Over the past month, the Gawker family of sites has introduced a brand new way to comment. Called Kinja (previously called Powwow and not to be confused with their 2004 commenting system also called Kinja), this commenting system highlights the comments where conversation is happening, rather than the most recent comments.
It’s an interesting concept. With this system, commenters are encouraged to join existing conversations where people are already talking about the topic, rather than starting new threads. It’s like taking comment nesting to a new level. Kinja is more like a forum under each blog post than a commenting system. In fact, internally, they’ve banished the word comment, imposing a $5 fine whenever someone uses it.
A comment revolution is perhaps exactly what the world of blogging needs. But is Gawker the one to lead it?
Why Gawker’s Comment System is Different
Gawker isn’t the only company playing with the concept of a new commenting system for blogs. Comments have been evolving for several years. When I started blogging in 2006, most blogs didn’t even have nested comments, which is a pretty standard feature these days. Now, there are several commenting plugins you can install, including Disqus and LiveFyre.
What Gawker is doing is different. Why? Because it has to be.
Gawker’s new commenting system gives the house keys to the readers, so to speak, as Kat Stoeffel notes in the post linked above. They’re invited to create the content, not just respond to it, and staff writers hoping to keep their jobs have to take part in these conversations. Comments are arranged using a “secret algorithm,” which I’m guessing is easy for the Gawker staff to manipulate, and conversations can be controlled by those who start them – you now have the power to “dismiss” any reply you don’t like.
Gawker’s commenting system has to be different, has to be formatted in a way that gives both users and staff members more control, due to the choices they make with their content.
I’m a big believer that you get what you give. Trolls can – and do – attack online no matter how thoughtful your content might be, but if we stop demanding more of ourselves and instead cater to trolls, the problem is going to be rampant, as it is on Gawker’s family of sites. When you’re little more than an online tabloid and gossip mill, you can’t be surprised when you need a more closely controlled commenting system.
What is “Good” Content?
I don’t think all Gawker writers are bad, nor do I think that everything they post is without merit. But let’s take a look at what’s on these sites right now. The very first thing that comes up for me? Scorned Wife of Director That Kristen Stewart Humped Takes Sadness to Social Media Outlets
Seriously? “Director that Kristen Stewart Humped”? There wasn’t a better way to say that, especially in conjunction with a story about his wife, who had no part in the indiscretion and is likely going through one of the worst events in her life right now?
It’s not just the headline though. The entire article is full of conjecture rather than fact. Worse, it is full of misleading statements. For example, the post ends with:
“Ross’ latest dig at The Huntsman starlett? An instagram photo of a less-than-pristine looking Snow White with the caption: “Not so pretty or so pure afterall …..” Burn.”
If you actually click on the link to read the story, however, you learn that this was “an Instagram photo from the user “libertyross” (which may or may not actually be Ross, who is the director’s wife).”
As a long time gamer and previous writer in the video game industry, I’ve seen similar problems with Kotaku, another site in the Gawker family. Headlines are often misleading and rumors are presented as fact. Furthormore, writers on all of Gawker’s sites seem trained in the art of getting a rise out of people. I believe the term spin doctors might apply here; perhaps they aspire to careers in politics. At the very least, Gawker’s writers seem to understand the rhetoric required in blog posts to elicit emotion.
This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but rhetorical power in the wrong hands leads to…well…posts about the wife of a man Kristen Stewart is “humping.” It’s almost like readers are being trained to be trolls.
Good content is not only that which seeks a neutral stance. Controversy, when done correctly, can be extremely effective. But quality has to come before the spin. Reporting is still important, and fewer and fewer bloggers are retaining this skill. When a large “media” company like Gawker doesn’t value quality, it hurts the entire industry because they’re sending the message, “This is okay. This is what blogging is about.”
It’s Time for Better Commenting
It is, in fact, time for the blogging industry to embrace new ways of thinking about comments. Kinja might be the start of that, but there are still some problems. Peter Stern of the Columbia Journalism Review writes,
“The goal is to erase the traditional distinctions between writers, editors, readers, subject, and sources,” Denton told CJR in a Gchat. At the same time, he insisted, “our goal is to help our writers each achieve greater influence and reach with the same amount of work.” So which is it—does Denton want to empower writers or replace them?
But the future of commenting is here, and we can’t just ignore it completely. We don’t have to embrace it, but as bloggers, we can work to understand it and improve it. Says community management and social media strategist Natalie Rodic Marsan from Broken Open Media,
This is the natural progression of comments, and in fact, I’m thrilled to see that the thinking around blog comments is catching up to the AI-driven, algorithmic social web as we know it. I’d say this is the first step in what will be an even more customized approach to how each viewer can interact with a post and ensuing comments. While sites like Mashable, HuffPo, and now even LinkedIn are encouraging us to customize the news and updates we receive, as well as the other readers/members we want to follow, the natural progression is for these choices we make to also affect the comments we see on any given post (especially posts with upwards of hundreds of comments).
As Gawker continues to tweak Kinja in the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how readers react. Gawker’s content issues pose a huge problem to us, though – can we really understand the value (or lack of value) with a system like Kinja when readers are trained to be trolls?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this with a comment below. And yes, we still call them comments here on the NMX/BlogWorld blog!