While other people may be moaning, and even revolting, at the new look Digg there is another interesting issue to be examined - how could a top rank site make such a mess of an upgrade? When you examine the facts it all begins to look like an attempted suicide by programming.
Almost from day one the number of obvious bugs and strange behaviors has made it seem more like an alpha than a final release - and the bugs and strange behaviours don't seem to be decreasing in number at anything like a reasonable rate.
Digg was in alpha testing from July this year and was released on August 25th - which is a very short cycle time. The original Digg was a PHP MySQL site and it seems likely that the new DIgg is as well.
There is a lot that isn't working - logging on seems to be a hit and miss affair, the new and controversial RSS feeds don't work, there are lots of security messages popping up all over the place and the user interface often leaves you somewhere other than you intended. Even one of the most basic functions of the site - the Digg It button - seems to be causing error messages to pop-up.
What is worse is that the bugs and the user revolt against the new version are getting confused. On the 30th of August Digg stopped accepting manual submissions and the RSS feeds hadn't been updated for some time. Was the lockout intentional and due to the action of users posting and voting up items from Reddit or was it just that the bugs had got too much?
In a recent blog post Kevin Rose, Digg's founder, gave a list of things that were wrong or right with Digg at the moment. In the list were the following major bugs:
- All your favorites have been deleted
Our fault, we'll add these to your "saved stories" section.
- The comment box is three lines high, not resizable, and type out light blue text on white.
We just changed the text to dark grey, we'll look into the resizing.
- Timestamps have been removed.
This is a bug, hope to have this fixed soon.
- The report button is gone.
It's located on every permalink page (comments page) under the story description.
- Historical submissions, like the Obama victory thread, have had their digg counts reset and their comment sections mangled.
We will fix this.
- The color scheme has changed.
We refreshed the design. If something is unusable (hard to read etc.) please let us know.
- The thumb up and down icons have been replaced w/arrows.
Look at v3, now back again, the arrows are now diamonds!
- Browsing a users comment history is hard.
We'll add a comments filter in your profile.
- All usernames are now lower-case.
We'll fix this.
- The RSS feeds no longer work.
This is a bug, we'll fix this.
- All third-party tools are now broken.
This is a bug, hope to have this fixed soon.
This is an embarrassing list of bug and mis-designs to have to admit to. From a developer's point of view you have to question the overall code quality of the site and worry about how such bugs will be fixed. If it's in a hurry more bugs are likely to be introduced!
A Digg engineer also explained why they couldn't roll back the changes and continue to work with the old stable code. The new version isn't an upgrade but a complete re-write. In making the change three strategies were considered:
- Keep the data completely separate during the beta period.
- Have a one-way migration, where actions on v3 would show up on v4.
- Have a two-way migration, where actions on either site would show up on the other.
Option 1 was abandoned because it would make the beta site difficult to test and the data migration would have to occur at some point. Option 3 was deemed to complex so that left option 2 the one-way migration. Now that users have entered data into the new version there is no way to move back to the old version without rolling back all of the data entered since the launch.
There are lessons to be learned here - test and test and test again. Don't be in too much of a hurry to commit an alpha project to the real world and always make sure you have a get out clause and can roll back.
The Digg ad makes play of the fact that they have created a monster. something with a life of its own - perhaps they have but not in the way they intended.
As to the redesign - a quick vote of the Digg users in the office produced a surprising thumbs up with a lot of muttering about the bury brigade being dealt with at long last.
If they ever get the RSS feed working again look out for I Programmer's Digg news feed.
Further reading on social sites
What Facebook has in store - F8
Another Facebook movie - Catfish
Facebook the movie trailer
The Social Network - new film about Facebook
The Social Media Marketing Book
Facebook: The Missing Manual
Facebook Marketing, 2nd Ed (Que)
Building Social Web Applications
Friends with benefits
The New Community Rules
Reddit is rude