Digg is doomed unless they fire their tech staff.

A reader pointed out that digg.com is doing 7 million pageviews and has  75 servers and not 25, a number which I thought was really bloated.   Read about digg.com’s  server setup here.

7 million pageviews / 24 hours / 60 minutes / 60 seconds =  81 Pageviews/second  on average.

On average digg.com is serving 1 pageview per server.  Given that most of the pageviews are hitting the homepage and are CACHED, the servers are probably only handling sub 50 pageviews a second on average.

Using myspaces most recent numbers of  1.5 billion pageviews a  day they would be processing 17361 pages per second on average.   If their infrastructure  was as bad as digg.com’s  they would need over 18,750 servers!!!  I think digg.com wins the worst infrustructure/setup award of any major site hands down.

Now most of my readers are people running small startups or 1 person companies and many of them are looking at scaling  or wondering what are good numbers.    From what I remember reading  anything below 30 pageviews a second on average is probably a bad thing.  If you have a great setup you can push 400+ pageviews a second but be happy with 30+/sec.

What kinds of problem does low pageviews/server create?

1.   Digg would be making a huge profit off the 200k they are supposedly making a month,  not barely breaking even.

2.  The company is virtually crippled when it comes to innovation.  They have a extremely hard time creating something like a personalized digg.  Ie showing only stories that cater to your taste.  Anything that is computationally expensive is pretty much out of their reach.

3.  They needed to take VC money because of all the bloat,  instead of being profitable when making 20k/month  they are barely break even at 200k/month.  If your a Owner or CEO  the last thing you want to do is give away your company. 

4. You need to hire people just to manage the bloat.  Managing 75 servers is no small feat, setting up a network,  repairing servers, monitering, patching servers etc all makes for a LOT of over head.    The hosting costs must be crazy to.

What can competitors do?

1.  If i can run a mega site out of my aparment  several times digg.com’s size and far far more computationally difficult  someone else could do the same thing with a digg like competitor.     I would find it hard to believe that a proper digg.com clone would take more then 5-25 grand a month to run, given 7 million pageviews a day.

2.  Companies can buy their way into the market and innovate.  The one that comes to mind is netscape,  innovate,  add personalization!   All Netscape has to do is allow people to filter out results they don’t want.    Copy google adwords negative keyword filter.   If word ABC appears  in the title or description  don’t show me the article.   ie filter out  photoshop, bittorent  etc

3.  If you don’t know what your doing  and your infrustructure is as bad as this  hire someone who does.   You may need to go through a few employees till you find one that knows what they are doing  but this is by far the most important part of your company if you are bootstrapping.

I think we are at a point now  where social networking was a few years ago.   Friendster came first and was crippled.    Digg.com is in the same position right now  but we can’t see how crippled it is because the site is so trivial  from a programming stand point.    If a competetor  comes along and innovates  adding a lot more computationally expensive  features they will pull a myspace on Digg.

57 Responses to “Digg is doomed unless they fire their tech staff.”

  1. Ben Says:

    Hey Markus. Your first link is broken (wordpress has thrown one of its own URLs on the front). I’m one of your ‘one man band’ readers, and was wondering if you have any posts/other resources you would recommend for someone starting out to avoid the low views/server rate Digg has achieved. I am quite keen to starting out right and am hungry for ideas on configuration and key aspects to nail correctly from the beginning.

  2. threz Says:

    Thing is, everyone and their dog have a digg clone now – even John Battelle’s got one, so it would take something radically different to stand out from the crowd me thinks.

    Myspace beat friendster because they had a huge jumpstart from their parent company (read all about it at freemyspace.com, interesting stuff) Funnily enough, one of the biggest boosts for myspace was when they pitched it to visitors from another dating site of theirs as a way of finding friends online. Effectively killing the dating site at the expense of giving myspace the momentum it needed.

