Will Denton lose his bet?

By Felix Salmon
February 12, 2011
bet with Nick Denton over Gawker Media pageviews. Can Denton get them up to 510 million in September?

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Rex Sorgatz asks for my opinion on who’s going to win his bet with Nick Denton over Gawker Media pageviews. Can Denton get them up to 510 million in September?

I’m having a very difficult time answering this question, because it really could go either way — it isn’t a foregone conclusion by any means.

There’s no doubt that pageviews are down, right now, post-redesign, rather than up. And a glance at the comments on this post makes it clear why: Gawker’s readers (and the readers of all the other Gawker sites) hate the redesign. They certainly hate it enough that they’re not visiting as much as they used to, and some of them hate it enough that they’re no longer visiting at all.

Commenter “ihatediamonds”, in a comment that I can’t link to right now, says that “Gawker is just giving up on the joyfully literate” — and that seems exactly right. Gawker was built on snark and literacy, both in its posts and in its comments. And Nick Denton is demoting both of those qualities in favor of high-impact photos and video — areas where he doesn’t have the same kind of comparative advantage.

As a result, if Denton’s to win the bet, he’s going to have to replace joyfully literate readers with the kind of readers who love to look at shiny objects. So that’s the first thing I find very hard to predict: can Denton attract such readers? They’re out there, for sure, and Denton has learned that posts with lots of photos and video got the most pageviews under the old design. But what’s not clear is how loyal such readers are, and whether Denton can get enough shiny multimedia content up on his various sites every day to get them into the habit of coming back for more on a regular basis.

There are also technological reasons why the redesign might fail. Hash-bang architecture is fragile, and the technological glitches we’ve seen since the sites went live are severe enough that one can’t be particularly optimistic that Denton is going to be able to build a smoothly-running machine between now and September. Gawker’s tech department does not have a fantastic reputation for reliability, and it has a lot of work ahead of it: tags need to be reintroduced, for one thing, and maybe sections, and navigation to specific pages or comments needs to be vastly improved. I’m all in favor of launching with something not-quite-perfect and then iterating. But this design has been in the works for over a year, which says to me that nobody really has a clue how long it might take to perfect.

On the other hand, Denton has built a blog empire by going ever more mass market, leaving behind various elites along the way. If the commenters are aggrieved, so be it: he wants millions of new readers who haven’t been visiting his sites for years.

And I’ll say this for the new design: once you’re there and you’ve loaded up the first page, it’s incredibly easy to click around lots of other stories in quick succession. Where before you’d look at the teaser text on the home page to decide whether you wanted to read a particular blog post, now you just call up the post itself, and if you don’t like it you can move on to the next one very quickly. That’s fantastic for pageviews — I’m pretty confident that pageviews per session will rise substantially under the new design.

So Denton can win this bet a couple of ways. Either he replaces his departed readers with even more new ones, or else he relies on the increase in pageviews per session to make up for the decrease in visits.

I’ve had a couple of bets myself with Nick over the years, and I’ve invariably lost them. So, licking my wounds, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, and say there’s a good chance he’ll win. But it’s entirely possible that he’ll lose quite dramatically, if his revolution fails.

6 comments

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Yes, it’s easy to click through to a new article, but is it easy to click through to a new article that I actually want to read?

No, it isn’t – the new design seems to hide articles, even from “classic view”. The old design rewarded regular viewers, who could simply scroll down, and open tabs for the articles they wanted to read. This new design seems to be a close equivalent for New Coke: rewarding to people who haven’t seen the site before.

Posted by DrFuManchu | Report as abusive

Short answer? Doesn’t matter; he’s offensive and now irrelevant. Feel bad for some of the writers over there though.

Posted by Uncle_Billy | Report as abusive

The “joyfully literate” commenters have all gone to crasstalk.com.

Posted by theorchidthieg | Report as abusive

If you really want to go to a quality site with thoughtful humorous posts a la old Gawker then crasstalk.com is the place. Many, many of the former regular commenters on Gawker have gone there and found a most welcoming home. And it turns out that not only were they eloquent commenters, they are wonderful bloggers as well. There are also current events culled from around the internets. It’s really a shame that Nick Denton forced this mass exodus but it works for me!

Posted by Waspy | Report as abusive

The pageview count at Gawker has always seemed disengenuous. I thought that was the early point of commenters- to engage them to perpetually hit ‘refresh’ on the same story to see what all the other smarties had to say.
Well, the smarties are all gone. There is no more refreshing in anticipation- instead the pageviews are assisited by making sure it takes you multiple clicks to get to the one story you may want to read. The forums are dark, barren halls.
I wish I could bunt Brian and Richard up like babies and wheel them over to http://www.crasstalk.com in a double stroller. C’est la vie.
Denton is welcome to the LOL WUT crowd. His buggy, impossible redesign cured me of my once fierce Gawking habit.

Posted by princesslala | Report as abusive

From recent tweets it seems like Denton has a somewhat apocalyptic view of the future of the internet. He’s betting that one day the internet will be comprised of news sites and social networking sites and never the twain shall meet.
Judging by the dedicated community at crasstalk.com I think that that absolutist idea is false and that Denton is going to lose his bet.

The beauty of the internet is that it opens up the news. Gawker used to be a place where you could go to read news and then have funny and intelligent conversations that deepened your understanding and challenged your assumptions. It used to be a place where smart people could become smarter people.
Now all those smart, funny people are at crasstalk.com. I would say that existence of this thriving community (that just moved to bigger badder servers!) proves that the news site/social networking site binary Denton is dreaming of is by no means a certainty.

Posted by ihatediamonds | Report as abusive