Joel Watson is the writer and artist behind the webcomic Hijinks Ensue. It's a satirical take on geek culture and media, revolving around the Internet, television, cult movies, and video games. He's been referenced in Wired, Forbes, ValleyWag, and Boing-Boing. Unfortunately, he's also been listed on the front page of Digg. Whenever that happens, his site gets hammered by the Digg Effect; and it either becomes severely degraded or it gets shut down altogether.
Most industries would appreciate customer growth, but web hosting companies can be the exception to the rule. For the purpose of this article, let's ignore the absurd logic behind: "You're a good customer but you have too much traffic; so go away because we don't want to waste time on a scaling problem." I'll save the discussion on finding a good hosting provider for another time.
The problem that content authors like Joel face is that the Digg effect can be more trouble than it's worth. On a traffic graph, the Digg click-throughs stick out like a DOS attack. The hit count will spike immediately, and then trickle down over a period that could last 24 hours. Once it's over, 98 to 99 percent of the visitors that came in from the Digg submission never return.
Joel doesn't have Digg buttons on Hijinks Ensue, because he doesn't want to create the impression that he's begging for traffic. He knows that he has gained readers from Digg, but getting those readers came at a price. Regular fans find themselves shut out from the huge influx of traffic, and he spends hours on phone support trying to get his site back online. At the same time, reading the comments left on Digg can be pretty disheartening. The act of having your original work judged by a nameless, faceless mass invites trauma that hasn't been experienced since entering a high school talent pageant.
It seems that the only people who really benefit from the Digg Effect is Digg itself. They get the traffic from the submission, the voting, the comments, and the promotion of an outside website (whether that site wanted to be Dugg or not). Meanwhile, hosting providers are stuck with the traffic problems, and advertising networks have trouble selling ads for a site that appears to have a high bounce rate.
Joel sees more reliable growth from what he considers quality referrals. These are usually links from personal blogs, friend referrals, or the occasional Twitter posting. By sticking to a network of like minded geeks, and by building a loyal fan base, he's able to show a healthy growth rate. These users click on multiple pages, participate on forums, and return to the site at regular intervals. These users have a higher chance of generating revenue for Joel, and most importantly, they never bring the site down.