    So if anyone has a chance of killing digg, its probably you and your plentyoffish email DB Markus🙂

  3. Markus Says:

    I fixed the link thanks…

    1. If you can’t do the tech side find someone who can. No amount of reading will help you as only experience matters for the most part.

    2. I could take on digg with my massive user base, but I’ve got to stay focused on one thing. There are so many things I could do but they all dilute my focus. Digg got huge via SEO, if their competors got big into SEO they would get huge fast to. I’d create a special section and try and get into google news, top tech stories run down or something like that. A political digg would be huge…

  4. Mark Thomson Says:

    Like Markus and the first commenter, I’m also a one man show. I’ve been playing a bit with Amazon’s EC2 to handle unexpected load spikes with my service (like a recent digging that brought my two existing servers down).

    Seems to be a lot of potential in that, except for the time being, bandwidth via Amazon is a bit pricey. You can get around that however by serving images and included files from a separate (dedicated) leased box.

    It’s early beta and has its bugs but it’s an amazing service – let Amazon take care of the hardware + redundancy while you concentrate on running your web service.

  5. John Chow Says:

    Hey Markus. This site just ripped off your entire article: http://xxxmaster.biz/digg-is-doomed-unless-they-fire-their-tech-staff.html

    They ripped me one of me as well. I got them to remove it.

  6. unoalgiorno Says:

    xxxmaster are evil bad guys, stealing things around.

  7. Tinla Says:

    Some detail on digg’s cache servers here: http://lists.danga.com/pipermail/memcached/2006-June/002384.html

  8. greg Says:

    I think less than 30% of their servers is actually used to serve up the pages.
    The rest are for processing the algorithm.

    Either their algoritm is NECESSARILY computational intensive or ULTIMATELY bad.

  9. Rajan Sodhi Says:

    I’m bugged by simple things I would expect Digg to offer, such as the ability to categorize postings more accurately under a topic like “marketing” or “branding” as oppose to their broad topic of “World Business and Finance”. And as you said, be able to personalize my Digg experience further by drawing in specific topics of interest. I’ve always found this to be odd with Digg considering these seem like very basic features today.

  10. Lenny Kruss Says:

    Spot On!

    It’s great to read something that makes actual sense about digg rather than the usual fanboy crap.

  11. Steups Says:

    So the obvious question. What’s stopping them from taking Digg to a more efficient const-effective organisational and system structure?

  12. franky Says:

    Isn’t digg the slowest site on the internet? Heavily ajaxified and the digg labors such as the live cloud surely aren’t the best things to save server load.
    Digg can, and does cache alot, but many things have immediate interaction and surely not in a very serverload-optimized way.

    But the interface of digg is also something which made them popular. And the diggnation loves it. Would digg still be that popular if today it looked like pligg?

  13. Digg needs a new tech staff at The Blog Herald Says:

    […] Social Media Oct 8 at 10:39 pm by Matt Craven -Markus, over at Plenty of Fish, says that Digg needs a new tech staff: A reader pointed out that digg.com is doing 7 million pageviews and has 75 servers and not 25, a number which I thought was really bloated. […]

  14. jean Says:

    Digg is doing good with respect to a small-sized company. regarding the web services or the web servers, unless there is a major e-com transacations, users should not be very much bothered about. They should I agree put in a little bit of new stuffs which they recently put up as My #1 post, now this works only on one posting.

    http://www.irin.co.uk

  15. therealdonquixote Says:

    The real problem, for me at least, is their A$$H0L3 users. They are sanctimonious jerks. Ever look at any of the comment threads of late? Talk about a flame-o-rama. It used to not be like that.

    Of course it used to be a tech blog as well. I wonder what you’d call it now?

    A cluster… 😀

  16. Norman Says:

    I’d say Digg could justify having at least ~$250k of systems gear. That seems like a reasonable investment considering their size and income. They’ve probably spent ~$1m though, on too much gear.

