Results tagged “gawker”

We Have To Make The Web We Want

March 14, 2012

On Sunday, I interviewed Nick Denton at SXSW about Gawker Media, commenting culture on the web, and a good bit of the history of professional blogging.

In advance of the conversation, I began a conversation with Elizabeth Spiers, Choire Sicha, Lockhart Steele, Jake Dobkin and Gina Trapani asking whether comments on the web have "failed", as the SXSW session's title proclaimed. Their responses, as expected, were both insightful and hilarious. Gawker naturally picked up the conversation and posed the same question to its commenters. I quite enjoyed the results!

Then to the main event. We had a terrific turnout within the room, and responses to the interview started almost immediately. Within the room, Andrew Federman was illustrating our conversation for Ogilvy's visual notes series:

Mat Honan also followed up almost immediately on Gizmodo, with a series of curated tweets that managed to capture a lot of the highlights of the conversation.

Tom Lee also started documenting the interview while it was still going on. And Owen Thomas summed up much of the spirit of the conversation while also watching us from the first row. Adweek offers up some straightforward coverage, as did Now Toronto, CNN manages to cover the interview without mentioning that I was doing the interviewing, Liz Gannes at All Things D focuses on comment moderation, and perhaps most interesting was Doree Shafrir's take at Buzzfeed, which was informed by her stint at Gawker:

I wouldn't say we exactly lived in fear of the commenters when I was at Gawker, but they were always there, looming, and no matter how many times we told ourselves not to look at them, it was impossible not to. The tone of a comment thread was set within 30 seconds of your post going up, and more often than not, what you wrote — particularly if it was personal — felt like an attack by a thousand spikes all piercing you at the same time. (That said, I think working at Gawker at the height of the obsessive Gawker commenter gave me a much thicker skin than most people who write online, so, thanks, everyone!)

The Gawker commenters had their own community, their own inside jokes. They knew each other by their handles. At yesterday's panel, a former Gawker commenter got up to ask a question, and informed the crowd that he had
once been named Commenter of the Year around the time I was there. (Former Jezebel editor Irin Carmon and I had simultaneous and similar responses, which were basically: Oh my god.)

But all the hand-wringing aside, and regardless of whether Gawker's new experiment in commenting succeeds, the thing that excites me here is that Nick is still experimenting, still trying new things. For too long, the fundamental assumptions and format of blogging have been stagnating, and the technology has barely been advancing. At the same time, there's been almost a casual acceptance of the shoddiness of conversations on and between blogs.

Worse, those who used to decry the incivility and snarkiness and, well, unproductive nature of much of what passes of comments on the web today are instead just participating in that culture themselves:

It's not enough for us to decry the worst things about the web. We have to actively work to change them. For my part, I think encouraging the conversation about these issues, getting those who have influence about them to publicly commit to making changes, and then working on promoting those experiments is the most productive thing I can do. Because if the web we have today isn't the one we always imagined we'd be working on, then we have to make the web we want.

Related

Gawker Is A Blog. Just Like Twitter.

December 1, 2010

I love blogs. Nick Denton wrote over on Lifehacker about the pending redesign of Gawker's blogs, with a lot of great insights into the leading edge of web publishing today. As with any thoughtful, provocative writing of such length, it inspired some great responses, including two of my early favorites:

  • Joel Johnson, in 133 characters, offered up "Gawker Media is the size of a moderately successful local McDonalds franchise. So I guess it's a compliment that it's so interesting."
  • Felix Salmon, at 6000 words, covers Hungary and the Cayman Islands, Kinja and Blogwire, and probably other stuff that I missed.

Finally, Nick Bilton did a follow-up on the NY Times Bits blog today, which talks about this evolution of Gawker's design (which you can see for yourself at beta.gawker.com and then quotes me:

“I think Nick [Denton] is eager to declare this a post-blog design as a sop to advertisers,” he said. “It’s still a blog, it’s just the blog is in a narrower column.”

This is true! I do think this — Gawker is still, and always has been, just a nicely designed blog. Same goes for its sister sites. But what neither Nick mentioned is an idea that I've shared with them both, that Gawker's redesign to me shows an interesting convergence around a pattern that is best exemplified by, of all things, the new Twitter design.

