Gawker Media chief Nick Denton talked about the image problem that arises from having a conspicuous cohort of fanatical but ill-informed commenters at Ad Age 's Media Evolved conference today, where he also discussed Facebook's superiority over Twitter in pumping up web traffic.
Owner of an online media empire that spans the flagship Gawker to sports-oriented Deadspin to io9 for sci-fi diehards and racks up a combined 20 million unique views per month, Mr. Denton told the audience that there are plans in the works for a product launch that would aim to enhance the commenting environment in the hopes of attracting smarter readers who are currently wary of entering the conversation.
"I would like an AT&T engineer who has an explanation for why AT&T's data coverage is weak in New York and San Francisco to feel comfortable in our comment environment," he said, also naming NBC's Brian Williams as a Gawker devotee who's a model for the kind of commenter he'd like to attract.
The issue isn't limited to the fanatics and shouters. And Mr. Denton noted that the current problem isn't actually internet "trolls," since there are moderating capabilities in place to run them off the sites when they violate the terms of service.
"The problem is the boring people online -- they're incredibly difficult to get rid of , because they're often really nice," he said. "But they simply haven't contributed anything to the discussion."
Mr. Denton also referenced Gawker's controversial redesign earlier this year, which changed the sites from a reverse-chronological stream of posts to a format with a larger "cover" story -- taking cues from traditional print media -- with a less prominent reverse-chronological flow of less important stories to the side. He noted that the decision to move forward with the redesign was essentially a decision to pay less attention to Gawker's minority contingent of fanatics and build a site that would appeal to more casual readers who might be stumbling onto the sites for the first time.
By way of example, he cited an April 2010 Gizmodo exclusive reporting on the features of an iPhone 4 that was recovered in a Redwood City, Calif., bar. The story drew massive traffic due to the publicity, but because of the old design, the editors had to stop updating the site for eight hours one day, since the story people were looking for would have dropped too low on the page to be found in the old format.
Mr. Denton also commented on the importance of scoops in driving traffic.
"Those stories tripled audience in the past four years," he said, referring to Gizmodo's iPhone story, Deadspin's coverage of illicit pictures sent by Brett Favre to a former Jets cheerleader from his mobile phone, and others.
When asked about why the Twitter share button was made less conspicuous in Gawker's redesign, Mr. Denton said the micro-blogging platform seemed to be most popular for a niche media and tech-oriented audience, and Gawker stories that go viral there tend not to get major pick-up when compared to Gawker's most well-trafficked stories.
"I think Facebook is more for real people," he said.