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?