How Gawker’s redesign subverts the scannable culture of the Internet it helped create
It’s only Tuesday, and already it has been a tough week for Gawker Media.
The popular blogging house announced its plans for a brand refresher back in December, part of Nick Denton’s grand vision to move "beyond the blog." Denton announced his grandiose goals by saying:
"It 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."
Unfortunately, the unveiling didn't quite go as planned. After executing the new site design on Monday, commenters widely panned the new design.
Gawker.com quickly (and perhaps temporarily) reverted to a reverse chronological view Monday that was closer to the typical blog format, while Tuesday all the sites in the portfolio are using the new layout.
The reason for the user outcry is fairly simple -- unlike committing to sit down with a newspaper, magazine, or television show, the online world is built and based on distractions.
Denton's redesign was trying to accomplish the impossible -- force readers to focus on one editorially selected topic while the norms of the online world make everyone into little hummingbirds, flitting from link to link, site to site, and story to story.
Indeed, the Internet became a popular venue for reading because you could jump from place to place quickly and easily. In the course of a morning, I can skim up to 300 stories from various outlets and videos. Of that number, I will probably select around a dozen to actually commit to reading.
A study from Outsell notes that 56 percent of Google News users click through to read the story behind the headlines. The study confirms a long-held Internet adage: No one clicks through links. The idea has always been to make ideas pithier and shorter or package them in a way that is so compelling, the user has no choice but to click through.
Gawker's original design, particularly the immediate nature of their coverage and their average of 40 or so posts in a day, was designed to foster a skimming culture. The new design pushes for a more controlled reading experience and so the transition is a bit jarring.
Readers airing their frustrations in the comments section or in the #groupthink hashtag on Jezebel openly ask for a return to the days when they could visit the site, scroll down, and participate in any conversation that struck their fancy. As commenter Georgian Mae Fayne hilariously lamented:
"You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell! ...
I'm too old to defect to tumblr. The cool kids over there will laugh at my love of pictures of Zac Efron and Shia LeBoeuf on shetland ponies. My internet life is over.
/collapses in melodramatic heap #Groupthink"
The new site design may have had visionary aims, but as the comments reveal, most readers believe that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Latoya Peterson was a contributor to Jezebel.com, a Gawker Media property.
CORRECTION: This story originally said 44 percent of Google News users click through to read linked stories; it is 56 percent who click through.