I’ve long been a fan of Gothamist:
in my very first BlogWars posting, I anointed Jen Chung Queen
of the Blogosphere, with a superior site to Gawker and The Kicker. A few
days later, in BlogWars III,
I said that "amateurs like Low Culture,
Gothamist and even MemeFirst [are] keeping
up with the pros like Gawker and The Kicker" – drawing a distinction
between amateur and professional blogs.
The distinction’s still there, but Gothamist, along with its publisher, Jake
Dobkin, has now clearly moved from the amateur to the professional side of the
dividing line. And with its new status comes new problems. As I noted on MemeFirst,
It’s an expectations game: people don’t mind when an amateur blogger goes
on holiday, say, or posts infrequently when their day job starts making bigger
demands on their time. Gawker and Weblogsinc can’t get away with that. They’re
held to a higher standard.
Part of that higher standard is that the publishers of the websites in question
become spokesmen for the whole blogging protoindustry. Jason Calacanis is a
master of the art of rustling up publicity, but even he’s not half as good as
Nick Denton, who’s probably had more stuff written about him than he’s actually
Calacanis and Denton have long had a public rivalry, snarking at each other
and keeping us all guessing as to how much they like or hate each other. Jake
Dobkin, on the other hand, was generally seen as more of an amateur: while Calacanis
and Denton both ran dotcom-era hot properties in their day, Dobkin is a fresh
graduate from NYU biz school, while his resumé
features mainly web design and information architecture work.
In the past couple of months, however, Gothamist has started growing like topsy.
For most of its existence it was essentially a single weblog written by Jen
Chung; now, says Dobkin, "the Gothamist collective has only twenty
writers" (my emphasis).
That line comes from Dobkin’s latest trolling
expedition, but first a bit of background. Gothamist first started expanding
with Gothamist Events, an absolutely
wonderful what’s-on guide which never really got the publicity or the praise
that it deserves. Then came the Gothamist
Interview (if you’re talking to Jake), aka the Young Manhattanite Interview
(if you’re talking to Andrew Krucoff). Pretty soon, the spin-offs were coming
thick and fast: Gothamist
Sports; even Chicagoist. More are
certain to come.
Somewhere along the line, Gothamist stopped being just another New York blog,
and started being a proper business which was competing directly with Gawker.
The Interview, for instance, got high praise from Nick Denton, who has said
that he thinks it’s a great feature and wishes he’d launched it rather than
All that was missing was for Dobkin to start taking potshots at Denton and
Calacanis from his personal site, like those two have been doing for a while
now. But Bluejake is a photolog, not
suited for such things, and jacobdobkin.com
isn’t even a weblog. So he used Gothamist instead. The move wasn’t unprecedented:
he’d already dipped his toes into the water with a long
post entitled "Gothamist Notes 1: What Not to Do When You Blog".
But it was only this month, with an entry entitled "Blogertisements!"
that Dobkin really threw his gauntlet down and started taking on the Denton-Calacanis
axis directly. Nike had decided to launch a website
called Art of Speed, and publicise it with a weblog
published by Gawker. Dobkin was not impressed – although he did sell an
ad for Art of Speed to Nike, which can still be seen between the fourth and
fifth posts on the Gothamist home page. In his Blogertisements post, Dobkin
kept the tone relatively light and fluffy, but still called Denton "unspeakably
devilish", said the blog "isn’t too different from writing the text
on the back of a cereal box", and used words like "contaminate".
Then, today, Dobkin ratcheted the rhetoric up another couple of notches, with
a pretty blistering entry entitled "Calacanis
Jumps the Shark?". Go there now, and you’ll be presented with all manner
of caveats and we-don’t-really-mean-its, most of which weren’t there originally.
But even so, you’ll still find some very sharp language: Dobkin refers to Calacanis’s
latest blog as "poopydiaperblog",
and uses words like "mind-numbingly", "unspeakable", and
"subpar". What’s more, you’ll also find, in the comments, the transcript
of the IM conversation that Calacanis and Dobkin had after the piece was published.
Dobkin didn’t put it there himself, but he certainly hasn’t taken it down, and
let’s just say that it does somewhat contradict Calacanis’s claim
elsewhere that "these days I’m just not as aggressive and confrontational".
(The phrase "you are fucking asshole piece of shit" springs to mind
as one counterexample.)
Most of the personal animus seems to spring from the fact that Dobkin railed
not only on Calacanis, but also, implicitly, on his mother, who co-writes the
new blog. Evidently, insulting Jason Calacanis’s mother is something one simply
doesn’t do: Calacanis says in the comments that "First, I take this very
personal… you don’t talk about people’s mothers and wives in Brooklyn–not
if you’re smart". Now, Jake, what was that you were saying
about how in 2004, "blogs will play a role in a major crime, either murder
All this culminated in a slightly
defensive public apology from Dobkin to Calacanis, with Dobkin saying that
"was meant to be light hearted", and repeating in many different ways
that he didn’t mean to offend. On the other hand, he does say that publicising
the IM transcript "was not my intention", which raises the question
of why he’s kept it up on the Gothamist comments.
In any case, it’s clear that the war of the New York blog entrepeneurs, which
heretofore has been a simple Denton vs Calacanis affair, is now very much a
three-way affair. Dobkin says in the comments to the shark-jumping post that
he "likes to take a close look at these things once or twice a month"
– it’s going to be very interesting to see what’s next, in the wake of
the Art of Speed and BloggingBaby posts. He’s certainly demonstrated an ability
to put people’s backs up – which may or may not be a good thing in this
line of business.