Deadliest Klatsch: Nick Denton Gives Gawker’s Drive-By Peanut Gallery a Promotion

Journalists, commenters ... what’s the diff?

FOR ALL ITS EGALITARIANISM, THE KINJA algorithm favors the comments that in-house bloggers are willing to engage with, effectively tearing down the treehouse longtime and starred commenters had built.

Mr. Daulerio described their discontent: “They’ve helped build the site, helped make Nick Denton rich, they actually care about the quality of the site, their voices are important. Now they can’t have their little chats with the people they’ve made imaginary friends with.”

The oft-banned commenter Brian Van Nieuwenhoven (a web developer who goes by the handle BrianVan) stopped commenting on Gawker when the site abandoned its New York focus and has since soured on the whole enterprise.

“I’ve moved on from the concept of commenting,” he told The Observer. “It’s not my calling. It’s not my job.”

Mr. Van was part of a tight-knit (if largely anonymous) cadre of hard-core commenters who helped drive up the site’s traffic by swarming into the wake of every post to banter among themselves. This group has met each of Mr. Denton’s platform tweaks with indignant reproach and waves of defections—first, to The Awl, then to The Hairpin.

“God knows where it is now,” Mr. Denton said.

It may well be at Crasstalk, a popular Gawker separatist blog founded by Amy Frame, a 44-year-old charity manager, along with two fellow Gawker exiles who go by the handles BotswanaMeatCommissionFC and DogsofWar. (Its name refers to “Crosstalk,” the Gawker commenters forum where Ms. Frame says she lost many hours of her grad school years.)

“One can’t build for a small and nomadic band of wannabe writers,” Mr. Denton said.

Instead, Kinja is built for even more exceptional people: sources, subjects and experts who, Mr. Denton expects, will elevate the discourse and create conversations around each post that are every bit as engaging as the items themselves. Destroying the superstructure that separated the writers and the commenters is just the latest and most drastic move in Mr. Denton’s longstanding bid to serve as the Internet’s salonniere.

First, he tried to lure the establishment by fostering a sense of exclusivity, sending invitations to join the Gawker commenting community on printed noted cards. Invitees could extend the offer to their friends and, later, wannabe commenters could audition by submitting a comment. If it made then-intern Kaila Hale-Stern laugh, the commenter would earn a log-in.

But while the drive-by wits came to epitomize Gawker’s comments, they were hardly its platonic ideal. According to Lockhart Steele, Gawker’s former editorial director, there was one person whose participation would prove that Gawker’s comments were a success.

“We were always asking, would Kurt Andersen use this? Would Kurt Andersen comment?” he said. (The dream commenter is now said to be Brian Williams.)

But the commenting habit appears to have never really taken hold among the most desirable set. When Gawker’s commenter data were compromised by a group of hackers in late 2010, bloggers scoured them to figure out which Condé Nast editors and striving socialites were secretly commenting on every Gawker post. There were none.