Gawker Gives Comments Some Love, and Now We Know Why

More
Comment sections are notoriously neglected by online publications. But that may change if sites can figure out how to monetize readers' attention there.

shutterstock_84003247-615.png

Earlier this spring, Gawker unveiled a shiny new comments system that was clearly a labor of love. Someone -- or, rather, a group of people with Gawker's Nick Denton at the top -- had put some real thought into this new system, trying to solve the problem of designing a system that fosters intelligent conversation among multiple parties. The answer, it seemed, involved diffuse human moderation from thread "owners," a tree-like structure for conversation branches, and an algorithm that would hunt down comments for high-quality text and promote them.

When I first read about the new system, I was cheered. Comment sections are notoriously the red-headed stepchildren of online journalism, but also the greatest unrealized potential. Creating a high-quality comments section tends to be seen as too costly, either in terms of capital or time, with too little financial return to merit the investment required. But a great comments section could make a good site really sing, giving writers important feedback and enticing them to produce smarter content, with the result being a positive feedback loop that would benefit the site and the readers together. Is this why Gawker was putting comments at the heart of its new strategy?

That's what it seemed like initially. In a memo, Denton discussed his plans:

We plan to make the new discussion areas civil enough to encourage authors, experts and celebrities to come in for open Web chats. But writers should feel the comments are a place that you can develop your points with your sources, tipsters and friends. You should be looking forward to seeing the reaction to your article, not avoiding toxic commenters. So we'll radically overhaul the comment system technically to keep interesting conversations from being derailed.

This is some serious forward thinking. But, as Felix Salmon reports in Reuters, this was only part of the story. Gawker is going to take these intelligent conversations and figure out how to "to turn them into dollars." A new unit will work with marketers to figure out how they can engage with potential customers directly in the comments sections of Gawker's sponsored posts. Because of the functions Gawker has created for thread owners in the platform, companies will have "quite a lot of control over which comments in that thread will get featured."

It's a fine line to walk. Bringing marketers and giving them so much control could itself dampen or shape conversation. But if Gawker manages to pull it off (and right now it's not looking too good for online ad-revenue-supported content in general), perhaps more companies will invest in commenting platforms that will make online journalism -- and the experience of reading it -- better. And, of course, the revenue won't hurt either.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

This Short Film Skewers Hollywood, Probably Predicts Disney's Next Hit

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

How Will Climate Change Affect Cities?

Urban planners and environmentalists predict the future of city life.

Video

The Inner Life of a Drag Queen

A short documentary about cross-dressing, masculinity, identity, and performance

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In