This story has been updated.
Last month, Digg, an old beloved content aggregation destination, made the sad announcement to its loyal following that it was shutting down its RSS platform, Digg Reader. This wasn’t merely a product decision, it turns out, but a development as the company transitioned to a new parent company.
Multiple sources tell me that Digg, formerly owned by Betaworks, has been sold to the little-known Boston-based ad-tech company BuySellAds. The company bought Digg’s assets, as well as its editorial and revenue teams, for an undisclosed amount. Additionally, the blockchain-based digital publishing platform Civil has hired up many people from Digg’s tech team. Most recently, Digg raised a Series C round of funding that was led by Gannett.
“Our plan with Digg is to not screw it up,” says BuySellAds CEO Todd Garland, confirming the sale to me. He hadn’t announced the acquisition publicly for fear that it would give a bad perception about what an ad-tech company would do with a beloved media brand. He says the company planned to make the announcement at a later date.
“We feel it’s a great property,” he says. “It attracts a crowd that is like an internet subculture, in a way.” He adds that Digg is still editorially independent, and says his company plans to streamline Digg and build up its ad stack.
BuySellAds, Garland tells me, is a digital advertising company hoping to offer an alternative to giant digital platforms like Facebook–as well as other more spammy ad platforms. It employs about 50 people and has over 4,500 advertisers. Garland says his company is “whitelisted” on ad blockers—meaning its ads are allowed through the blockers because they meet certain guidelines–and since 2008, it has tried to offer publishers honest monetization programs.
While Digg is its first publisher acquisition, Garland says he’s looking to do more if the fit is right. “I could care less about companies that have tons and tons of page views,” he says. Rather, he’s looking more for brands with real communities off of which he could build out BuySellAds’ advertising offerings. “We love helping publishers make money in ways that are sustainable,” he says. “We love properties like Digg.”
It seems Digg’s technology team was not part of the acquisition. It’s unclear whether its staffers were let go or picked up by another company. Garland could not confirm either way. According to LinkedIn, at least two former Digg technology employees have joined the blockchain publishing startup Civil. I reached out to Civil about whether it acquired the tech team, and will update if I hear back. (Update: see below)
For now, it seems the biggest change to Digg editorial is its move from its office in Manhattan’s Chinatown district to a nearby WeWork downtown. Garland was very clear that he doesn’t plan to kill it off–he just wants to continue to make it sustainable. He adds that he hopes the name of his company doesn’t throw people off.
“Don’t pay attention to the name, people,” he says. “Look at some of the ads that we put on the web–there’s some good out there in the ad-tech world.”
Update: Civil has confirmed to me that it hired eight former members of Digg’s technology team. Co-founder and head of communications Matt Coolidge writes to me via email, “It’s a unique opportunity for us as we explore a larger partnership with Betaworks ahead of the launch of our decentralized marketplace for sustainable journalism.”