Meet Amy Vernon: the First Top 25 Female Digg User

baconqueenPick a social media site, any social media site.  Amy Vernon probably has a presence on it, and a prominent one.  She’s a top 25 all-time Digg submitter, a “Super-Mixxer” on Mixx, a power tweeter on Twitter and a highly influential Stumbler on Stumbleupon. She also maintains several blogs, including TVTyrant.com. Somehow, she still finds time to write for a slew of others, like Burbia.com, and HotHardware.com.  Not impressed yet? Consider that she’s also a full-time mom with two kids.

But there’s more to the Vernon story.  In 2008, she became the highest ranked female Digg user ever and today stands at number 19 according to SocialBlade.  Recently, I caught up with Amy so I could learn about her rise to social media “maven-hood.”  We also chatted about the one topic that no discussion with a top 25 digger would be complete without: the precise direction of social media (skip to the last question if you can’t wait).

Since Digg supposedly caters to a mostly male demographic, many are surprised to learn that a female has broken into the top 25.  Do you think the type of content that becomes popular on Digg these days is slowly changing to cut across more demographics than it has in the past, or do you think the kind of stories that become popular are pretty much the same as they were, say, three years ago?

I think the key word there is “supposedly.”  Things that are popular on Digg tend toward stuff guys (particularly geek guys) like, I guess – computers, gadgets, science fiction, Megan Fox, boobies – but for the most part, it’s about quality content.

I’m also a huge sci-fi and tech nerd, so I have a lot in common with a lot of the folks on Digg.

But, yes, there are more and more women on Digg all the time.  You now might find a story about parenting on the front page where you wouldn’t have even a year ago.  Even sites like Divine Caroline, Limelife, Women’s Day and Elle have had a reasonable amount of success on Digg over the years because the content submitted was interesting on a universal level.

When I look at your body of work and then realize that you’re also a full-time mom, the first thing I wonder is, how in the world do you have time to juggle everything.  About how many hours of work would you say you put in during the course of a day?

It’s hard to quantify. Most of the time I’m awake, I’m doing something that is related to or considered work. But I can take breaks whenever I need or want to.

Some people were happy to see Digg’s shout feature eradicated. Others felt helpless–like the rug had been pulled out from under them. What did you think about Digg’s decision to remove the shout feature? Did you endorse its sudden death?

There were definite problems with Digg’s shout system.  But I think it was a mistake for a social media site to eliminate the most social feature it had. There’s no way for users to communicate with each other directly on Digg itself. By the time it was gone, I probably used it more to just say hi to friends than anything else.

When people were going away for a few days, or behind, they’d just send a shout to their friends to update them. Now, you have to go elsewhere, to sites that have nothing to do with Digg — Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, IM — to communicate with other users. If someone’s a brand-new user to Digg, it’s hard for them to find a way to communicate with older users.

What do you think of the new Digg advertising system that allows Diggers to vote ads up that they like? Are you ok with it?

I’m fine with that, really.  Digg has to make money, right?  So they make it from ads. A lot of Diggers I know have AdBlockPlus anyhow, and so don’t see them – and Digg kindly made sure ABP would work on those ads.  I sometimes vote on the ads, even. I’ve both dugg and buried ads, in fact.

Do you think the Diggbar helps or hinders the user experience?

When it first came out, it was a fabulous addition. You could send out the digg link in a Tweet or post it to your Facebook page and it was accessible both to your friends and followers who were Diggers and to those who were not.

But when Digg changed it so that you only got the frame if you were signed in to Digg and to a Digg landing page if you were not, well, it became useless to many Diggers, including myself. Diggers are only a small percentage of people whom I interact with on Twitter and Facebook.  I refuse to send out links that force readers to click yet another time to get to the actual content.

When Digg banned the top five power user Zaibatsu, he took a big chunk of Digg’s audience with him to Twitter.  In measurable ways, this was a game-changer.  Do you think it’s wise of Digg to ban major players like Zaibatsu and Supernova17, or do you think Digg is better off in the long run taking a more hands-off approach?

I think Z’s move to Twitter was compounded by Digg’s decision to remove shouts and move communication to Twitter and Facebook. Those two things definitely had a measurable effect. I can’t say whether it’s “wise” for Digg to ban major powerusers or not, because I wasn’t privy to that decision-making and don’t know the full story.  What I’ve heard doesn’t make sense, certainly. I think the main problem is that some people are banned for the same things that other people have been given second chances for.

Before the “big ban” of late summer/early fall 2008 (there was one big banning in August and then several smaller follow-up group bannings in the months following), people were given second chances sometimes if they were found to have used scripts and promised they’d never, ever do it again. When the big Ban Hammer came down on a huge swath of Diggers, however, no such allowances were made. Was that fair? No. But life often isn’t.

