The Gawker Redesign, by the Numbers- HOW GAWKER FAILED.

The Gawker Redesign, by the Numbers  HOW GAWKER FAILED.

“The 2011 template…represents an evolution of the very blog form that has transformed online media over the last eight years. The internet, television and magazines are merging; and the optimal strategy will assemble the best from each medium.” -Nick Denton, November 30, 2010

Total posts on Gawker.com on March 8-9, 2010: 106
Total posts on Gawker.com on March 7-8, 2011: 74 (down 30%)

Approximate total words written on Gawker.com March 8-9 2010: 25,649
Approximate total words written on Gawker.com March 7-8 2011: 18,330 (down 28.5%)

Let’s face it—a certain percentage of users will revolt any time a website makes a change. When Gawker gave itself a major facelift on February 7, 2011, the user backlash was as severe as it was predictable. Commenters spewed vitriol below the introductory post, saying things like “I really do hate the new format and just for the record, Gawker, I find myself coming to the site less and less and spending less time on it when I am here,” and “I refuse to use that incredibly annoying sidebar, and await a script to make it go away.”

Regardless, Nick Denton et al. were right to ignore the initial outcry. They had a vision of the future, and users always come to appreciate the new as old habits are broken and forgotten. Bugs were still getting worked out, design tweaks being made. Denton’s manifesto made it clear that he believed in his writers and editors, so much so that it was time they all started generating the revenue they deserved. People don’t visit or not visit Gawker based on page layout—they come because they enjoy the writing and know that Gawker’s scoops drive conversation across the internet and beyond.

But Denton also hinted at changes in editorial content. Writers would be divided into classes, “the curator or editor; and the producer or scoopmonger,” but this didn’t seem to portend a major shift. Indeed, the new Gawker content strategy sounded much like the old: “Each site needs a gigantic breakout every few months; a few more modest hits every week; but the daily news diet can be satisfied quite happily with short posts, blockquotes (linked to the original, of course) and republished material.”

Fair enough! That certainly sounded like an accurate description of the Gawker we already knew and loved. Sure, there was also a lot of talk about “contextual advertising” and Gawker as “branding vehicle,” but that was white noise to the nearly one million people who download Adblock Plus each week. So long as the content stayed good, Denton’s empire-building plan was sure to play out according to script: Initial resistance would be strong (check); traffic would drop sharply at first (check—daily pageviews (%) dropped by about half following the change); then, slowly, complaints would die down (check); finally, traffic would return, and everyone would forget that this was ever a problem (ch—well, let’s see…).

From Around the Web
  • Stumbled

    People like myself left Gawker media’s webpages because they tried to force some kind of self-fabricated design belief down everyone’s throats. We’re all big boys and girls and we use Gawker sites like Jalopnik or Gizmodo for recreation. We’re not trying to learn some new convoluted format so that you can sell more ad space along the left and right sides. Also insulting was that you were going to decide for the viewer what stories to ‘highlight’ because you devoted the most effort and funds into via staff and connections. People go to websites to read the things they are interested in. It was a natural flow of information you could pick out before. Just like window shopping. Social media emphasizes this customization and over editing to it’s own peril. Look at Digg.

  • CL

    The amount of interesting content has definitely declined. It’s disappointing to click a headline and see that all the author did was link to an article and type one or two sentences, and lately those posts are very common.

    At the same time, the redesign negatively affected the commenter community. It was incredibly difficult to post and read comments when the redesign first came out. The confusing new tabs made unstarred commenters even less visible, because “featured” meant one featured comment, “all” meant all starred commenters, and the link to see every comment was down at the bottom. I think it unfortunately made unstarred commenters feel like nobody would see what they wrote. Things are working better now in the comments, but I think a lot of people got out of the habit of commenting. Also, a bunch of “elite” Gawker commenters left and started their own website.

    Since a lot of people kept coming back to follow discussions, the buggy comments section hurt the site too. And they needed interesting comments more than ever when they dialed back the content in favor of links. Why stay on Gawker after you click the link if there isn’t a good discussion in the comments? It was the trifecta of annoying, buggy design, worse content, and fewer comments. I still visit the site, but not as often.

  • Lolito

    Denton has destroyed his flagship. It went from being a go-to site every day to being a no-go site in a blink. I really mourn the gawker that was. Apparently Denton did not like the insider community that existed. He needed new hits.

    Take this, Nick!

  • Jan

    It wasn’t simply the lesser writing or the format being bad that drove people away, it was that the format didn’t work at all on a lot of browsers. When the switch first happened, I couldn’t access any of the Gawker Media websites for a week. The pages simply wouldn’t load on my browser. At all.

    I like Gawker, but I’m not about to go download a different web browser just so I can read it.

    It’s beyond major web design failure when a significant portion of readers cannot even access your content.

  • MileHighJoe

    Gawker’s redesign was a complete FAIL because it was so buggy and because it was fundamentally contrary to the way its readership had come to use the site. Add to that Mr. Denton’s de-emphasis on Gawker’s clever commentariat and the new Gawker simply became not worth the effort. I can read all of those stories elsewhere on the web without the hassle.

  • Paul

    I think you’re wrong, I refuse to visit any of their sites until they come up with a better format or revert to their former format. I used to visit Lifehacker and Gizmodo many times a day and now do not visit at all ever.

  • xGawk

    Tried accessing the site from android lately? It doesn’t work. Rest has been covered well by commeters above. Horrible idea. Lucky for him, he doesn’t have stockholders, else he’d be fired, along with incompetent monkeys that coded the new site design. I miss the site but not the blatant “f*ck you, readers” version that’s there now.

  • Caj

    I remember when Denton changed the commenting system a couple years back, I think a lot of the regular Gawker commenters said to themselves “If I had the will power, I’d leave this place.”

    Of course, we didn’t leave.

    This redesign is different. I wish I could keep reading and commenting on Gawker but the website’s functionality is so broken that I’ve been forced to find new places.