Using Digg to share a favorite web page has always been a slightly clunky affair. But not any more: Digg has just launched the DiggBar, an intelligent tool to simplify the whole event of Digging a story. Even though this type of toolbar is nothing new from a technical standpoint, it could have a broad effect on publishers who depend on a steady number of page views from Digg's 24 million visitors.
This top-of-the-page toolbar contains everything required for Digging a story--including a submit button and a Digg vote function if you want to add your click-proval to an already-submitted story. It's easy to activate, you just add "http://Digg.com" before the URL in the address bar of the page you're visiting and the the Digg toolbar gets overlaid to the top of the page you're submitting. There's also a bookmarklet that you can drop onto your browser toolbar that does the URL mod for you, so the whole Digg encounter could be as simple as two clicks. It's also infinitely simpler than having to switch between two tabs when you're submitting a story, since all the data's now on one page.
There are a few other functions inside that toolbar that are less obvious. Allen Stern at CenterNetworks discovered a Quantcast counter in there, which means that every toolbar load will be counted just as if it were a full page load on the regular Digg site. It's unclear at this point whether publishers will love or hate the toolbar. Some sites are arguing that it will hurt traffic because the toolbar is an iframe, meaning Digg keeps all of the pageviews. Others are arguing that publishers will see double the page views, one for the clickthrough, and another when the user clicks the X to eliminate the toolbar (which reloads the underlying page). [Update: Quantcast and Omniture, which record visitors directly, will continue to measure Digg traffic normally. But Comscore and Nielsen will likely discount that traffic because of the shortened URL.] There are also ads inside the toolbar, which remain hidden until a tab is selected. Publishers are not likely to be too happy about Digg overlaying an ad on their site.
Digg has also added its own URL shortening tool with the intention of making Digg just that little bit more social network and Twitter friendly. It's much like bit.ly or shortn.me (which is my fave, largely due to its name) and compacts the relevant Digg URL for the page you're interested in to a short group of letters (here's the short Digg URL for this page: http://digg.com/u15t0.)
It looks like Digg is trying to gently evolve its user experience into something a bit more streamlined with these two new features. But the DiggBar also adds some new functionality for users--you can now see how many times a story has been viewed, and there's also a "random" button that mimics StumbleUpon by taking you to a random Digg submission. There is also a "source" button that shows other stories Dugg from the same author or web site, and a "related" feature that will take you to similar stories. All of these are handy ways to breeze through what Diggers think are the most interesting web pages at the moment, and hopeully shift emphasis away from Digg's all-powerful front page.
The new tool won't necessarily affect the weird mix of luck, algorithms and aggressive promotion that lands stories on Digg's most popular list--it's just a faster, simpler way to interact with Digg's core service.
Some would also say that an official tool like this is long overdue--it's a bit like "copy and paste" on the iPhone, in that a toolbar-like action is so obvious that you'll wonder why it hadn't been included right from the start. On the other hand, the DiggBar could slow the load time of the sites being visited since it approaches 100k in size.
There's also news that Digg is re-working its search function, echoing recent rumors about Twitter. Advanced search is something the site has always needed, and it looks like when it finally arrives it'll be very full-featured, with topic tags, detailed statistics on story popularity, and search order prioritizing by "most dugg", "best match" or "newest first." Hopefully this will alleviate the problem of searching for "buried" stories as well.
These new tools and search functions should result in more people using the service on a daily basis. And since CEO Jay Adelson is no longer seeking a buyer for the site, and instead pursuing ways to make the company more profitable, this should be a boon for the company as well. Unless, of course, the whole thing backfires.