Back in the days where MySpace was the king of social networks, Digg was the news aggregator sites. But competition from sites such as Reddit began to draw users away from Digg and their disastrous re-launch in 2008, known as Digg v4, would be their undoing.
But since then, Digg has undergone somewhat of a renaissance under the watchful eye of Betaworks and has completely changed and, whilst its core values remain unchanged, this is not the same service we’ve used before. Add to that their brand-new RSS service that was released shortly after Google discontinued their Reader platform and you have the makings of a truly remarkable content aggregator.
As Digg now offers two services, content curation and RSS, we put Digg for iPad through its paces to see if it can truly be a one-stop source for all your news and content consumption.
As soon as you launch Digg, you’re presented with a great-looking app that’s really refreshing in terms of its user interface. There are no distracting colour schemes or gradients, no unnecessary animations and parts of the interface are kept out of view, only to appear when needed. Indeed, this is one of the few apps that will look great in iOS 7 without any changes whatsoever. Subtle shadows appear under the toolbars and sidebar that gives it a modicum of depth.
There are very few display options when it comes to viewing stories and articles that you can change, limited to inverting the colour scheme to a light-on-dark appearance or changing the font size.
Despite these options, it’s disappointing that you can’t toggle the text size within an article, only from the Settings pane. If you’re currently reading an article and want to make the text bigger or smaller, you have to tap to go back and then tap or swipe to reveal the sidebar. Only from there can you enter Settings and then adjust the display options accordingly.
For an app that is so focused to reading, I feel this is a rather glaring ommission and one I hope can be rectified in future releases. Now that Instapaper is under the Betaworks umbrella then I’d hope some of its great usability features make their way into the Digg app.
The main Digg screen displays all the popular posts currently on the Digg front page. Digg bases a story’s popularity on the number of times it is posted to Facebook and Twitter. In addition to this, users can still “digg” stories if they find them interesting. Unlike Digg of old, there aren’t any comments and no down-voting.
Each post has a thumbnail based upon one of the images of the article it links to. There is likely a degree of human intervention as many popular articles that are posted don’t tend to carry a single image, yet here they’re presented with a suitable one provided. If you’re thinking that Digg is a lot like the popular content curation service Zite, you’d be right. Unlike Zite, Digg only grabs popular stories and there is no personalised content curation service, which is where Zite excels.
Tapping on a story within the app will take you directly to the relevant site along with displaying some unobtrusive toolbars. Along the bottom you can view the next and previous popular story whilst at the top you can switch between a text-only view, “digg” the story if you like it, bookmark it to read later or open a Share Sheet to send it to other apps such as Safari, Mail and Twitter.
Digg isn’t a continuous news source and you’ll probably get through all of the day’s popular stories within an hour. The app lacks the ability to view Digg’s upcoming queue, stories that are not quite popular enough for the front page, but you can at least search for content. During my testing, every story in the search results had a post date of “just now” despite some of it being weeks — if not months — old. The dates were correct on the Digg site so I can only assume this is a bug or glitch with the app itself.
Digg was one of the first companies to announce that it was building a complete replacement to Google Reader and hoped to launch at least a beta service before July 1st, 2013. Well, Digg made good on their promise and its RSS service launched and has been in operation for several weeks. Since it isn’t quite finished (since 3rd-party developers can’t yet build their own apps) Digg updated their iOS apps to support the new RSS service.
Viewing RSS content in Digg is a genuinely pleasurable experience that’s reminiscent of the list-view in Instapaper. Should an article feature any images, Digg will include a thumbnail view to accompany the preview. A hidden toggle at the top of the page, viewable when pulling to refresh, lets you switch between viewing all articles or just the ones that are unread.
All of your feeds and folders that you’ve set up are accessible using the Digg sidebar, including a shortcut to articles that you liked by digging or have bookmarked for later. Think of them as mirroring the “starred” feature from Google Reader.
Adding feeds is as simple as tapping the + Add button and either searching for the site, entering the feed’s URL or browsing through Digg’s directory. The directory is really small and the search results are quite hard to navigate with duplicate information appearing, yet there is no way to distinguish which feed is which, especially if you’re attempting to subscribe to a multi-feed site.
Viewing an article includes the same toolbar we see when viewing a popular story on the front page and includes links to digg, bookmark or share it and you’re always shown a button at the bottom of the article to go directly to the article on the site it came from.
Swiping all the way down or to the top of an article displays some information about the next article which you can then swipe to without having to go back to the list of articles. Whilst useful, I all too often find that I accidentally swipe to the previous or next article when I just wanted to scroll a bit further up or down, something that can be a fairly constant source of frustration! I’d like to see a little bit more leeway for us folks who are less than accurate with their iPad swiping.
Digg provides support for a number of 3rd-party apps such as Instapaper, Readability, Pocket and Bit.ly. Any service you activate will appear in the Share Sheet or, quite nicely, Digg can automatically send any stories you bookmark to your preferred read-later service.
Digg has done a great job bringing their content curation service and RSS platform to the iPad. It’s a really great-looking app with a sharp focus on usability that some RSS readers and reading apps forget. It does, however, need more content and better search results for both stories and news feeds.
With regards its usability, more control over font options such as typeface and size would be a huge benefit to those who spend a lot of time consuming content with their iPad. As I mentioned earlier, now that Instapaper is part of Betaworks then I’d hope that some of its appearance, font and usability options make their way across to this app.
There are certain areas where the app is lacking in terms of its RSS service (such as a lack of search and feed management) but Digg’s RSS platform is still very much in its infancy. Considering we’re still at the stage where RSS platforms are still finding their feet, these are features that I feel can be somewhat overlooked for now.