    It is impressive that you run plentyoffish with 4 servers, but that’s probably all it is. I can’t imagine it makes good business sense, unless there is a good backup plan.

  17. Jonathan Frate Says:

    Markus

    In all fairness, your technical criticisms of digg are based on the fact that you’re a technical person. But one of the benefits of having VC funding is that non-technical founders can focus on the bigger picture.

    Saving 10, 20, or even 100K/month in servers now is not a big picture thing. Nailing a deep strategic partnership with a yahoo or viacom is a big picture thing – and one that technical inefficiency won’t necessarily affect.

    I mean, it’s not like Yahoo is run very effectively on the technical side…

    You have to run a tight ship because if you don’t, you don’t eat. The Digg guys can be a little bit more sloppy and it won’t affect their business. It takes all sorts.

  18. Shane Coffey Says:

    Markus took your advice, woke up this morning made a political digg clone using pligg. Site is up and running, we can go 50/50 on it if you want. No ads on it right now, waiting for the user base to happen. But like you said if the SEO is done right it can take off. When you get a moment take a look, yes I know this is a spammy comment. Sorry about that.

    Thanks,
    Shane

  19. Fez Says:

    “If i can run a mega site out of my aparment several times digg.com’s size and far far more computationally difficult someone else could do the same thing with a digg like competitor.”

    Just curious, what makes plentyoffish more computationally difficult than digg?

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  22. shadow Says:

    75 servers to run digg? What would you say then, about americansingles.com- They use somewhere around 300 windows servers

  23. Markus Says:

    Americansingles is brutal to.. At least They are doing things like radius and area based searches and that requiries a lot of resources. But still 300 servers is just nuts.

  24. tomo Says:

    Markus,

    Clearly you don’t have a grasp on what is happening in any internet centric company. 75 servers is nothing dude. Companies like Salesforce, amazon, ebay, omniture, shutterfly, etc have thousand of servers.

    The fact that you are running with the # of 75 is clear that you didn’t bother to research if that was even true or if in those 75 servers resides the revision3 website.

    Let me give you some perspective: 75 servers can fit in two racks. Jay Adelson, CEO of digg, is also the founder of Equinix and the original employee at PAIX. He has spent the last 12 years running datacenters and peering points. I guess all of his former customers have it all wrong too because the ones I mention above deploy HUNDREDS of racks.

    What point of reference could you possibly be basing your irrational theory on? Web hosting? Do you colocate servers for your business? Doubt it. The only thing on your site that is yours is the front page. Everything else is from information.net.

    Get a clue before you try to undermine one of the more popular destinations on the web because the statements you make are evidence of your ignorance.

    BTW – where are you getting your data? I think you need to go through a few data sources before you get the right one.

    Do you know how the internet works? Perhaps your upstream provider is oversold or their peering points saturated.

    WRT their code, isn’t software supposed to be improved over time? That is why there are multiple versions. Maybe digg is using some of the money from their investors to fund new development of more efficient code.

    Again, 75 servers is nothing and the fact that you think it’s alot indicates you have very little knowledge or experience in how internet companies operate.

    A bit more clarity for you in regards to your statement about myspace needing close to 18,000 servers. Myspace has around 20k sq ft of datacenter space in southern california alone. Each rack or cabinet takes up about 20 sq feet. That means that in southern california alone they have the capacity to place 1000 racks. Each rack is 42ru which means they can place 40k servers in southern california ALONE.

  25. tomo Says:

    in going back and double checking your website I noticed that I had type the url incorrectly so I take back what I said about the front page being the only proprietary content and everything else coming from information.net

    sorry about that.

