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A conversation with David Rose, little magazine veteran and publisher of Lapham’s Quarterly
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July 10, 2012, 4:22 p.m.
Audience & Social
Cake featuring the likeness of Nick Denton

For once, Nick Denton seems pleased with Gawker’s commenting system

The Gawker Media emperor, ever dissatisfied with online dialogue, seems to think Kinja is working.

Cake featuring the likeness of Nick Denton

I’m starting to lose track of which system Gawker is using for comments today, so here is a brief timeline of the evolution of Gawker’s discussion platform:

  • April 1, 2004. Nick Denton launches Kinja, a blog aggregator resembling Google Reader in functionality. (“The site is designed for people who may have heard about Web logs but are not sure how to start reading them,” writes The New York Times in Circuits.)
  • April 30, 2008. Kinja is closed. Some of the codebase is used to develop Gawker’s future discussion platforms.
  • July 9, 2009. Gawker Media debuts a new commenting system, introducing tiers and stars for high-quality commenters. Elite users gain the power to promote or demote individual comments. Joshua Benton says the system seems to be a good “balance between complexity and simplicity.” Tragically, Jezebel reports that its commenting communities had “literally exploded” in the past year.
  • April 17, 2012. Gawker kills off all starred commenters, saying its sites are overrun by cliques. Comments are disabled for a week.
  • April 26, 2012. Gawker launches a new system powered by a secret algorithm that promotes the higher-quality, more relevant comments. Elite users can no longer moderate others’ comments, but every user now has the power to moderate replies to his own thread. The system is code-named Powwow.
  • June 4, 2012. Gawker tweaks Powwow comments again, making a series of user-interface changes that are boring to write about here.
  • June 27, 2012. Gawker begins rolling out Powwow to all of its sites, rebranding it (confusingly) as Kinja.

Why do we care so much about Gawker’s comments? Because the CEO of a publishing machine that generates 7–15 million pageviews a day is obsessed with them.

Denton has said again and again he wants to treat comments as content, not metadata attached to content. He wants to kill the trolls and the snark. He wants the comments to be an inviting place for primary sources to join the discussion.

Something happened over the weekend that looked a lot like Denton’s fantasy coming true. Matt Hardigree, the editor in chief of Jalopnik, reviewed a review of the Tesla Model S by the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Neil. Hardigree argued the seasoned auto critic failed to do his job by lobbing unanswered questions about the car at the reader — questions Tesla should have answered.

At the end of the post, Hardigree invited invited Neil to respond in the comments (and invited him again, privately, in a Facebook message). And Neil does — artfully dismantling Hardigree’s argument point by point, in 1,300 words, while managing to write an extended review of the vehicle inside his rebuttal. Neil closes:

I don’t want to seem aggrieved. I know I’m the establishment and it is your duty, as bloggy gadfly, to call me out. As the great Jamie Kitman once said to me, “Do you remember when we were the young punks?” Indeed I do. Besides, anytime I’m mentioned on Jalopnik, my online numbers soar, so thank you.

Dan Neil is no Brian Williams, but surely Denton is satisfied: Here is the establishment, wallowing with the groundlings. I emailed Denton last night to ask him if this is what Kinja success looks like. He replied with a laundry list of other “successful conversations” from just the past three weeks. With the old system, he wrote, “I would have been pressed to find you one a year.”

Today’s conversation with Max. http://gawker.com/5924443/?comment=50780244 Last post in thread accuses of Max falling for a troll.

Gizmodo readers ask a former A-12 pilot anything.

Jalopnik introduces ‘neutral’ to The Morning Shift.

Timothy Burke and Max Read add footnotes to the Gawker post on the Supreme Court ruling.

Kotaku brought in two game creators for a live Q&A, the first double interview in Kinja. Two things that made the Q&A stand out: The interaction between the two developers and thevariety in their responses.

An EFF rep answers questions on the Declaration of Internet Freedom live on Lifehacker.

If you haven’t already, take a look at Gizmodo’s Chatroom tag. Each of the posts does a great job of turning quirky product releases and simple questions into interesting discussions. Here are a few of my favorites from the past 24 hours.

Would You Use This Curved Keyboard?

Spotify, Rdio or MOG: What Streaming Music Service Do You Use?

GamaGo’s Record-Shaped Placemats: Yay or Nay?

Introducing Gawker’s latest feature, Lunchtime Poll. The first question, “Is Seth MacFarlane Funny?” Gawker readers are torn.

io9 presents the pros and cons for surviving the end of the world and leaves it to the readers to decide. The majority vote no.

Gizmodo has a bike thief answering questions on the site. His advice, thick metal chains are better than u-locks.

I take that as a yes, Denton is satisfied.

For his part, Hardigree said he enjoyed the Dan Neil discussion. “Most of our writers and editors (myself included) came to us because they were readers/commenters at one point, which is the best argument I can make for continuing to break down the barriers between the two camps,” he told me.

Not every staffer is so happy to dive in to the comments, not the least of whom is Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio, who described Gawker comments in April as “a tar pit of hell.” Any journalist writing for a highly trafficked website knows what a miserable time suck that can be. But that’s their job now. Gawker staffers are essentially professional commenters now — or maybe commenters are amateur bloggers. Denton does not even like the word “comments.” Supposedly he imposed a $5 penalty for any employee heard using the word. “These are posts,” Denton told the Observer in June.

Not all commenters are happy, either. And who would expect them to be? Something changed on the Internet. The other day Jezebel had to warn the masses: “Don’t feed the trolls.” One dissatisfied Kotaku commenter created a Google Chrome extension that restores the previous design, which makes it easier to skim all replies to a thread. The Chrome store says 7,500 people are using that extension, and a small development community has sprung up around it.

But those are not the kind of users Denton wants in the comments, people who come just to skim. He wants readers to be generators, too.

Photo of cake featuring likeness of Nick Denton made up of faces of Gawker commenters by Raj Taneja used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     July 10, 2012, 4:22 p.m.
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