With news that Google is alleged once again to be close to acquiring Digg, some may suggest that the future of the popular social voting destination is assured. But looking at Google’s list of acquisitions, it is anything but. Here’s four ways Google could destroy Digg as we currently know it.
While Digg is a popular service is its current form, any site that doesn’t evolve over time to keep the interaction fresh risks losing favor, particularly in a competitive space. Feedburner was acquired by Google for $100 million in June 2007, and the notice of the acquisition is still sitting on the front page. In over 12 months nothing much at all has changed at Feedburner, with the exception of some users getting to display Adsense ads in their feed. No Google login integration, no fresh services, nothing much at all really. Feeburner has one advantage: a near monopoly in third party feed support, and many of us use it by default, and that’s the only reason it hasn’t blead users post Google. Feedburner also proves that the price of the acquisition doesn’t matter in Google pergatory, so despite a rumored $200 million price tag, Digg could easily suffer the same fate.
Jaiku was acquired by Google in October 2007 and since that time has remained unloved with no promotion or even reasonable support. When microblogging first came of age last year Jaiku was talked about as the No 2 in the space after Twitter, today, outside of a core few users, few use it, and even if you wanted to use it, they stopped accepting signups post Google acquisition. Not long ago it went down for a couple of days, and there were so few people left using it that hardly anyone noticed. It was rumored that Jaiku was acquired for the IP to be used in Google’s mobile endeavors, but we haven’t seen anything in that regard either. Microblogging would seem to be a natural service for Google to be in, and yet as more and more services enter the space, Google sits and does nothing with a platform that would have been booming if it hadn’t been acquired. The Digg lesson is that companies acquired by Google can be ignored and even forgotten. There is one thing for sure: Digg will never get the same amount of attention in Google as it gets now.
Ignoring existing customers
Google acquired Urchin in March 2005 and used the software as the basis for Google Analytics, the problem is that it then ignored Urchin’s existing user base for years. Urchin offered an installed, paid analytics package that was fairly popular when acquired, and a new version was actually in testing at the time of acquisition. Over 2 years later that software was released, and only then after some strong criticism. The Digg lesson is that Google loves IP, but doesn’t always appreciate existing user bases. Imagine if Google decides to use the Digg engine to power a Google service (and the rumors have Google News in the spotlight), but then completely ignores Digg.com.
One of Google’s earliest acquisitions was Pyra Labs, the company behind the Blogger hosted blogging service. Keeping spam off blogs has always been a battle, but in the early days it was an issue actively addressed by the Pyra Labs team. Post Google acquisition, Blogger quickly became the favorite service of spammers worldwide, in part driven by a belief that as a Google owned service, links on Blogger blogs are indexed more quickly and have more validity. Google has made the occasion noise about spam on Blogger, but the service is still one of the largest repositories of spam online, and the volume has never really decreased. The Digg lesson is that any acquisition by Google will bring attention to Digg, that may result in even more spam (the service is already a target, but they do a pretty good job in dealing with) and that Google may do nothing to address any future spam issues.
With a $200 million price tag you’d think that Google would look after Digg post acquisition, but as the four examples shown demonstrate, Google inaction in price agnostic. The most successful acquisitions Google have made nearly all included merging the acquired company into Google products, or using them to launch new Google products (and in both cases the original brand ceaseing to exist). The exceptions: Blogger, the favorite destination for spam worldwide, and YouTube, which Google is struggling to make money from. Grand Central is a maybe, but even that has had issues post Google acquisition.