River On One Side, Party On The Other

Let's consider the core elements of a reverse-chronological headline flow, accompanied by a sort of "content well" where rich media items sit. I mumbled about this a bit a few months ago in Twitter, Transclusion and Trust, but basically a half-decade after RSS readers failed to take over the world, major media sites are all converging on the idea of a two-paned reader, with a river of news of headlines that can be clicked to yield an embedded article reader that prominently features video, photos or other rich content. Here's a side-by-side comparison, with the bloggy parts highlighted:

Gawker & Twitter: Blog Columns

Interestingly, this sort of seems like blogs have finally adopted elements of web applications as part of their fundamental design. Many have noted how the new Twitter on the web seems influenced by Twitter on the iPad (though the order of the two platforms' release may not have been the order of their creation), but in chatting today Nick Denton mentioned that there has seemed to be a sort of convergent evolution around these ideas between Twitter's work, Gawker's redesign, and other apps as well. Nick specifically mentioned the Mail app on the iPad, and added, "When we saw Reeder on iPad, we thought: oh, wow, same thinking".

The relative widths of the columns accurately reflects the priority of the media companies that host them: Twitter is mostly about the stream, but also about the content; Gawker is primarily about the content but needs to have the stream.

In this way, blogs are emphasizing the trait that's always defined them, the fact that they're an ongoing flow of information instead of just a collection of published pages. By allowing that flow to continue regardless of which particular piece of embedded content has caught your eye, Gawker and Twitter are just showing the vibrancy and resilience of the format.

On Exposure

June 1, 2008

I started blogging when I was 25, and it was a much smaller blogosphere back in 2000. I was able to make my mistakes in oversharing, overexposure, and unmitigated egotism in a smaller pond, without the entire New York media world and Jimmy Kimmel staring at me. In some ways, blogging and I grew up together, so by the time I was doing national television, I'd already had lots of media training ... a luxury Emily Gould didn't seem to have. I also developed some personal boundaries before I had thousands of daily readers, a luxury Emily Gould also didn't have.

Ariel Meadow Stallings, on Emily Gould's recent NY Times Magazine cover story.

Gawker Reinvention

December 3, 2007

It looks like I wasn't the only one having a Gawker reckoning; A remarkable post revealed that both Emily Gould and Choire Sicha are leaving the site. (Thanks to Rex for the link.)

That post impressively uses Carla Blumenkranz's words about Gawker to highlight the worst tendency of the site: "The status of Gawker rose as the overall status of its subjects declined, and it was this that made Gawker appear at times a reprehensible bully." I'd tried to make the same point, albeit less eloquently, in my own post a few weeks ago:

I'm all for snarky-smart assed blogging, I just think that emulating traditional media's willingness to destroy people who aren't villains isn't a strategy for long-term success.

Perhaps as impressive as Emily and Choire's self-reflection was Gawker's post announcing an opening for a new Managing Editor. It kind of makes explicit that this (re-?) imagining of Gawker is not as the site that takes down the traditional media by mocking them, but as the site that takes down the traditional media by stealing their advertising dollars. In their own words:

It's no longer enough to take stories from the New York Times, and add a dash of snark. Gawker needs to break and develop more stories. And the new managing editor will need to hire and manage reporters, as well as bloggers. Gawker.com receives more than 10m pageviews per month. Think of Gawker less as a blog than as a full-blown news site. The right candidate will oversee Gawker's evolution.

I always believed that those of us who were creating personal media online would win. I still hold out hope that when we do so, it's not because we were willing to fight dirtier (or work cheaper) than the media that inspired us, but rather because we could do a better job of making media than the legacy media does today. Congratulations to everybody involved for being willing to indulge in a little bit of the most positive sort of creative destruction.

Gawker Reckoning

October 15, 2007

I've had the chance to follow Gawker Media since before it launched, really, and so it's been interesting to see a couple of items pop up recently about the direction of some of its titles and practices. The big story, of course, is New York Magazine's piece, which is appropriately petty, self-indulgent, and honest, as any piece about Gawker should be.

A lot of the complaints in the article seem to boil down to "but they're not nice!" and I have to say -- I think that's a completely fair criticism. Not that media has to be nice, but because journalism in many of its forms aspires to having a sense of social responsibility. I've had enough friends or acquaintances who've had their day (or week, or reputation) ruined by one of the Gawker blogs that I've gotten a lot less willing to say "oh hey, they're just trying to drive traffic". I'm all for snarky-smart assed blogging, I just think that emulating traditional media's willingness to destroy people who aren't villains isn't a strategy for long-term success.

