Exploring Digg’s new iPhone app

Link-aggregation website Digg went back into startup mode earlier this year only to re-emerge recently with an all-new website and all-new philosophy on how its service was to be used. The move angered many long-time fans of the old service due to the fact that the revamp effectively destroyed many users’ carefully-curated libraries of links (though old data may be exported here) but Digg, under the new leadership (and ownership) of the News.me team, is keen to make a completely fresh start.

Alongside the revamped website comes a new mobile app for iOS, aiming to provide users with a snapshot of the day’s most popular, interesting and shared news in a format suitable to read on the go. The app is available now as a free download from the App Store, and requires either a Twitter or Facebook account to use effectively — though stories may still be browsed without signing in. It does not appear to be possible to sign in to both Facebook and Twitter at the same time, and the iOS app seemed to struggle to sign in to Facebook at all.

Digg’s revamp is based primarily around content that has been selected by a team of editors and moderators, carefully chosen according to a combination of factors including Facebook shares, tweets and, once the story is on Digg, its “Digg Score,” determined by how many users clicked the “thumbs up” Digg button. The main website allows users to submit their own links for consideration, but the mobile app carries no such feature, meaning the user is limited to browsing through the “Top” (featured) and “Popular” (most-shared stories from the last 18 hours) categories. The main Digg website also carries an “Upcoming” section for newly-submitted stories, but the iPhone app does not appear to include the facility to browse this list. Both the Top and Popular lists are also quite short, meaning it won’t take long for users to read through all the available content in a single sitting. This may be a positive or a negative factor depending on how much the user likes to read and stay “on top” of things.

Once a story is tapped on to read, it is loaded into an in-app browser, at which point the user is able to “Digg” it; share it to Twitter, Facebook, email or SMS/iMessage; or save it to a “reading list” for offline reading later. The latter feature is compatible with both Instapaper and Pocket, automatically sharing saved stories to these services if the user desires. All these features worked perfectly smoothly when tested. If the user signed up with Facebook, all stories which they pressed the Digg button on are automatically shared to their Timeline by default, though this behavior may be switched off.

But there’s something missing from the experience. It feels too contrived, too “fixed” and doesn’t allow the user to put their own particular mark on it. There’s seemingly no means for the user to choose what kind of stories they want to read, and the stories on offer at the moment all tend to be focused on science or tech — great for members of “geek” culture, for sure, but not so great for those users who would like a broader view of what is going on. This is something that may well change over time as more users come to the site and vote with their Digg buttons, but at present the content on offer will only be appealing to a very specific demographic, with seemingly no means of tailoring the experience to one’s personal preferences. Those who enjoy sharing and discussing stories socially will also be disappointed — there’s currently no commenting facility, though the team claims it will be conducting some “experiments in “the coming weeks and months” in order to determine the best way they would like to proceed with social features.

The new Digg is off to a reasonable start so far, then, but a limited selection of content, lack of customizability, absence of social features and focus on a very specific demographic limits its usefulness right now. If and when more users take to it — and there’s no guarantee this will happen after the ill-will brought about by the previous Digg’s closure — it may well become a truly solid news aggregation/digest app, but for now it’s seemingly only really of interest to those fascinated by science and tech.

The new Digg iOS app is not yet ranked on the App Store leaderboards. Check back soon to follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.