Whatever happened to Digg?

When we spoke to Drew Curtis he suggested - accurately - that Kevin Rose was taking full responsibility for Digg's demise. "He shouldn't," Curtis says. "It wasn't his fault, the founders' fault or the team's fault. Digg's own VC investors killed Digg."

Where Fark has no investors - Curtis owns 100% of the company, so "there are no investors demanding a return on investment or an exit down the road", and Reddit is similarly focused on the site rather than money - "their entire goal is maintaining what Reddit has become, not trying to parlay it into some billion dollar exit" - Curtis believes that Digg is "a classic case of what happens when venture capital drives a company into the ground in pursuit of a high value exit. Digg was a viable company [and] it could have been profitable for years, but that's the problem: VCs don't like mid-level successes, they want home runs... Digg took a huge, game-changing shot to try and overtake Twitter and missed."

Fark, Facebook and lessons to be learned

Making money from communities is tricky, and if you try too hard you can end up alienating the very people that make your site or service successful. The trick, Curtis suggests, is to concentrate on doing what you're good at.

"When we add functionality to Fark, it's always based around observations of people using existing site functionality in ways we didn't anticipate. To put it another way, we don't try to build cities in the desert; we try to kick rolling balls downhill. See something with traction? Do more of that... it's why Fark looks five years old all the time. That's intentional, so that Fark doesn't go bankrupt taking unnecessary chances that don't pan out."

If any site should be learning lessons from Digg's demise, it's Facebook. "Given Facebook's penchant for ramming changes down people's throats I'd argue that they're one bad site redesign away from a mass exodus," Curtis says. "It damn near happened with the Timeline, and I don't think they noticed how close things came - and there's still an outside chance of a meltdown after the forced switchover next week.

"If another site with similar functionality - Google Plus comes to mind, and I also suggested to Reddit last year that they should consider taking a shot at this - can keep things simple and just wait, eventually Facebook's going to make a change so awful that people will start looking around for an alternative and Facebook will lose their entire userbase within a matter of weeks." If Digg teaches us anything, it's that online empires can fall as quickly as they rise.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.