Usually, I have a lot of words for you. You go about your business, not reading them, and I pretend you did; we’re all happy. But today I have tricked you! I have pictures! You cannot not read pictures!
And these pictures? They’re of what Deadspin and the rest of Gawker Media will look like.
Two notes: One, this post, which is all my original work, was moved from The Rookies and will be up at that site when server issues are resolved; two, all pictures enlarge upon clicks.
The first thing you’ll likely notice, because the front page appears unchanged, is what’s in that picture above: It’s a smaller font for the headline, a larger font for the author, date, and hits, and, on the side, a window for related posts. There’s only one there, but look at Jezebel, which will be switching to the new system, too, and you’ll see that there can be more posts on the side.
There’s also the higher placement of a bar with tools for sharing these posts on social media (Facebook and Twitter), Digg, or by email. It’s always existed, but at the bottom of posts, and sort of sandwiched between post’s end and the comments. I would assume this is supposed to be better for submissions.
I like this new format, if only because it looks a little cleaner and gives a way to get to related posts without checking the tag archives or Googling. But I’m sure Gawker Media diehards will miss the “next post” and “last post” buttons in the upper-right hand corner that allow for quick chronological navigation. I’ll guess their absence is either an oversight on the part of the designers or a way to get cheap pageviews by forcing users back to the homepage to navigate; I’m not sure what else it could be.
Next, we should look at the comments:
That comment is taken from this post, as is this next screengrab:
You may notice one thing in common among commenters there: Stars.
That’s right, the only comments you’ll see on a post initially are those from the chosen ones. Now, there are two things you can do to see more of them.
First, you can expand the threads individually:
Or you can scroll to the bottom of the page and expand all:
Unfortunately, both of these options make it a chore to see all the comments. There’s currently a clickable link on the top of the Gawker’ sites that can expand all the comments in chronological order; this new version of the comments not only does away with precise timestamps (though I assume the comments are in chronological orer), it makes it arduous to have anything resembling a conversation in the comments.
Now, clearly, with the DUANtroversy Deadspin’s faced and the closing of open threads on Jezebel, it’s seemed clear that Gawker Media wanted to move in a direction that was less hospitable for long conversations. But this remodeling would seem to make even small-scale replies difficult to manage, and all but destroy the longer comedy pyramids or edifying discussions that blogs sometimes have. (We’ll come back to this later, worry not.)
Further compounding that problem is truly open registration for comments. Click on the “instantly” button and you get this interface:
Compare that to the registration-based login:
Of those two groups, which do you think is more likely to stick around in the comments and try to foster a conversation? I’m guessing it’s not the ones who can throw a junk email and a pithy comment at the post.
What this means, I’m not sure. (You’re about to see that that sentence means I tricked you into reading words.)
But my frame of reference is Deadspin.
And Deadspin’s had a ton of comment-based upheaval over the past month that can provide some insight on what this effort attempts to do.
Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio’s first reference to the ch-ch-ch-changes came on May 29th, when he hinted at destarrings with the phrase “Hug your stars real tight” and the use of David Bowie’s “Starman.” Two days later came an infamous “brief, shady announcement”:
Be prepared for mass executions and de-starring. No, there will be no official comment moderator at this time, but there is an elite squad of unidentified ninjas watching your every predictable /dick joke, failed comedy pyramid, and nonsensical musing. Also, offenses you may not have been disciplined for in the past will also be counted against you. There is no safety in tenure, personal relationships with editors/writers/commenters past or present, or number of friends/followers you may have. You will all be subject to unfair scrutiny and I have very little say in the matter.
This caused some consternation in the comments. The next day, there was a spate of bannings and destarrings, which led to a post keeping the body count over here, which got a link and some brief clarification on Deadspin shortly after.
That, then, led to a Deadspin exodus powered by a few industrious sorts, including this site. Theses and dissertations went both ways for a while (and produced this gem from this guy), and have been further explained away, somewhat obliquely, by other interviews Daulerio has done elsewhere in Blogfrica and brief updates on Deadspin itself.
It shouldn’t surprise those familiar with the situation, or any similar commenter revolts, to hear that those are two of the most popular end-of-day posts since the beginning of June that did not involve the announcement of a guest editor or the promise of free beer. The commenters who “left” Deadspin are certainly still watching and reading it.
I am, it should be noted, only one of many who have curtailed their Deadspin commenting in the past month, and I can’t claim to speak for that community of ex-pats. But I can say, for my part, that I see this as a larger sign that blogs and their comment sections, especially in the Gawker Media universe, are analogous to giraffes with birds attached: The bigger animal is in control of the ecosystem, and the little one either sticks along for the ride or bolts.
