Digg vs. the NYT — wrong question

There are a number of themes going on in the Digg vs. New York Times discussion that has reared its head again. The latest trigger was numbers from Hitwise that tend to deflate the earlier “Digg is as big as the NYT” meme, which I wrote about here. While the Alexa figures from the original TechCrunch post tended to suggest that Digg’s traffic was getting close to that of the Times, the Hitwise numbers are far less impressive.

One of the obvious takeaways is that Alexa numbers are flawed in many respects, in part because they rely on users who have installed a toolbar, and other built-in biases. Rightly or wrongly, many Web watchers either take Alexa numbers with a huge shaker of salt, or dismiss them altogether. Is Hitwise.com better, or ComScore Media Metrix, or Neilsen/Net Ratings? I’m sure they all have their flaws — some because of the technology they use, some because they rely on what people say rather than what they actually do, and some because of the inherent difficulty of getting a handle on something like Web traffic.

One common reaction to the issue has been to scoff at the idea that something like Digg could take the place of the New York Times — and it’s quite reasonable to scoff at this idea, since no one in their right mind (including Kevin Rose and other Digg types, I would wager) would ever make such a ridiculous claim. My friend Rob Hyndman, who like me is a newspaper addict, is quite right that nothing will ever take the place of the New York Times.

But I also agree with my former old-media colleague Om Malik — that is is foolish to dismiss Digg as a toy that has no relevance whatsoever. Replace the NYT? No. Change it, and other traditional media? Already happening.

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