Nick Denton is one of those Blog Lords whom, if you blog at all seriously, you have to pay attention to. But you also have to expect Denton to routinely exasperate. Such as when Gawker Media redesigned its blogs to be far more iPad friendly — and reader unfriendly. Or just today, when CNN reported on some comments that the Great Provocateur made at South by Southwest:
In the early days of the Internet, there was hope that the unprecedented tool for global communication would lead to thoughtful sharing and discussion on its most popular sites.
A decade and a half later, the very idea is laughable, says Gawker Media founder Nick Denton.
"It didn't happen," said Denton, whose properties include the blogs Gawker, Jezebel, Gizmodo, io9 and Lifehacker. "It's a promise that has so not happened that people don't even have that ambition anymore.
"The idea of capturing the intelligence of the readership -- that's a joke."
He goes on to outline an idea for a kind of bespoke, by-invitation-only, commenting-area-cum-salon, which I gather he thinks would represent a synergy of a post or series of posts and the perspective of a important commenter — an "expert," according to him.
There's nothing wrong with this idea, but there is something wrong with Denton's formulation of Gawker Media's various sites' readership. You don't go to Gawker or Gizmodo to have your intelligence captured — you go there to be either entertained or informed in a way that's unique to Gawker Media.
Intelligence-capturing happens in the comments area of other blogs. Sometimes.
It's astounding that Denton would even bring this up. You have to ask if he really understands the content of the (probably) millions of blog posts his writers have written over the years. He certainly understands how the writing process at a Gawker Media blog works:
When it comes to improving open discussion threads, Denton seemed quicker to shoot down ideas that others are trying than to provide proposals of his own.
Having editors and reporters engage their readers in the comments? "The writer of the piece has to move on to the next piece. They don't have time to moderate all those comments."
But there's not necessarily much reason to engage in a typical comments thread. For one thing, more comments don't necessarily translate into increased page views; they're more of a cul-de-sac. And for a Gawker writer, that's not a place where you want to be.
For another, as Denton points out, Gawker sites get a ton of traffic, with long comments threads to go along with the many page views. The simple act of finding the comments worth responding to/engaging with is onerous.
Denton does concede that this is something of a distinctive Gawker Media problem. But there's always this highbrow-lowbrow problem with the guy. He presides over an often amusing gossip site, a wildly popular gadget site, a very useful how-to site — but none of them are exactly the New York Review of Books. Except when Denton himself is posting, as he did with this stunningly smart post about the sites' redesign (forget that the redesign didn't go over well with users). Nick is smart, in a 35,000-feet-above-the-fray manner. The actual sites? Not nearly as smart.
Maybe this makes Denton a little crazy in the head. As blog networks go, Gawker has a reputation for pursuing a "boutique" model, more focused on quality than sheer, brute quantity. The intelligentsia...reads Gawker Media blogs. Sadly, they don't bring that intelligence with them, not entirely, when they pay visits.
And that's the problem with Denton expecting there to be some intelligence to capture. It's there. But it's not really there in a way that can be engaged.