Lessons from the Gawker Redesign
Over the past couple of weeks, the Gawker family of blogs rolled out the most significant redesign since the group’s inception. While there are always website users resistant to change, the Gawker communities, Jezebel in particular, have responded with a high level of rancor to the new design. Why is this relevant to other bloggers or small businesses? The heart of the Gawker redesign backlash is a fundamental misunderstanding of what your users are looking for from your site or business.
Gawker was first launched by Nick Denton in 2002 as a New York-centric gossip site. In the following 8 years, it expanded to add (or buyout) sister sites related to tech, cars, gaming, sports, women’s issues, sci-fi and productivity. Thanks to the hard work of Denton in promotion, Gawker Media sites have scored top notch advertising deals and writers have been featured on CNN, HLN, MTV, NPR and numerous other traditional media outlets. In addition, they pioneered a type of self-selecting commenter base. When users initially join the site, they are almost auditioning for the right to comment… non-featured commenters can only been seen by those who choose to view all comments. A comment moderator base can “star” users, granting them the ability to be featured. Users who are already starred and approve comments by replying to them, giving non-starred users an audience they otherwise wouldn’t have. While it could sound elitist, the commenting system has created a good community atmosphere to the sites. While comments on most traditional news articles or other sites (see YouTube) tend to devolve to a series of slurs or “FIRST!!!1!,” comments tend to add to the discussion at Gawker sites. It’s this commenter community, along with a large reader-only base, that accounts for the massive amount of traffic that the sites receive.
Looking to expand the sites and up page views, Denton first announced the redesign in November. A larger area for featured stories, an always on-screen scrolling list of all stories and a general app-like feel were the key superficial changes. Critics maintained that while he might be revamping the idea of a blog, the all-important number of pageviews would go down. Denton was so sure of his plan that he even made a bet that they’d only go up. With the roll out going to all sites this week, editors knew to expect some amount of resistance. The resistance went up to full on backlash level once users realized what all these changes meant for the commenters: a de-emphasis on comments, inability for unstarred commenters to post in hashtags (used as open threads on the site) and a general disregard for what the users saw as they key feature of Gawker sites: the discussion.
Time will only tell whether this Gawker redesign reinvents the blogging world, but the initial evidence suggests that contrary to Denton’s hypothesis, page views are on the decline. Community is everything, both online and off. Remember who your customers are and keep in mind why they’re using your business or service. Don’t know the whos and whys? Maybe now’s a good time to find out.
Image source: Gawker Media.
Full Disclosure: Author is also a writer for a Jezebel-alternative site.