April 13, 2017

After taking about a month off in the wake of his settlement with the plaintiffs represented by Peter Thiel’s lawyer, Gawker Media founder Nick Denton will begin a new project: Building internet forums.

In an interview with journalist Aaron Lammer on the new podcast “Stoner,” Denton called the design of internet forums his “obsession” and said that bridging the gap between public and private conversations is a particular area of focus:

…Creating a way for us to have a private conversation — like, an off-the-record conversation — and then we mutually agree to share certain sections of it with other people who might want to join in the conversation. And eventually, these fragments — these exchanges — added to by people who receive them would be effectively public. So it would have started with a relaxed conversation, but it might end up potentially with an audience of millions.

Building online communities has long been a passion for Denton (Lammer teased him during the interview, asking whether he’d still be creating forums in an assisted-living facility). As CEO of Gawker Media, Denton sunk lots of time and money (a former employee estimated at least $10 million) developing Kinja, an open blogging platform that the company aspired to license to other media companies.

That aspiration was dashed in 2015 after Denton announced in a staff memo that he would no longer continue to develop Kinja “given the competition that exists from technology companies devoted entirely to that challenge.”

During his interview with Lammer, Denton cited the recent disenchantment with social media companies as one reason people might be hungering for more authentic forums for communication. He theorized that it could give users some neutral territory on the internet.

“You could talk about anything privately and some of these exchanges would leak out into the public, and we’d be able to see: You know, maybe these divides aren’t quite as vast as we’ve been making out, and there is a way to bridge them,” Denton said.

Denton says he’s starting with popular culture — things like cult TV shows, episode guides and video games. Although the concept of a collaborative forum is tricky to get right, success in this arena “feels like a miracle,” he said.

I’ve seen it work. It doesn’t work that often. But when the conditions are right and a group of people who care about, say, ‘Grand Theft Auto’ or ‘Black Mirror,’ when they come together, you get all of the good information accumulating magically and it feels like a miracle.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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