Gawker Media launched a redesigned version of its hydra-like content network this week, bringing with it talk of the “death of the blog”.
Its most controversial move has been to de-emphasise “what’s new” in favour of “what’s hot”. Gawker sites no longer punt their most recent articles at the top of each page, but instead feature the most viewed or exclusive stories more prominently. Content is navigated on the right side of a new two-panel layout, leaving acres of space for a single article (with large visuals) on the left.
The reaction (so far) has been overwhelmingly negative, but it’s unlikely that Gawker will turn back. In a post titled “Why Gawker is moving beyond the blog”, founder Nick Denton spells out the threats facing his industry and explains how Gawker’s infamous scoops need to be lavished with the attention (and page impressions) they deserve – one of the main goals of the redesign.
Under the hood, they’ve made further changes. Pressing right or left on your keyboard will cycle the story being displayed. Keyboard shortcuts aren’t new to the internet, but we’ve grown to love them on Flickr, Gmail and Facebook, while traditional “content” publishers have avoided them like the plague. Why is that?
And riddle me this: where do young, smart, web users get their content from? From RSS readers and from Twitter, of course (with the odd news aggregator thrown in).
It’s about time that “content” publishers thought of their brands as platforms, and not just websites. As Gawker founder Nick Denton described his brand’s new facelift to NiemanLab: “The antecedents are software products, however, rather than web sites… We’ve definitely been influenced by two-pane email and news reading apps.”
The digital world thrives on metaphors. Terms like “desktop”, “the World Wide Web”, and “home page” can make strange new technologies seem familiar, and accelerate their adoption into the mainstream. Blogs, originally “web logs”, have always been married to the idea that news and ideas are born chronologically, which implies the very way we use them: ‘scrollin’ through the haps’. But Gawker has outgrown that. And perhaps, so have we.
Try reading a day’s worth of Boing Boing posts. Just try. Even scrolling through it all is daunting.
Many of us already live in a world where the news we want comes to us, thanks to easy-to-use platforms like Twitter. But if publishers want us (and the advertising dollars we bring) to come to them, it might be time to reconceive their sites or blogs as content, software and engage the digital elite with a new, more user-friendly metaphor. Keyboard shortcuts would be a start.
(I’ll say it again: a lot of people are unhappy with the New Gawker. But similar complaints greeted Facebook’s last few redesigns, which are now regarded as bold steps forward for Mark Zuckerberg’s social media platform. We’ll know if Gawker’s bet on a streamlined content experience pays off soon enough. For now, they at least won’t be remembered as the “guys who forgot to innovate”.)