Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Not That Anyone Asked for My Opinion

I'll keep this short.

It seems to me that none of the Gawker sites offer enough by way of original content to keep people coming back. That opinion is based upon nothing and has no value anywhere, but anyway, there it is. To me, as long as the format is something along the lines of second-hand news + viral video + occasional original bit + snark + abnormally exclusive commenting system, there would always be a hard cap on the amount of traffic Gawker sites would be able to generate and sustain. Were it not for a collection of outstanding commenters, it's likely I would virtually never visit Deadspin. As it stands, the overwhelming majority of my visits to Deadspin are to see what's going on in the comments. Sometimes, I don't even look at the posts.

The challenge, the contest of becoming a commenter on Deadspin is engaging for those of us inclined towards putting a downright unhealthy amount of time and effort into crafting jokes, but it's important to remember, from time to time, that a lot of the seemingly brain-dead pink commenters and probably a strong majority of the less prolific grey commenters are, in fact, people of better-than-average intelligence, people whose traffic would maybe increase if there weren't so many barriers to participation. I might think of having a star on Deadspin as a badge of awesomeness, but most normal, healthy, sane folks, people with real jobs and credit cards and social lives, they think of the amount of work necessary for that as a totally out-of-the-question devotion of energy. And? They're right.

For every fat-leaveher, who came to Deadspin because of the hierarchical commenting system, there are probably dozens if not hundreds of equally intelligent internet travelers who read a story, have a thought, bother to type up a comment, find that their comment is somehow invisible, and move right the hell on with the rest of their totally fulfilling lives without ever looking back. To them, Deadspin is that quirky site with the broken commenting system. For every IronMikeGallego, who was approved and starred in his first two comments, both of which were not even remotely jokes, there are probably dozens if not hundreds of equally intelligent, thoughtful people with an interest in a particular sport and the capacity to contribute quality commentary who've been either discouraged by the hierarchical commenting system or were flat-out chased away, whether by a ninja squadron upholding the one rule of Deadspin commenting, or by a snarky, totally-outside-of-what-is-appropriate dig from Phintastic, or by this very site (and its offspring), or by a simple lack of reciprocal interest in genuine discourse.

In short, there's a whole world of people wasting time on the internet this very minute, and something that Gawker and Deadspin are doing is, at best, failing to capture their attention. At worst, it's actively discouraging their participation. And that's bad.

One way or another, we're all going to have to get used to this change. If you're inclined to move on from Deadspin altogether, you won't be alone. I, for one, probably won't have much use for the place after the changes go into effect. Not because I think Deadspin will be taking a huge nosedive or anything that silly. No, I'm just one guy whose use for Deadspin was the jokes and only the jokes. There are hundreds or thousands or millions of potential readers and participants to be attracted, and if the moderators are up to the task of keeping their contributions within reasonable bounds, that's a huge win for Nick Denton et al. I won't begrudge them that. The fact is, there will still be very good comments on Deadspin. A great joke will still be a great joke. You'll still know who all the best jokers are, if you're paying attention. We should not assume this change means that suddenly Deadspin will be trading commenters with ESPN.com. But overall, it will be a friendlier place for the casual reader to become a casual participant. Whatever pitfalls come with that, it certainly stands to increase traffic, and that's good business.

Hey, you fucks, make the best of it in the meantime. I hope we'll all stick around long enough to try a new thing and see if it fits. If not, hey, there's always Gamboa's bedroom window to keep me occupied.

Keep on doin'.

26 comments:

  1. It's like I keep saying and saying and saying.

    "That guy has amazing awanus."

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    1. That will never stop cracking me up.

      Yes, I'm a moron.

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  2. I fucking love you, man. Lead us out the desert to the New Israel

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  3. there are probably dozens if not hundreds of equally intelligent, thoughtful people with an interest in a particular sport and the capacity to contribute quality commentary who've been either discouraged by the hierarchical commenting system or were flat-out chased away, whether by a ninja squadron upholding the one rule of Deadspin commenting, or by a snarky, totally-outside-of-what-is-appropriate dig from Phintastic

    That could be the most poignant thing I've seen about this. Phin was scaring people away from Deadspin all this time.

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    1. I'm sure his use of the word "equally" was a typo, though.

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  4. A Phan of Phin (not Phin)April 18, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    Nice writeup, but the point about Phintastic is just flat-out wrong, unless by "outside-of-what-is-appropriate" you simply mean that it wasn't his "job" to take down bad comments. I cannot think of a single instance when his responses were out of proportion to the comment he was attacking. He only went after comments that 99% of us would agree were horrible - and not for poor execution of a well-intentioned joke, but for poor intent in the first place.

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    1. It's not just Phintastic, although I come down very squarely in the same camp as cheese-mac and, apparently, the ninjas regarding Phintastic's propensity for meta-commentary and take-downs. I'm sure I've covered that before.

