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The Costs of Gawker Media's Growth, the Ease of Facebook Fraud and the Case of the Accidental Tweeter

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Sometimes it feels like the internet is one never-ending article on Nick Denton, in which the (sort-of) elusive subject is hashed and rehashed in an eternal quest to come to some firm conclusion on just who this self-described "gossip merchant" is and, for bonus points, to answer the vexatious question of precisely what -- what?! -- he is doing to journalism and, possibly, our children. The latest to spray a lot of words in that direction is The New Yorker's Ben McGrath, who came up with an entertaining enough piece on the Gawker Media founder, even if it didn't quite slap a #30 on the matter of Mr. Denton's being.

Nick Denton
Nick Denton Credit: Matt Haughey
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The article left enough up in the air that, just days after it was published, another New Yorker writer did a follow-up blog post on the original. The follow-up, penned by John Cassidy, is probably the more interesting of the two. His starting point is detail on Gawker's finanicals -- $15 million to $20 million in annual revenue and a $30 million valuation -- which were inexplicably buried in Mr. McGrath's profile. Running with those numbers, Mr. Cassidy does a more or less good job of placing Gawker Media in the broader context of online publishing, where Gawker isn't precisely the behemoth Mr. Denton's press (though not the man himself) would lead you believe it is. Mr. Cassidy also smartly points out that Gawker's traffic boom has also incurred more costs, a useful reminder that content businesses, even ones that don't regularly do expensive investigative digs, scale miserably:

The cost inflation is unlikely to stop. Online publishing has turned into a destructive arms race. When I spoke to Denton, if memory serves, there were about 15 or 20 posts a day on Gawker.com, and Denton told me he believed the ideal figure was 25. As I write this, the Gawker homepage says there have been 69 posts in the last 24 hours. As the emphasis in online publishing shifts further to video, the cost of producing memorable content is going to escalate further. There is a reason that most cable channels, and even some video-heavy news Web sites, such as TMZ, reside inside giant media companies such as Comcast and Time Warner.

Bill Simmons
Bill Simmons
ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons, who might properly be described as the Un-Denton, broke a major piece of sports news last week when he accidentally tweeted that New England Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss might be traded to the Minnesota Vikings. In a strong column this week, Mr. Simmons does an anatomy of a mistweet. Yes, it rambles, but all in all it's a thoughtful and humorous look into journalistic process in the age of instant publishing.

I am pretty frazzled. My fingers and brain are moving 90 miles an hour. I'm thinking about 12 things at once. Instead of canceling the tweet, my brain basically farts all over my BlackBerry. I press the "send" button instead of the "cancel" button. I have no idea why my fingers did this -- none -- but that's what they did.

Almost immediately, a new tweet pops up on my screen:

@sportsguy33: moss Vikings

Oh God.

And I'm just sitting there staring at it. It's like the scene in "Seven" when Brad Pitt finds his wife's head in the box. What did you do? What did you do?

Facebook may be an out-of-control juggernaut sucking up all our personal data without regard for privacy in some unknown apocalyptic design. Or it may not be. In any event, it's nice that the social network has folks like Michael Arrington and Jason Calacanis policing it. This week Mr. Arrington, the Techcrunch founder, poses as Google CEO Eric Schmidt in a nice public rebuke of a hole in Facebook profile setup allowing for all manner of activity on an account that hasn't been verified.

As soon as the account was created, I was asked to verify the email address. I ignored that and instead just turned off all email notifications. But I can still use the account to add friends, accept friend requests, like status posts, and send and receive messages.

Messages occasionally pop up saying "Before you can interact with other people on Facebook, you need to confirm your email address." But most activity isn't restricted at all.

I'm fairly certain that the account will be disabled shortly. But what if I had faked a less high-profile individual, and didn't write on TechCrunch about it?

Last but not least, this Bumblebee Labs post by Hang (aka Xianhang Zhang) on social software design manages to be both geeky and clear at the same time. The topic is "evaporative cooling," a simple physics term explaining reductions in temperature that come from the evaporation of water, its application to group dynamics and, now, to social networks -- in which context it's understood as a "corrosive" force.

It occurs when the most high-value contributors to a community realize that the community is no longer serving their needs anymore and so therefore, leave. When that happens, it drops the general quality of the community down such that the next most high-value contributors now find the community underwhelming. Each layer of disappearances slowly reduces the average quality of the group until such a point that you reach the people who are so unskilled-and-unaware of it that they're unable to tell that they're part of a mediocre group.

Evaporative cooling is, as Hang notes, closely tied to the Groucho Marx theory of group dynamics: "I don't want to be part of any club that will accept people like me as a member."

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