Famous link-aggregration and voting site digg.com recently launched a new feature, called the diggbar. It’s a type of frame that appears above the browser window when you follow a digg.com link, and serves to keep the web user “inside the digg universe” instead of immediately leaving it.
It also functions as a URL shortener. In fact, if you enter any website URL after digg.com (for example: http://digg.com/www.loveclients.com) you’ll get that page, with the DiggBar displayed on top.
How does Digg describe the new feature? According to their site’s blurb, it allows you to do the following:
The DiggBar enables you to Digg, read comments, find related content, and share stuff from any page on the Web. And it’s presented in a short URL format, making it easy to share in emails, on Twitter, and via other services. In addition to finding it on all outbound links from Digg, you can generate the DiggBar using any of the following solutions.
What this really means is the bar above your page works like those popular browser toolbars that google, yahoo, stumbleupon and countless others want you to install. Functioning as a filter, helper, and advertising assistant all at once, they deal with your browsing and, depending on whose bar you’ve installed, respond to it in various ways.
The google toolbar might find relevant sites depending on what sites you’re visiting, allow you to search google quickly (largely redundant with most browsers’ built-in search boxes now), while the yahoo toolbar contains a mail widget and various other yahoo-related connections.
Where Digg’s new offering difffers is that, like stumbleupon.com, there’s no software to install. This means that the diggbar is essentially just a frame running at the top of your webbrowser, continuously connected to digg and pulling information from the browsing you’re doing below.
From some perspectives, this might sound OK, except that the Diggbar is generating a fair share of controversy. As URL shorteners are already becoming slightly problematic (their prevalence on Twitter means that if any of the sites, such as bit.ly, ping.ws, or tinyURL ever disappear, all tweets using those services will suddenly be full of broken links).
And now digg has jumped on the bandwagon, offering its own bar as a way to shorten URLs for use on twitter.
The controversy comes because, unlike the traditional shorteners, the diggbar takes you to a version of the website presented through digg’s bar feature, which means you aren’t seeing the website in its original form, but intsead in a framed edition.
The web-development site daringfireball talks about how framing a website harkens back to the mid-1990s, when netscape introduced its ‘frameset’ tag and temporarily made the web a very difficult place to navigate. Frame-based sites were everywhere, and made browsing terribly annoying for nearly everybody:
It did not take long for a broad consensus to develop that framing someone else’s site was wrong. URLs are the building block of the Web. They tell the user where they are. They give you something to bookmark to go back or to share with others. The DiggBar breaks that, and I’ve seen no argument that makes it any more sense to support this than it does to support 1996-style site embedding.
According to this argument, the diggbar is the exact same concept, only dressed up to look like something else. Instead of being a special ‘helper’ at the top of the site, it’s just an old-fashioned frame that keeps you on a site and confuses your sense of where you actually reside on the web.
One of the biggest sites on the internet, Engadget, has blocked the diggbar entirely. In a statement, they explained why they have a fundamental problem with the way digg is implementing this new feature:
Ultimately, this is both a technical and philosophical decision. We believe that the work of content creators should be protected and treated as the unique product that it is, and that an end-user’s experience shouldn’t be tainted with a “catch-all” tool which diminishes context.
It’s all about context in the end, and the DiggBar simply removes too much of it. It’s great for Digg and its advertisers, but as an new method of keeping users “within the Digg ecosystem,” it’s not so great for the web at large. Engadget continues:
In Digg’s efforts to keep you swimming in their stream, they completely obscure the original URL you’re supposed to be looking at. And no, not just the URL you follow from a particular Digg on their site — all the URLs you visit (via clicks) until you kill the bar. Additionally, if you’re browsing around a site under the bar itself and you kill it, it transports you back to the original URL you landed on, thus completely breaking continuity and making it almost impossible to know where you’ve actually browsed to.
Other not-so-happy reactions came from 3dogmedia, WebMonkey, and SearchEngineLand, none of which were very complimentary. Digg’s Kevin Rose has explained that they are looking into changing the way the diggbar functions to make it less intrusive and cumbersome, and to address some of these fundamental complaints.
Whether they can do that without changing the business plan that is surely behind the new bar’s introduction is going to be an interesting question in the future.
Digg is one of the web’s biggest sites, and their further attempts to monetize and become a profit-generating business mean that some of the best aspects of the social web will inevitably suffer, or at least undergo some serious changes. It’s something we’re all going to watch very closely.(photo by flickr user dobrych, used under a creative commons license)