I have seen Digg give other people second chances before. In fact, I was banned for about an hour one day because a post I submitted from a legitimate site linked to a site where an item could be purchased. It didn’t occur to me that there was a problem with submitting it (it was a purse where the handle was a knuckleduster). And I had no financial stake in the item, either. I just thought it was cool. Once Digg told me the problem and I promised to never submit that kind of post again, I was reinstated.

After that, if I had any question whatsoever, I either avoided submitting it, or e-mailed Digg support to ask if there was a problem with it, if I just reallllly wanted to submit it. A few times they suggested the post in question might not be proper material to submit; other times they told me they saw no problem with it.

Look – Digg can’t be too hands-off. They have a TOU and have to enforce it. It’s really just a matter of consistency and of being willing to work with those who violate the TOU to give second chances when appropriate.

You’re a founding partner of iMommyTalk.com, a vlogging site where you post videos. If this site had a mission statement, what would it be?

Well, our tagline on all our videos is “Where mommies talk and we listen.” The idea is to start conversations with our community, but in a more personal way than just a regular blog. They’re one-person vlogs where we discuss a topic and ask for our viewers to put in their two cents. We’d love for more users to post their own videos on the site, too, which they can do. We’re still sort of in a soft launch, though, as Donna Chaffins (the founder and CEO) and I have rather hectic lives.  As most moms do.

Some people build niche sites with an exit strategy planned right from the onset. They know what large sites or companies would be interested in buying them.  Others know exactly who they want to ask for venture capital when their site reaches a certain milestone. What would you like to do with iMommyTalk?  Any epic goals?

Sure, we’d love to make money from the site.  In fact, I think one of our videos made a whopping 15 cents! (Can you buy anything for 15 cents anymore?) But for now we’d really like to share our experiences – as two relatively “regular” moms, in two-parent families. Not rich, not poor. We’re not incredibly snarky or polished. We’re just like our audience. We just want to connect with them and hopefully help put things in perspective for people. Our vlogs have ranged from how to deal with mommy guilt to whether it’s appropriate to ever drink in front of your children.

Stumbleupon has made some drastic changes lately.  Are you a fan of the new Stumbleupon?

Well, to me the most significant change is in sharing, and I am a big fan of that.  When SU first made the change from its previous incarnation to what’s now being called “Old StumbleUpon,” I and many others cheered the newfound ability to share en masse – send a post with just a few clicks to all our followers. But that quickly became a nightmare. I know people who soon unfollowed everyone because they wanted to use SU as it was meant to be used – to stumble onto new, interesting sites. If you have 99 shares in your Stumble bar at all times, you’re never experiencing the true enjoyment of the site.  Then it just becomes a chore.

That said, SU did need to make it so you could share items with more than one person at a time. I just posted a blog item about Lost. If I had a dozen or so followers whom I knew liked Lost, I might want to send it to them to make sure they saw it. And chances are, they’d want to see it. But that’s not how it was being used. Now, you have to click on everyone’s name to send it, so hopefully that’ll make people less like to share everything with everyone.

Sometimes I just quickly cycle through my shares because it becomes overwhelming and I can’t look at it all. I stopped using the “share all” on a regular basis long ago, using it only perhaps once a week or if I was going to be out of pocket and wanted to let everyone know I wouldn’t be around to see their stuff.

Have you caught NComment’s comic strip portrayal of Digg?  What do you think of his analysis?

I can’t believe NComment finally finished Part II! I don’t mean it really as “finally,” because I can’t even fathom how much work all that detail took. I’ve looked it over two times, and will have to look another time for all the little bits, such as the “TechCrunch” candy bar by “Arrington’s,” written in the same script as Nestle’s (have to look REALLY close).

I haven’t met a single person yet, Digg, Reddit, Mixx, whatever, who didn’t think it was just spot on.  It highlights all the problems with all the sites – and of course they all have problems. All the little things that make Digg goofy – all the memes, the inscrutability of the algorithm – are also what make it so addictive and lovable.

I can’t wait for part three, but I hope it doesn’t take eight more months.

However, if it does, I’m sure it’ll be worth it.

Where do you see social media in exactly five years–just kidding.  I’m not going to ask you that; it’s a contrived question and unfair to throw a crystal ball at someone and ask them to read it.  Let me ask you this instead: if you were building a social media site, what would you make its defining characteristic?

The main thing any social media site needs to insure is quality control. You can’t let the spam take over.  I think Digg, StumbleUpon and Reddit have such strong communities that were developed before spam started taking hold that it’s not as much of a problem on those sites. The community takes care of knocking those submissions down.

I think if a site could combine editorial controls with social voting, it could really take off. Original content, vetted and then voted on, with the most popular posts rising to the top.  Hey, scratch that – I didn’t say anything. I think I need to go find a site developer.

You can follow Amy Vernon on Twitter at @AmyVernon and read her blog at amyvernon.net.

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