair”:http://waxy.org/archive/2005/03/30/wordpres.shtml, I “posted this”:http://virtuelvis.com/archives/2005/03/wordpress-and-cloaking – which was linked way down in the Waxy.org entry, and saw traffic on a similar scale, although that traffic was spread out over a much longer period of time, and with what appears to be a bigger spread of associated referals.
The Digg crowd leans heavily towards alternative browsers, in particular Firefox, but other browsers also seem to be more popular than the general “accepted” market share.
I simply don’t believe the “Alexa ranking”:http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details?q=&url=digg.com for Digg. I don’t believe Digg is anywhere near the top 100 sites on the net. In that case, I should’ve seen *a lot* more traffic than I did. Digg is claiming about “800,000 unique visitors”:http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/06/22/digg-30-to-launch-monday-exclusive-screenshots-and-stats/, according to TechCrunch. The “current”:http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details?q=&url=digg.com 3-month average “reach”:http://pages.alexa.com/prod_serv/traffic_learn_more.html#reach of 6400 on Alexa would imply that among the billion or so internet users, over regularily used Digg. Not on a cold day in hell. Note that this is Alexa’s fault. Not Digg’s.

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14 Comments

  1. Droxa

     /  2006-07-03

    *In that case, I should’ve seen a lot more traffic than I did.*
    One thing to consider is that Digg churns through a much greater amount of stories than Slashdot or a typical blog, and the entries are of lesser quality and depth.

  2. Digg is lame.

  3. I think very very soon you will have another chance to post us a new Digg-effect report 🙂

  4. Firefox prefetches certain links. See the below url for more information:
    http://www.mozilla.org/projects/netlib/Link_Prefetching_FAQ.html

  5. Stahn

     /  2006-07-04

    Digg and other social networks are “highly volatile”, so I agree with you, Arve.

  6. I found this article interesting, because it didn’t tally with my experience when one of my articles on Tetsou got dugg recently. While receiving less diggs than your article above, my logs recorded some 22,500 unique visits over a very short period of time which adversly affected my server performance. This was mainly the result of not optimising the CMS software (I hadn’t enabled caching) – but in any event, it was the shear number of users trying to access the article all at once that had the impact.
    Thanks for an interesting article
    Tetsou

  7. Tetsou: I think the difference in the sheer number of visitors is a weekend-vs-weekday thing.
    Having said that, I would still say that well-configured servers should survive your 22,500 visits in an hour.

  8. nonEmus

     /  2006-07-04

    Maybe your article just didn’t generate as much interest as other articles. And maybe once here the diggers didn’t find any other information useful or interest in them…. or maybe the digg effect is all hype.

  9. nonEmus: If digg is anything like the rest of the web, they have a significant decrease in readership on weekends, which explains the discreperancy between mine and Tetsuo’s numbers.
    And, I still think the digg effect is hype caused by bad/malconfigured software. (Note that there is one exception here, and that is large media files, which max out any available bandwith quickly enough.

  10. Matt Boyce

     /  2006-07-05

    I think your cynicism about the “digg effect” is pretty well off the mark. I suspect the reason for your less-than-remarkable traffic jump is that the blurb on digg contains all the pertinent information; one needn’t visit your blog at all to take it in:
    “Microsoft filters out any MSN messages containing “download.php” or “gallery.php”. The messages are silently discarded without any indication being given that they have been blocked. To see a list of legitimate URLs that are now unable to be sent through MSN, put allintitle:download.php into Google. Many are Free Software downloads”
    With the exception of those who thought to ask whether the problem was client or server based, there’s simply no need to visit your site. I suspect most people read the blurb, shook their fists at Microsoft, dugg it, and moved on.

  11. Adam

     /  2006-07-05

    I agree, this was interesting reading the browser usage, but to question the Digg effect, and its ranking in Alexa based off the number of hits your own site got is a little bit jumping to conclusions prematurely. If the title of the article was “Life found on another planet!” and linked here, I’m sure nearly everyone would have clicked the link. (Baring it still got dugg) Otherwise, just like the poster above has mentioned, the title and summary for your blog had all the info most diggers cared about. As well, not everyone who uses Digg also uses MSN Messenger to even care enough to click the link.
    Infact, considering how most of Digg users are anti-microsoft, they would probably be using many of the other IM clients. As well, you may say that this effects other clients as well such as Trillian, but then again they would not have known that as it was never mentioned in the Digg summary, thus leaving even less motivation to visit your site.
    “The Digg Effect is overrated: While getting dugg is a significant traffic increase, it’s not that impressive.”
    Theres a difference between getting dugg for something universally appealing or shocking, and getting dugg for something a much smaller percentage of Digg users care about.

  12. abe

     /  2006-07-09

    Digg is often faster to the punch than slashdot. I used to be a heavy slashdot reader, but over the months I’ve been using digg more. The comments are often better on /. but you only really need that on specific issues. The idea of getting the users to rank a topic is very good, lets you know what’s hot and what’s not. That said I’m not a front page only whore, the stuff on pages 2-10 is often equally as good.

  13. Your numbers seems a bit low. In general people say about 20000-25000 visitors the first day. When I was on Digg, I had just over 25000 visitors the first evening and night. It was about a tool and it was a 1.5Mb download. So I never managed to test how many users my server could really take. Since it only came to 1391 users at the same time, where too many of them tried to download the app (15Gb was downloaded from my server the first 24 hours, my web page is 110kb). So it was created a mirror and the link posted in the comment section at Digg. I also find it weird that the users didn’t click on any of your other links on your site. In average my digg users looked at a bit more then 7 pages each. Well this I think have to do more about what your page is about in general and of course design, and how many links you have to your own blog in your blog post.
    A way to check if your page suits the users is to check how many of them bookmarked you. My control panel say that 4440 bookmarked the site or article (can’t check just the page), and with that we can’t forget for example del.icio.us and other social bookmark sites where I also was added by many. The thing with internet users these days are that they are always in a hurry. They use very few seconds to decide if they should use more time on a page or not. When they starte browsing a site they come with expectations. And maybe that was what happend this time. They came to read about MS and MSN, and found that one article. The 90% rest was Opera based articles that they where not looking for at that moment, and decided to leave. At least that is how it works for me. I drop by here every now and then to read about Opera, so when I saw the MSN article I never bothered to read that one.
    This is at least my 2 cents (or maybe $5, became a bit longer then expected, sorry)
    Just as a final thing. Here is the stats from my diggers. Looks good for both Fx and Operas progress, since my stats are from April. But those two comparisons doesn’t say much in the big picture though.

  14. Isn’t IMG tags allowed, or did I screw up??
    Here is a link to the picture:
    http://www.noteme.com/images/ss/digg-stats.jpg