What Digg needs: Keyboard shortcuts.

There have been a few mumblings on social media blogs, as there often is, about how Digg has been alienating it’s core user base, possibly in favour of attracting new users or appearing more saleable.  I’m not sure how much of this is true but I do know that I am a fairly regular user of Digg and I don’t feel particularly alienated or disaffected.  Perhaps this is because I don’t do anything as perverse as using scripts on the site or blindly digging friends stories.

Having said that there is one way that Digg is letting me down.  I would consider myself a power user when it comes to computers, as I imagine many Digg users are given it’s tech news bias and history.  I would say that one of the most valuable UI metaphors for a power user would definitely be keyboard shortcuts.  I certainly used them heavily to write this blog entry.  (Alt-Shift-A within the WordPress editor is a good one for creating a link).  For a long time though shortcuts were limited to the desktop as the web was not rich enough to support anything other than mouse navigation (with the exception of shortcuts for back or forwards and tabbing through endless links).

With richer and richer web applications there is now a good precedent for using keyboard shortcuts within the browser page.  A shining example of this is Google Reader with over 20 commands covering pretty much everything you’d need to do with the application.  There’s even a cheat sheet of the different combinations that you can access by simple typing ‘?’.  Here’s a fairly old video from Tim Ferriss where Robert Scoble describes how he uses Reader with the keyboard to read over 622 feeds a day. (This is over a year old, so who knows how many feeds he reads now.)

Keyboard shortcut cheat sheet in Google Reader

Keyboard shortcut cheat sheet in Google Reader

Another great example is Socialthing!.  Socialthing! is quite a simple app that aggregates feeds from sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Digg.  When  updates arrive, to prevent the UI from changing while you might be viewing it, a button appears that you can click when you’re ready to have the new items displayed.  Scrolling to the top of the page and clicking this with the mouse got really tiresome, really quickly.  Luckily the Socialthing! developers spotted this just as fast and allowed you to simply hit ‘E’ to import new items.  They added a few other useful shortcuts as well.

Socialthing screen shot
I don’t need the mouse to do this
Screenshot of Digg
So why use the mouse to do this?

So how can the Digg experience be improved for regular, heavy users?  The major peeve for me when using the Digg story page is the select field for sorting the comments.  I often want to change back and forth between the modes that the comments are sorted on and having to switch back to the mouse every time I need to do this becomes a real drag.  There are too many links on the Digg story page to tab to it so having a shortcut to focus this field would be nice.  However  I would propose having four key commands:  ‘O’ to show oldest comments first, ‘N’ for newest, ‘C’ for the most controversial and ‘M’ for most dugg.  Hitting ‘S’ or the spacebar to show the story that has been linked and, of course, ‘D’ to then digg it would complete the shortcuts for the story page.

o Sort comments oldest first
n Sort comments newest first
c Sort comments most controversial first
m Sort comments most dugg first
s Show the story
d Digg the story

What about the front page or any of the category sections that display a list of stories?  How about taking a leaf out of Google Reader’s book and using ‘J’ and ‘K’ to cycle forwards and backwards through the list, and then perhaps ‘O’ to open them?  Perhaps also hitting number keys 1-10 to select one of the top news stories from the list on the right.

j Next story
k Previous Story
1-10 Select corresponding top story
o Open selected story

Making it easier to quickly Digg stories may not chime with the motivation behind Digg’s recent decision to ban those who are using scripts to automatically Digg stories.  However these shortcuts could easily be mimicked with a simple Firefox extension so I hope that Digg will act to prevent it’s most loyal users succumbing to RDI: Repetitive Digging Injury.

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