MC Bias, at his site, smartly analyzes the situation, making, among other great points, the assertion that “If you were a funny commenter, you should have left Deadspin long ago to start your own blog.” That, given the slew of on-their-own-shingle bloggers either contracted for posts by Will Leitch or supported by him or Daulerio in launching their blogs (Disclosure: Both The Rookies and this blog count in that metric, as A.J. was gracious enough to link the former just after our debut, and this blog was linked in Blogdomes under Leitch.) would seem to be a statement of fact.
Of course, it doesn’t cover the sense of camaraderie that pervaded Deadspin, either in racing to the best snarky takedown of Vince Young or in chatting about games until the midnight hour. The commenting public generally seemed to enjoy having their get-togethers at Deadspin, whether they had their own blogs or were just Deadspin commenters, and from that sprang forward a lot of valuable feedback and thought and humor.
The changes that Gawker Media has implemented have hurt that community. The changes that Gawker Media seems likely to implement with this new layout will decimate that community even further.
That’s not to say that the community, for Gawker, is or should be a priority. One of the eternal questions in blogging is this: “Which is more important, content or community?”
Gawker’s fleet of sleek, fast, and compelling blogs answers that question with sterling content. On the backs of talented and diligent writers (and sometimes, talented and diligent writers), the Gawker empire has built brands that people interested in gossip, video games, science fiction, productivity, sports, and technology trust and would visit whether comments were open or not.
And, really, that’s the endgame.
Gawker has outgrown the usefulness of its comments as a value-added system. The people who heard about how good the comments were and came by have long since run off and started their own blogs where they can gripe about how bad the comments are. The bloggers who run those blogs can safely ignore the comments and continue churning content. The commenters left behind get the table scraps.
I can’t be the judge of whether this is good or bad for blogging, or the Web, or journalism, or Iran, or Adam Lambert, or goldfish. But I want to share this quote, some nominative nouns stripped and changed:
Here’s the thing about them. They’re not evil. They’re not out to destroy the planet. But, when an entity gets to be as large as them the goal shifts from enlightening, entertaining, and informing to self preservation. That’s where they went wrong. It was bound to happen. Their goal is to promote themselves. That’s what large corporations do. It doesn’t make them any different than Merrill-Lynch or Nike or Gatorade. The problem is when you do that, you lose touch with your consumer…they still likes to think of itself as a Mom and Pop store when they’re actually a much bigger part of the world, and I think it’s disingenuous for them to say, ‘We’re just reporting the news.’ No, you’re 75 percent of where people go for their fix, and when that happens you lose touch, and when you lose touch, crap happens.
Any ideas? Anyone?
It’s Will Leitch, Deadspin founder, talking about ESPN. Though I can’t get to the link to the interview came from, the actual quote is as follows:
Here’s the thing about ESPN. They’re not evil. They’re not out to destroy the planet. But, when an entity gets to be as large as ESPN the goal shifts from enlightening, entertaining, and informing to self preservation. That’s where ESPN went wrong. It was bound to happen. ESPN’s goal is to promote ESPN. That’s what large corporations do. It doesn’t make them any different than Merrill-Lynch or Nike or Gatorade. The problem is when you do that, you lose touch with your consumer…ESPN still likes to think of itself as a Mom and Pop store when they’re actually a much bigger part of the sports world than the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and I think it’s disingenuous for them to say, ‘We’re just reporting the news.’ No, you’re 75 percent of where people go for their sports news, and when that happens you lose touch, and when you lose touch, Around the Horn happens.
Oh, and all of this fun “sneak preview”-style looking at the New Deadspin/Gawker/Kotaku? You could do it, by adding “stage.” to the URL before each site name, but do this now, and you’ll be rebuffed. (Thanks to James Brown for checking that out.)
Clicking any of the links below will only get you a login window:
Notes, from the night I checked all of the pages: Lifehacker appears to be missing the comments edits; this Gizmodo post shows the dramatic effect the comment system can have. Unfortunately, you can’t see either.
Many, many thanks to the little birdie who told me these changes were live in stage form; the comments at Deadspin are now in this new format, and all changes detailed here appear to have carried over, with the addition of a much smaller font.
And thanks to you for reading. I welcome your comments below, but I would really like nothing more than to direct you to the great work of the rest of The Rookies, where this post originally existed, before calamitous server troubles. Please do spend a few minutes; there’s some excellent writing going on over there.
The gallery below is all images from this post, as well as a screen-capture of Kotaku.