Nick Denton has for some time been goosing Gawker’s pageviews by encouraging long comments threads on Gawker posts. There’s nothing wrong with that, and Gawker’s comments system is excellent. But it turns out that even Gawker’s loyal commenters will exit if pushed hard enough.
When Nick Douglas posted a truly execrable blog entry on Friday afternoon — a time when just about any blog entry is likely to get a longer-than-usual comments thread, since the site updates much less often on weekends — the commenters finally revolted. They knew that every time they reloaded that page in order to continue their conversation, Nick Douglas’s pageviews would go up. And so they moved their conversation over, to the blog entry which precipitated the pay-for-traffic model. Since that blog entry was authored by Alex Balk, Nick Douglas won’t get any bonus from their back-and-forth.
But it’s still Gawker, which means that Nick Denton gets advertising revenue from all those comments even if Nick Douglas doesn’t get a bonus. And so one of the more frequent Gawker commenters simply decreed that the comment thread should move over to his blogspot blog — which, impressively, it did, with 782 comments so far this weekend.
Let’s recap. First, substantially all of Gawker’s editors deserted it: Alex Balk led the exodus, followed quickly (and simultaneously) by Choire Sicha, Emily Gould, and Josh Stein. (Update: It was actually Doree Shafrir who led the exodus: she left two weeks before Balk gave notice.) And that wasn’t the last of the departures, either. In their wake, Gawker’s most loyal readers are now leaving the site as well.
Nick Denton has personally taken over running Gawker, which means he has no one but himself to blame if the site’s numbers start continue heading south. It’s not really fair to judge him on his first week on the job, but then again, this is Teh Blogs, where fairness has never been a strong suit.
In any case, I feel another wager coming on. Gawker’s traffic has been declining for the past couple of months: it got 11.5 million pageviews in October, 9 million in November, and 8 million in December. I’ll bet Nick a lunch at Lever House that he’s not going to beat Gawker’s October pageview figure at any time in the next three months.
Are we on?
Update: I haven’t heard from Nick Denton, but I have heard from Lockhart Steele. He reckons that Gawker’s going exactly as he anticipated: a total shitshow in January, followed by a serious uptick in quality in February, and then “every traffic trick in the book” leading to an all-time Gawker record in March. So the bet is on, albeit with Lock rather than Nick.
Update 2: Denton speaks! “You’ll ask when we’ll match October’s peak. Answer: I don’t know. But I would certainly like to get there in the first half of this year.”