Former social media giant Digg sold for a pittance

Digg parceled up and sold off for a tenth of its peak value.

The social news site Digg was once a powerhouse of the internet, back in the days when Web 2.0 was a phrase still used unironically, but a combination of terrible spam filters and a disastrous upgrade which alienated its users by favouring corporate submissions meant that it lost much of its fanbase to upstarts like Reddit. Now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the site has been sold for just $500,000 to New York City based tech firm Betaworks.

It's not quite as bad as it sounds for Digg, though. Much of the company had already been comprehensively strip-mined in the preceding months, making the total buyout closer to $16m or so. In May, the Washington Post launched a talent acquisition, which ended up nabbing 15 of the site's engineers for a reported $12m. Sometime between then and now, LinkedIn, the Facebook where fun goes to die, acquired some of Digg's IP, including 15 patents like "click a button to vote up a story" (which I believe is US 2008/0178081 A1, "System and method for guiding non-technical people in using web services"), for which they paid "between $3.75m and $4m", according to TechCrunch.

It was only after those buyouts that Betaworks got involved, cleaning up everything left, including the domain, code, data, and, crucially, traffic. As Frederic Lardinois points out, that traffic alone makes in a year the $500,000 that Betaworks was reported to have paid by some. Why the discrepancy? Two reasons: firstly, Betaworks will need to pay licensing fees to LinkedIn for those patents in order to run the site. It's unknown what the terms are, but they won't be cheap. Secondly, the half million is just Betaworks' cash payment. They also gave an undisclosed amount in equity; the New York Times' Nick Bilton reports it as "single-digit millions".

Regardless of whether this feels like a $20m or a $0.5m acquisition, though, it still underlines the rapidity of Digg's fall from grace. At its peak, it was worth $160m, and its founder Kevin Rose had a personal vlauation of $60m. But when the community leaves, a social site is nothing. Will Digg be the next Flickr or Del.icio.us? Or is it already that?

Kevin Rose, Digg's founder, in better days - 2006, to be precise. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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