    ….but everything else I wrote I stick with

  26. Who will buy Digg and how powerfull is Digg ? - Internet Marketing and SEO Blog - Cristian Mezei Says:

    […] Who will buy Digg and how powerfull is Digg ? October 25th, 2006 – Filed under Industry News by Cristian Mezei (No Ratings Yet)  Loading … | 1 Views   Michael Arrington (who I am finally going to meet tommorow at the Zilele Biz conference in Bucharest) just gave the news about Digg beeing in recent acquisition discussions with a number of companies, including News Corp. This had to come for some time now, simply because of Digg’s inability to monetize the website and/or keep up with the bandwidth costs. They supposedtly use 75 servers that do the work of what 25 servers should do. […]

  27. Sean Says:

    Forget about the databases? Many of those servers are likely database servers, since Digg is really just a big database with a front page on it. So to say the Digg is serving 1 page view per server is grossly incorrect.

  28. Graeme Says:

    All servers are not created equal. 75 servers is a completely meaningless figure. I wouldn’t blink if I was told they had 7, 75 or 7500 servers. It means nothing. To say that 75 servers could be replaced with 25 is possibly true. Yet again, this is a meaningless statistic without understanding the arcitechure decisions of the platform. Maybe the architects were well aware they could only use 25, but instead *chose* to split processing/storage out to 75 servers instead for perfectly sane reasons.

    I’m not defending digg – their page load times are as irritating as hell – but I do think this OMFGLOL 75 servers!!! is pretty ill-informed.

  29. Scott Lamb Says:

    s/Digg/$SERVICE/g.

    As a few other people have pointed out, digg is far from the only company doing this. I know of one project running code I wrote on an order of magnitude more machines than I used when testing it with equivalent loads. For the mentally lazy, it seems to be SOP to say “let’s rack another 5 machines and see if that fixes it” whenever there’s any sort of problem. No one ever says “Nope. Guess we didn’t need those”. It’s a really expensive attitude, but a popular one.

    What makes it worse is that many places don’t have a good strategy for managing clusters of machines. So not only do they pay for the extra costs of the machines, the rack space, the power, and the maintenance when hardware fails, but also many, many man-hours of time to upgrade them one-by-one, over and over again.

  30. Money Making Sites: SEO | Adsense | Articles Says:

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  32. Jeff McNeill » Blog Archive » links for 2007-01-07 Says:

    […] Digg is doomed unless they fire their tech staff. « The Paradigm Shift Markus’ Oct, 2006 article on server optimization, good comments feedback as well, incl. how myspace and digg got big, etc. (tags: servers press) […]

  33. This is How Digg Throws Away Good Money at Baron VC Says:

    […] Digg is doomed unless they fire their tech staff. « The Paradigm Shift […]

  34. Brett Says:

    This is ridiculous.

    First of all — yes, it might have cost them a lot initially to setup 75 servers to handle the load — but have you EVER HEARD OF BUILDING EXTRA CAPACITY? Jesus christ.

    Second of all — it is not expensive to run 75 servers once they are purchased. Yes, they could probably offset the server load to 5-6 beefy Woodcrest machines if the site was optimized correctly, but that would only save them around $800-$1500/month from the rack/power fees associated.

    So yes, that’s right, having 75 servers instead of 25 probably only costs them another $800-$1500… this is assuming they are using all Woodcrest machines, with 2 30 amp 208v drops from an enterprise data center.

    The one-time costs may have been high… but adding servers does not increase recurring fees all that much…. get a clue.

  35. Brett Says:

    Also — furthermore, while I understand running a network is difficult… 75 servers is a cake walk. Try managing thousands… and then start complaining.

  36. Markus Says:

    Ah more trolls…

    Digg is at 125 servers now, for a site that doesn’t have much in the way of load that is insane. On their about page they list 10 people who are responsible for hardware and development. Assuming silicon valley rates of $10k/month per person you are looking at a extra 50 to 100k a month in expenses after you factor in everything.

  37. Jamie Says:

    “If your a Owner or CEO the last thing you want to do is give away your company. ”

    Your grammar is absolutely terrible.