      My point is there have been any number of factors at play to discourage exactly the kind of thoughtful commentary that comes most easily to many casual readers. One factor has probably been, from time to time, new commenters getting beat up by lifers over comments that didn't satisfy the soon-to-be-obsolete rule of Deadspin commenting. The upcoming change will make the site much friendlier to casual and new readers by eliminating at least one of the real barriers: the hierarchical commenting system.

      And I absolutely think it's not a commenters job to take down bad comments. I hate that crap, and I especially hate it when it isn't done with the utmost style and humor. Taking down a bad comment with a reply that is not, itself, a knockout joke is not better than making the bad comment in the first place. Of course, this is all subject to taste and other factors. I could be wrong.

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    2. The difference between longtime commenters and longtime commenters with the password to the Comment_Ninja account is absurdly minimal.

      But I agree that while the commenting culture, star system, and ninja enforcement have been great for us, they've closed the doors to tons of would-be valuable commenters.

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    3. Longtime Reader, First-Time CallerApril 18, 2012 at 6:43 PM

      This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    4. @Bronze:

      That first part of your comment is silly. The difference is that the comment_ninjas have been specifically empowered by the editors to moderate the comments. Their judgment, therefore, bears the imprimatur of the only people whose opinions of the comments matter. That's a big fucking difference.

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    5. @Bronze:

      Or do you really think it's not possible for a person to have lasted a long time as a commenter without ever developing good taste or judgment about comments? If so, I'd like to offer Upstate Underdog as definitive proof that you're wrong.

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    6. Nah, Upstate Underdog is abominable.

      Say what you will about Phintastic's joke-making effort, but I can't remember a time when I read one of his retorts and thought "Oh, that didn't deserve it." Really, that we've talked about him this much implies that he's a frequent (or the only) offender, which isn't true. SponsoredByV8 gave lauren_jo a big ol' sarcastic "BAZINGA!" today too, and I laughed.

      Further, I don't subscribe to the theory that the editors have the only worthwhile opinions of the comments. Frankly, I think it's pretty obvious most of them rarely read any comments at all - which is fine - but they don't know what's good and what isn't. The ninjas are great, and absolutely know what's good and what isn't, but whatever. They're just ninjaing for fun. I don't see the big deal in letting loose a little bit.

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    7. @Longtime:

      Easy there, fella. You don't have to like any particular commenter, but stay away from bashing people over here.

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    8. There's no question that some of Phintastic's star history has made him a bit of a meme, and that he's become an easy standard-bearer for a lot of negative behaviors. Some of that may not be fair. Again, my point was not just about Phintastic - I just chose him as an example. I'm sure he understands.

      I have no special dislike for Phintastic. I laugh at his good jokes same as everyone else. There's no rivalry here. I chose his name because he's prominent and it's recently been a topic around Deadspin. Again, I'm sure he understands.

      I assume by "letting loose a little bit" you're referring to commenter-on-commenter takedowns. If so, I think I probably don't need to point out to you that what may be fun and loose for the core of Deadspin lifers can also be detrimental to the goals of the site itself.

      Look, we've all got this idea in our heads that Deadspin is selling THIS GROUP OF COMMENTERS as part of their content. There are some great commenters on Deadspin, and comments and commenting are a big part of what the Gawker network of sites has to offer. But it's possible what is already a big part is kept from being a much, much bigger, more important part by the steps they've taken to encourage this particular wave, this step-along-the-way group of commenters. In an effort to cultivate a readable comment section, they've done a lot to make commenting on their site (and thus, participating) not really very easy at all. By design. But it's time to move forward from that design and take full advantage of the name they've made for themselves over the years.

      Allowing this group of commenters to "let loose" in the spirit of fostering their continued participation would be pretty short-sighted, like me letting this particular group of employees wear cut-offs and fling boogers at each other because I like them and they're smart. No. I need customers more than I need these employees. Deadspin needs traffic more than they need this group of commenters. That should not be read as a cynical slant on the change - as I pointed out to ToddReesingsTurfFacial on Twitter, nothing about this change will make it any harder for anyone who is currently a Deadspin commenter to continue to be a Deadspin commenter. It will all come down to how important it is for people to be "featured" commenters.

      For certain cloudy types (like me) who can't handle being thrown back into the crowd, the blow will be too much to bear. But it has become increasingly clear to me over the past few months that Deadspin is paying money to staff and throwing up content all day long basically as an offering to a very small group of commenters, and with a very tough, opaque process that makes growth among that group hard to facilitate. And that just can't be as good for business as changing to a system whereby many more casual readers can engage the site and its commenters and thereby become regular Deadspin visitors.

      So there.

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    9. Yeah, I think that's a very cogent analysis of the business and financial motivations behind this commenting change. But as a commenter, I just don't care about Gawker's bottom line. Well, I guess I do, in that their profitability is tied to my being able to make comments on their sites. But I don't get worked up over what's working for their board, or how they might increase market share.