From the New York mag story:

It’s long been known to magazine journalists that there’s an audience out there that’s hungry to see the grasping and vainglorious and undeservedly successful (“douchebags” or “asshats,” in Gawker parlance) put in the tumbrel and taken to their doom. It’s not necessarily a pleasant job, but someone’s got to do it. Young writers have always had the option of making their name by meting out character assassinations—I have been guilty of taking this path myself—but Gawker’s ad hominem attacks and piss-on-a-baby humor far outstrip even Spy magazine’s. It’s an inevitable consequence of living in today’s New York: Youthful anxiety and generational angst about having been completely cheated out of ownership of Manhattan, and only sporadically gaining it in Brooklyn and Queens, has fostered a bloodlust for the heads of the douchebags who stole the city. It’s that old story of haves and have-nots, rewritten once again.

The problem with this conveniently simplified narrative about Gawker's sites, particularly its flagship namesake blog, is that it's always accompanied by assertions that this sort of sniping is what blogs are about. This isn't just inaccurate, it's the kind of assertion that is easily disproven both qualitatively and quantitatively. But whether it's Gawker in NYC, Wonkette in DC, or Valleywag in the Bay Area, people who have loud mouths want to believe that news about them must truly be all the news that matters. Therefore, if the blog that talks about me and my friends is snarky, all blogs are snarky. Which is, you know, kinda obviously horseshit.

This hoary-but-false chestnut makes its requisite appearance in the NYMag piece in reference to Elizabeth Spiers and Nick Denton: "They didn’t exactly invent the blog, but the tone they used for Gawker became the most important stylistic influence on the emerging field of blogging and has turned into the de facto voice of blogs today." (Personal note to those who follow in the steps of Vanessa Grigoriadis: This is false. Stop saying it.)

The misrepresentation of blogging is especially tragic because not even all Gawker blogs are snarky. Case in point is the excellent Lifehacker, the best-written of all Gawker blogs, helmed by Gina Trapani. Since they're public, I don't feel too wrong pointing to her recent Twitters, one in praise of a recent attempt by Gawker editors to object to advertising encroaching on editorial on the site, and one celebrating Lifehacker's omission from the recitation of snarky Gawker sites in the NYMag story.

I'm not sure one of the best editorial talents at a publishing company should be reduced to celebrating such small victories. Don't get me wrong: Gawker gets a lot right. There's absolutely a value in speaking truth to power, and there is truly something noble in deflating the self-importance of the various industries that the Gawker sites poke holes in. My contempt for those who insult journalism by pretending it shouldn't evolve remains as strong as ever. At the same time, there should be a sense of social responsibility to the community of bloggers, if not to the traditional media. And to my mind, that means highlighting the humor, incisiveness, and lack of favoritism that made sites like Gawker such a breath of fresh air when they started. Put more simply, tearing apart the innocent bystanders in these industries isn't just bad journalism, it's boring blogging.

And really, as long as print magazines like New York Magazine are still quoting the likes of Julia Allison as an authority on blogs, there will be no shortage of material to poke fun at. But these points of reckoning should serve as useful milestones for making sure we're not becoming the worst of the legacy cultures we're trying to criticize.

Disclaimers, such as they are: I've got a million little connections and biases about this story. I'm an unabashed blog promoter, even after all these years, so I'm protective of the medium. I don't read many posts from Gawker blogs, but still have an inexplicable affection for them, and am quite pleased that at one point years ago, I think I knew almost everybody in the Gawker organization. I like Nick Denton, both personally and professionally, even though he exasperates me regularly and antagonizes my friends almost constantly. (And I certainly admire Nick's diplomatic abilities, which allow him to maintain friendships with people even as he's paid others to publicly embarrass them.)

I've known Liz Spiers for a few years socially, and may even have introduced her at Nick, at a MetaFilter meetup, of all things, and think she's underrated as a blogger. I consider Gina Trapani a friend (which will now be particularly awkward if that's not mutual) and I think indirectly had a hand in her meeting Nick as well. Gina is perhaps the most underrated high-profile blogger in the world. I'm a fan of Gawker editor Choire Sicha, and have a genuine affection for both his talents and charm. I pitched a fit earlier this year at Valleywag editor Owen Thomas because I think some of his pieces on the company I work for were full of shit, though we've since sorta made up and Valleywag continues to publish wacky and wrong articles about our work. I also like New York Magazine, though I only read it when someone sends me a link to a story. And both Gawker and NY Mag use Movable Type for parts of their publishing, which I work on and means I probably indirectly get paid from some of these sites. Batteries not included, your mileage may vary, my name is Anil Dash and I endorse this message.

Update: Can't believe I missed linking to this one, but Nick Denton weighed in, going predictably meta with the absolutely accurate assessment that traditional media has to stop using "bile" to refer to bloggers. I always use "unkind" -- it feels satisfyingly quaint.

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