This article on Nieman Journalism Lab (a Harvard publication) has a better timeline of Gawker’s commenting history than I could ever write, so I will post it here with my comments in italics.
- April 1, 2004. Nick Denton launches Kinja, a blog aggregator resembling Google Reader in functionality. (“The site is designed for people who may have heard about Web logs but are not sure how to start reading them,” writes The New York Times in Circuits.) [I first started commenting in 2007, when Jezebel, a woman-centered site, was added to the roster. I was so obsessed with reading all the comments, which weren’t threaded, that I would open all the day’s posts on my apartment’s stolen Internet, and read them while I watched TV. They were that good. Previously, I had done something similar when I read Gawker, but the community was not as friendly as Jez–they expected witty retorts, not the nurturing friendships I saw blossoming on Jez. Commenters were given “stars” for having lots of followers or if an editor liked a comment.]
- April 30, 2008. Kinja is closed. Some of the codebase is used to develop Gawker’s future discussion platforms.
- July 9, 2009. Gawker Media debuts a new commenting system, introducing tiers and stars for high-quality commenters. Elite users gain the power to promote or demote individual comments. Joshua Benton says the system seems to be a good “balance between complexity and simplicity.” Tragically, Jezebel reports that its commenting communities had “literally exploded” in the past year. [This is when I lost interest. Giving fewer stars, and also taking them away from people who already earned them turned me off. Starred commenters were given power to promote comments. If you wanted to read all comments, there were more clicks and ones that weren’t “promoted” were greyed out, which created a distinction with which I was not comfortable.]
- April 17, 2012. Gawker kills off all starred commenters, saying its sites are overrun by cliques. Comments are disabled for a week.
- April 26, 2012. Gawker launches a new system powered by a secret algorithm that promotes the higher-quality, more relevant comments. Elite users can no longer moderate others’ comments, but every user now has the power to moderate replies to his own thread. The system is code-named Powwow.
- June 4, 2012. Gawker tweaks Powwow comments again, making a series of user-interface changes that are boring to write about here.
- June 27, 2012. Gawker begins rolling out Powwow to all of its sites, rebranding it (confusingly) as Kinja.
The new commenting system created to promote good discussion, because Denton has said “for every two comments that are interesting — even if they’re critical, you want to engage with them — there will be eight that are off-topic or just toxic.”
I find it strange that he has had such a strong change of heart in the past few years. GawkerMedia created such an amazing online community–there were Facebook groups and meetups all over the country–and Denton was no longer interested in nurturing it.
I know I am biased since the Jez (and Idolator, which is no longer owned by GM) comments were such a huge part of my life for several years, especially since many people think poorly of the commenters.
For further learning, visit my You Tube playlist, includes an hour long conversation in three parts with Nick Denton at South by Southwest this year, as well as a Rock Center segment on him where he comes off as super obnoxious and bratty.
I could have done a whole project just on GawkerMedia–it’s completely fascinating to me, and Nick Denton is an iconic figure in the blogging and media world. I can’t believe a comprehensive book has not been written, but the empire is ever-changing. I did really enjoy the chapter on Denton in Scott Rosenberg’s book Say Everything, which is a great resource for anyone who wants to read more about the culture of blogs.
Nick Denton photo from here.