      You're also right that if they see commenter takedowns as an obstacle to their readership growth, it would be unwise to let them continue. But that's not what I was disagreeing with. I was disagreeing with the idea that it's wrong for commenters to do it, that it betrayed the trust of the watchful editors, or that the folks whose "job" it is to moderate the comments are better suited for or better at it (than other longtime and well-regarded and -intentioned commenters) for reasons other than a perfunctory title. I'm not saying I want to do what they do, but they're the same guys who hang out in the comment section with us all the time. I don't understand the secrecy/reverence surrounding them.

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    10. @Bronze:

      I might be inclined to agree with you, but for the fact that the ninjas, whomever they are, shepherded the comments from a time when half of them were disembodied Simpsons quotes to the present day, and that however much better the comments are than what's to be found elsewhere on the internet, the specific people behind the ninja account are, collectively, quite possibly the single most important reason for that.

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    11. I think you and I are mostly on the same page here. I don't care much about their bottom line either, but I have to remind myself that what may be bad for my interest in a thing is not necessarily the same as what is bad for the thing itself. You and I agree there.

      But I do totally disagree about the ninjas, and I say this as someone who has disagreed with and/or heavily criticized some of their work (or lack thereof) from time to time: they know what they're doing and their batting average is terrific. I happen to know who a few of the ninjas are and, trust me, there's a gulf between them and even the average featured commenter. But more to the point, the secrecy is there to remove any of the potential ugliness and personal backlash that would surely arise were the commentariat given any access to them as, say, writers or editors or fellow commenters. Think of how much shit there's been between some of your fellows in DUAN and on MKMUB from time to time, and then try to imagine how ugly things would get if, instead of operating just as comment_ninja, bannings and suspensions and slap-downs were being doled out by, say, Hatey McLife.

      As far as I know Hatey is not a ninja. But he's subject to off-site bullshit all the time, and that's despite NEVER engaging it. If he were suddenly publicly chopping up your comments, I'm sure you can imagine how quickly things would devolve.

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    12. Well, I don't have to tell either of you this, but those are very, very good points.

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    13. Just FYI-ing, again:

      The secrecy was AJ's idea and a good one for some of the reasons mentioned above. It's just cleaner that way. The reverence? I can't speak for others obviously, but I like to think people understand and appreciate what was done for the site and for the comments. It was much closer to MKMUB than Deadspin on the commenting spectrum before the ninja was around. Seriously, I miss wake up deadspin for only one reason: going back to the This Day In Deadspin History link and reading the absolutely disastrous comments that many of the old guard were so wistful for.

      And it is definitely bad for every commenter to be doing the self policing thing because that's not what commenters are supposed to do. The comment ninja is a moderator of comments. Commenters are commenters. The fact that the ninjas may or may not also have personal commenting accounts is largely irrelevant. The ninja doesn't comment, it moderates. The individuals who comprise the "ninja squadron" don't moderate, they comment. As a moderator, the ninja established a rule whereby those roles have been clearly defined, namely: "You do not moderate. You comment. End of story." It has nothing to do with being better suited or better at it (though, while some may be as good, I doubt anyone would be better than the current group). It has everything to do with those clearly defined roles.

      And no, you don't want to do it and what's more, you didn't do it. What sets the ninjas apart from the rest is much more than a "perfunctory title." They were made moderators by the editor. They moderated a comment section with which they were intimately familiar and they did this for free--at work, at home, wherever, whenever. They did this anonymously. No thanks or personal accolades from the section they burned to the ground and re-grew even more fertile. And, at least speaking for myself, I'd love to say I didn't care, but it would have been nice sometimes because we were villified at first (and, obviously, in some cases, continue to be villified). But you move on, confident in what you're doing.

      Frankly it made commenting less fun, or sometimes impossible. But I think its a better place for it.

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    14. Cheese Mac writing about Deadspin Comments is like Jimmy Breslin writing about Brooklyn. By which, I mean, both give me an erection.

      XOXO,
      MKM

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  5. /masturbates
    //pulls down window shade
    ///in that order

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  6. My biggest fear in life is never again seeing my name in bold on this blog.

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  7. Raysism.

    /cashes another check signed "Raysism".

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  8. @Longtime

    We don't do that here, ever. There are two people who get to talk shit about commenters on this site, and you ain't one of 'em. This kind of thing, this ugly back-and-forth between commenters and about commenters on third-party blogs, this is one of the worst things that has ever happened to Deadspin commenting.

    Apologies to anyone who got in a dig on this guy before I removed his comment. I'm not letting that stuff go in any direction around here.

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  9. @BronzeHammer

    "But I agree that while the commenting culture, star system, and ninja enforcement have been great for us, they've closed the doors to tons of would-be valuable commenters."

    Exactly. I knew I was preaching to the choir.

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  10. Wait, there are non-editor, commenter ninjas? I was not aware of that.

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