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Revitalizing the Classics: About.com and Digg Say They Have a Plan




1415159_47821948Is anyone surprised that About.com is still standing? Before Wikipedia, it was the best place to find a lot of specific information about a wide range of topics with everything from Action Figures to Zoology.

What sets the company apart from standard blog sites is their extremely specific template style which leans heavily on evergreen resource pages. They’re also known for the amount of text they publish on a page and they are the reigning champs when it comes to internal linking.

They’re also king of the adsense placements. They weave so many plain text ads into their template it’s often hard to tell what’s content and what’s not. And I guess that’s the point.

But as informative as it may be, a visit to an About.com page is like a trip back in time. Their new CEO knows that and he says it’s going to change. Earlier this week, About announced that Neil Vogel, founder of The Webby Awards was taking control of the boat.

If you’ll recall, About.com changed hands last year after a slap-down by Google caused its profits to drop by 67%. In a call with the press, Vogel said the Google hit wasn’t a big problem, that the strength of About’s content would carry them through. He did agree that the site needed a facelift. Something with flash like Buzzfeed.

Sounds like a plan, except I wonder if people equate flash with fluff. Is it possible to be trendy and still be an authority in your space? Again, look at Wikipedia. Nothing flashy there but it’s the source most people turn to for information (correct or not.)

I’d like to see About.com succeed because the freelancers who act as guides have spent an enormous amount of time and energy crafting their sections. I’d hate to see all of that go to waste. Oh, and Mr. Vogel, how about giving those hardworking writers a raise while you’re at it?

Digg

Digg is another classic that has fallen on hard times of late. They’ve reinvented themselves several times in hopes of getting back on top and they’re ready to do it again. This time, they’re pinning their hopes on a feed reader that will take the place of the recently axed Google Reader.

It’s not as far a field as it sounds. Digg’s entire structure is based on collating links from around the web. So instead of pulling and displaying links from a variety of sources on a page, they’ll simple display same source links on a single page – voila, a feed reader. According to their blog, a reader has been simmering away on the backburner but now, it’s moved up to the hot spot thanks to Google.

Google did a lot of things right with its Reader, but based on what we’re hearing from users, there is room for meaningful improvement. We want to build a product that’s clean and flexible, that bends easily and intuitively to the needs of different users. We want to experiment with and add value to the sources of information that are increasingly important, but difficult to surface and organize in most reader applications — like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, LinkedIn, or Hacker News. We likely won’t get everything we want into v1, but we believe it’s worth exploring.

Sounds like a plan and maybe it will be the one thing that saves Digg from disappearing completely.

Digg is also working on better ways to monetize the site and I give them a big thumbs up on this. They found a way to seamlessly include app ads right into the design. They call it their “Apps We Like” box. Sometimes it’s filled with an editor’s choice, but app developers can pay to have their app featured here as well.

apps we like

Promoted apps are labeled as such and Digg says they reserve the right to decline an ad if the app doesn’t provide value to their readers.

I think both About.com and Digg are moving in the right direction. But is it too late to rise up again? Not if they’re willing and able to change.