Nick Denton is very excited
about his latest franchise, Gawker Stalker Maps. I’ve never been a fan of Gawker
Stalker: the feature has always seemed to me to be little more than a cheap
way of getting readers to interact with the website. Indeed, I said
back in 2003 that the introduction of Gawker Stalker was "the beginning
of the end of Gawker as it was originally envisaged". Gawker Stalker Maps,
however, moves beyond uninteresting and well into the realm of positively unpleasant.
The spectacle of Gawker vs Flacks in the New York Daily News today is particularly
As innovative as it might be, it dangerously puts these people in harm’s
way. Somebody’s going to get hurt," warned flack Leslie Sloane Zelnik,
who reps Lohan, Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher and other soft targets.
"These people are trying to lead a normal life, and I think at some point
the government is going to have to step in and regulate this. I really think
this crosses a line."
Coen retorted: "I think the government should get involved to stop Leslie
Up until now, Gawker has been the bitchy office queen, gossiping about NYC
media types and occasionally common-or-garden celebrities as well. Jessica Coen
might have been mean about many people, but she’s been mean in the manner of
the powerless snarking about the powerful. Now, Denton has upgraded the "Stalker"
part of "Gawker Stalker" from ironic to literal.
Your friend is walking down Broadway and sees Sarah Jessica Parker walking
towards her. The following day, she finds herself seated a couple of tables
down from SJP at a trendy restaurant. The following week, the two of them are
in the same dog run at the same time. "I’m becoming a Sarah Jessica Parker
stalker," she says. Funny or scary? Funny.
Now think what would happen if your friend reported all of these sightings,
in real time, to Gawker Stalker. Apropos Denton, this should eventually be able
to happen directly, without even being filtered through the two extra interns
that he’s reportedly brought on for this project. Your friend would be building
up a database of exactly when and where Sarah Jessica Parker is seen in public.
On her own, that might be harmless enough: three datapoints over the course
of a couple of weeks. But Gawker has well over a million readers. It only takes
a very small percentage of those to get in on the game, and pretty soon Gawker
is able to "pinpoint the location of every stalkworthy celebrity".
Yes, that’s their stated
aim. Funny or scary? Scary.
Part of what makes cities work is the anonymity conferred by large crowds.
One of the reasons why people move to New York from Smalltown is that in Smalltown,
everybody knew where they were and what they were doing at all times. Here,
you can walk down the streets wearing nothing but an inflatable crocodile, and
no one will care. Gawker Stalker Maps is an exercise in taking those comfortingly
anonymous crowds and turning them into a million-eyed intelligent beast, collating
and organising information on hundreds of individuals unlucky enough to be recognisable
That information, of course, will be incredibly useful to genuine stalkers,
who will be able to use it to work out their prey’s habitual wanderings. There
might even be genuine security implications to posting regular sightings of
Bill Clinton or Rupert Murdoch or any number of other world-famous New Yorkers.
But even without those worries, Gawker Stalker is destroying the implicit compact
between New Yorkers and celebrities. It’s one thing being recognised on the
street; it’s another thing entirely having to wonder how many of the people
who recognise you will be posting your exact location on the internet in real
time, on a web page devoted to that very purpose.
Nick Denton has a refreshing couldn’t-care-less attitude to what other people
think of Gawker Media and its properties. You don’t like his porn site? Doesn’t
bother him, he’s not forcing you to go there. I’m sure that he saw the technological
potential of a site like this, and decided to grab himself a first-mover advantage,
complete with sponsorship from E! Online. After all, if he didn’t do it, someone
else would, sooner or later. But there are lines he won’t cross: he won’t publish,
for instance, a database of celebrities’ cellphone numbers and home and email
At the moment, Gawker Stalker Maps is new, so it doesn’t have the really scary
functionality: being able to see not all celebrity sightings over the past couple
of hours or days, but rather being able to see all the sightings, ever, of any
given celebrity. I can only hope that day will never come. And for the first
time ever, I also hope that this webpage will not grow itself an RSS
feed, since it would be trivial to create such a celebrity-specific database
through a simple RSS filter. All the same, Gawker Stalker Maps is already a
nasty and dangerous web page, and really should never have been created in the