Digg, Stumble and the madness of crowds

My friend and occasional sparring partner Scott Karp over at Publishing 2.0 has a good post today about the transitory nature of the Digg “flash crowd” phenomenon — the point being, as he puts it, that “not all traffic is created equal.” Scott points to a study at SiteLogic that looked at traffic flows to several sites, including Kim Krause Berg’s Cre8pc, before and after they had been “dugg.”

The conclusion, not surprisingly, confirms what many people have been saying since Digg emerged as a major force in driving traffic to websites, which is that the vast majority of those who arrive from a Digg link spend nanoseconds on your site — in some cases, just long enough to post abusive and misspelled comments — and then vanish. Not only do they not click anything (although John Chow disagrees), but they (likely) never return.

Kim Berg writes about the experience on her blog, but says she isn’t particularly concerned about the effect on her own site. She’s more concerned about all the abusive comments that were left on her post and also on the site she pointed to. As she puts it: “I am no fan of Digg. Never have been. This experience and the comments left here just add to my contempt for a place where people act like wild animals instead of human beings.”

flash-crowd.jpg

There is no doubt that Digg and Reddit and similar sites drive massive amounts of traffic, as Search Engine Journal points out — and SEOmoz also notes the benefits of what it calls a “linkbait” strategy. But is that traffic actually worth something over the long term? It might be nice to brag about, but it’s not always something to build a business around. Ravi says Digg traffic is worth “diddly-squat.”

Tony “Call me Dr. Tony” Hung has also written about this, and others are commenting on Kim’s experience, including 10e20, Chip Griffin at Pardon the Disruption and Small Business SEM. And Webomatica has written about his experience with Digg and Megite and other sites.

On a related note, I’ve been noticing more and more articles about how much traffic StumbleUpon drives to a site, something I’ve noticed a few times with this blog. It doesn’t get written about as much, but it is clearly a major force, as this piece at SEOmoz illustrates. And there is also some evidence that a Stumble link has more longevity than the typical link from a social bookmarking site. StumbleUpon — which apparently has more users than delicious — used to be based in Calgary, but moved to the Valley after getting venture financing last year.

Note: The term “flash crowds” was coined by sci-fi author Larry Niven in a fantastic short story about the invention of a phonebooth-like transporter machine, which caused instantaneous crowds to appear any time there was a crime or natural disaster.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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