  38. Arthur Says:

    Hi Markus,

    Any ideas in what to look for in someone to manage hardware? I am in a position where I’ll need someone partime soon as this is not my area of expertise, but I don’t know what to look for. It seems that you’ve got the low cost options down, so I’d really appreciate the help. Thanks.

  39. AJ Says:

    I am with Markus. Even in corporate development you often see the whole “throw more servers at it” rationale for even internal HR sites. In one instance, once we got knee deep into it, we had an app doing backend processing using 3000 lines, that was replaced with 130. The main problem? THe original coder, who is hell on wheels for getting stuff done fast, I will give him that, was basically pulling all records from the database and filtering them in Asp.net before displaying, this was for an employee table with 30000 records. Then he was doing manuall selects on an EfficiencyTests table with 2,000,000 rows to pull the number of tests done by employee in the filtered list. All because he couldn’t figure out how to the filtered counts directly in sql server.

    So we had 15 servers doing what is now being done with 2, and it isn’t just the space, or the cost, or the manpower, it is about the complexity.

    I agree, when you see numbers like that for something that isn’t that complex, something is probably being done very very wrong.

  40. Tyson Says:

    You mentioned that you ran your site out of your apartment, does that mean you host it from there or are simply managing it remotely? When I chose to look into who was hosting “plentyoffish” I found out that it is peer1.com who is hosting your site(or possibly co-locating it). I then looked your site up on Alexa and saw that your traffic is 1/10th what diggs is. What exactly is your game?
    Why do go on and on about the shortcomings of diggs tech savvy? I see no reason to believe you are doing what you claim to be doing, or for that matter, that you even posses skills that approach what the team at digg have achieved.

  41. Markus Says:

    I agree AJ, one employee doing one select or update wrong and suddenly you need 10 times the hardware…

    Tyson, there is no way you can have your hardware at home in a house. Mine would take over 1000 ADSL lines to serve. Digg is a tiny site in terms of pageviews and usuage, just look at comscore, hitwise, compete.com etc. Alexa is completely useless, especially for tech sites were every 10th person has the toolbar installed.

  42. Tyson Says:

    alright Ill look into that, thank you for your reply

  43. Tyson Says:

    By the way, “I am by no means on diggs jock” I am simply curious. How is it that you have achieved what you have? Please elaborate on how exactly you serve your users. I am into network loads and how to alleviate intermittent spikes.

  44. Tyson Says:

    So I went to compete.com and again compared plentyoffish to digg. As far as visitors, digg had 22,541,770 last month compared to 1,586,993 for plentyoffish. I looked at how long people stay and your site beats them hands down. Is that why you dismiss their usage stats?
    Are you suggesting that it does not matter how many people come to a site if they end up leaving right away? I thought that it was important as far as adverts go. If some one advertises on a site, wouldn’t they care more about potentials exposure than how long one lingers? I do want to add, I think having as many people visit your site as you do is impressive.

  45. Markus Says:

    Tyson,

    US accounts for a small part of plentyoffish but its accounts for the majority of diggs.

    For advertising all sites really care about is CTR rates. No one clicks on digg and if they do its like .01% CTR. For sake of simplicity lets say plentyoffish also gets .01CTR, but it gets it on every pageview. If plentyoffish has 30 times as many pageviews its going to get 30 times as much revenue and clicks as digg.

  46. Tyson Says:

    So I guess I was comparing apples to oranges, thanks for your insight.

  47. alex brown Says:

    I feel over the next couple of years…it will be interesting to see how digg’s infrastructure evolves.

  48. patval Says:

    Hey Markus, do you want to marry me?

    I am already married, and sincerely, really more into women than men but… Man, I think I could spend my old days in the rocking chair listening to you bashing Digg’s poor tech team ! ;-)))

    Have fun

  49. Chris P. Says:

    Some good points indeed, they’ve seem to overcome some of these hurdles though.

    Chris

  50. Shawn Sears Says:

    I think Digg tech support is getting better now

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