DiggBar Launched; URL Shorteners, Webmasters Cry Foul

I was reading an interesting story the other day that I meant to blog about, but you can add that to the list of things destroyed by the launch of Digg's aptly named "DiggBar." The piece in question was a TechCrunch article that examined the estimated worth of the URL shortening services. You know what I'm talking about--those crudely named sites like bit.ly, is.gd, and ff.im that redirect URLs you submit using a shortened URL made up of random numbers and letters.

I was going to call attention to the fact that, contrary to TechCrunch's findings, I don't think sites like tinyurl are worth anywhere near their presumed $46 million valuation. How does a site that just crunches down URLs make any kind of money whatsoever? Do they really think that users are going to be so caught up by a few advertisements that they're going to abandon their URL-shortening dreams to click on a "punch the monkey!" link?

Well, the launch of the DiggBar just wrote that article for me. The current estimated worth of URL shortening sites is now $0--or at least, a figure far closer to that end of the spectrum than the gold mine. That's because Digg, ingeniously so, has just created a self-perpetuating network based on popularity. It goes like this:

1) Person submits story to Digg.

2) Viewer clicks on story, thinks it's cool, sends it to his or her friends

3) Instead of sending real site URL, viewer now sends Digg-shortened URL across Facebook, Twitter, or whatever. This invalidates the need for custom URL shortening services save for the super-anal who need to shorten an already shortened link to shorter amounts. Short-shorty-short.

4) Upon clicking the link, viewer's friends are taken to Digg. The requested content is framed underneath the DiggBar, but the URL is based on an underlying Digg.com address.   The requested site gains traffic... Digg does too, and increases its metrics for how long users stay on the site.

5) Digg grows in power and popularity, VCs tremble and open pocketbooks. And don't forget the advertising--clicking on the DiggBar's "source" or "related" button pops up the content alongside a huge, square advertisement. Digg wins even more.

The DiggBar Dilemma

So why, then, are Webmasters upset? After all, point #4 spells it out pretty succinctly: The Dugg sites still gain the traffic from a normal Digg front-page hit. In fact, they gain double the traffic: one hit for the intial site loading up in the DiggBar frame, and another whenever a user clicks the big "X" in the corner of the DiggBar to remove it.

The difference now is that Digg homepage links now go to Digg-based pages. By pulling up the actual stories in a frame, and wrapping this entire package in a Digg-based URL, Web sites lose the ability to make dramatic leaps on the search engine ranking scale. The URL that's being passed around the Internet is Digg's, not the targeted site's. The URL that gets bookmarked in a user's browser? Digg's again. And the site in question doesn't even receive the benefits of the Digg for search optimization: That's because Digg is using an iFrame to pull up the content, not linking to it directly.

So there we have it. Great move for Digg, lousy move for content providers. While they still gain the traffic benefits of a front-page Digg hit, they lose out on search ranking, screen real estate, and possibly even advertising dollars (if Digg kicks up this facet of the DiggBar even more). But at least they can remove parts of the DiggBar effect by using JavaScript to break out of the iFrame. The URL shortening services really have no recourse against the mighty DiggBar: game over.

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