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?