Pick one: Gawker takes a hit/Gawker is coming back

I’m noting with interest today the reports that Gawker sites took a pageviews hit after their redesign. I’m not a big fan of pageviews as a measurement of right and wrong, but I’m a huge fan of the reverse chronological presentation of the blog format that Gawker gave up in the redesign. Here I am out there trying to encourage traditional media companies to embrace the format, and one of the original blog superstars, Nick Denton, switches Gawker around in the name of “moving past” the blog. It was confusing, to say the least, because what Denton really moved “to” is the traditional media, top-story presentation. That’s not moving past; that’s going backwards.

Let me restate some old points. The blog format of reverse chronological order was created of the Web, by the Web and for the Web. Traditional media types had nothing to do with it and wanted nothing to do with it. The entire back end infrastructure of the Web is designed to seek out and sort that which is new, that which is “at the top,” if you will. If you wish your work to shake hands with the Web, the Web will shake hands with that which is new, always. There is no aggregator that seeks out the top story, because the Web doesn’t care, and if you artificially seed your output, it will figure out what’s going on. It wants what’s new, and, well, that’s one of the definitions of “news” anyway, right?

One of the points of genius about this is that it respects the recipient of content, the customer, the user. It does this by presenting the time of day as the only filter, something that cannot be manipulated for gain by the content creator. It respects the intelligence of the user to figure out and find what’s important without the manipulating guiding hand of the editor. Traditional media has gone far by assuming that the average person needs our help in “shaping” his or her experience, to understand what’s important and what isn’t. The problem is that this has been twisted in the name of self-serving marketing and people have lost trust in our assumption. They want to decide for themselves, and a system based solely on time that allows them to do that is refreshing precisely because it’s not filtered in any way.

There are two spins on the story this week: one, Gawker’s pageviews went down when they launched their redesign and, two, Gawker’s pageviews are coming back after falling off the map, etc.

Erick Shonfeld of TechCrunch explained why the masses are abandoning Gawker:

You can revert to a traditional blog view, but the default is the “top story” view. Most people will probably never figure out how to toggle back to the comforts of the classic reverse-chron design, so they leave instead in frustration. Tweets about the redesign are more negative than positive.

Schonfeld included a graph from Sitemeter showing how pageviews fell completely off the map for the Gawker site, Gizmodo after the redesign. A nightmare.

Sitemeter stats for Gizmodo

Meanwhile, a report in Business Insider is more optimistic, citing that those who’ve remained are staying longer and clicking on more pages.

It’s too soon to say whether it’s working, but the data seems to say “cautiously optimistic.”

It’s entertaining to read the comments to stories like these, because they can be revealing. One TechCrunch commenter, for example, pointed out that if RSS is the way you’ve always consumed any Gawker product, nothing has changed. Of course, that’s because RSS is a part of the Web handshake that only recognizes what is new in a feed, as the blog format does naturally. I think that’s the point anyway.


  1. You’ve nailed the division between the traditional editorial mindset and Web-thought. But the world is still full of editors and media folks who think their public still wants them to decide what’s important.

    I’ve preferred the “river of news”/blog-style reverse-chronological newsfeed model since I first became acquainted with it, but I’ve always fallen into arguments with colleagues who prefer the “we decide” model. They’ve always been able to point not only to the classic front-page/mag-cover approach but also to the phenomenally popular portal home page (Yahoo News et al.) as proof that the editors’-choice method is the most popular.

    I’ve come to believe that over the next decade or so we will learn whether the popularity of a Yahoo News-style page (or the NYTimes front page) is an enduring trait reflecting deep reader preference or just a vestige of a vanishing media régime. I think a lot of people may be surprised if the latter proves out, as I suspect it might.

  2. Scott, all good stuff, as usual. I think the answer will lie in whether we consume media via aggregators or by hopping from place-to-place. I’m voting for aggregators, hence: place-based distribution or “unbundled” content. Then we won’t give a crap about who thinks what is important.

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