Monday, June 29, 2009

AJ Daulerio Follow-up to Deadspin Post

AJ was kind enough to follow up on Saturday's post about Deadspin and the Decline of Merit-Based Commenting. I had some open-ended hypothetical questions that he answered, and his take is below.

1. Where are these new commenters going to come from?
AJ: I don't know if it's actually a matter of adding new commenters to replace old ones.It may seem like that at first glance, but the whole "execution" postwas really a way to scatter the herd a little bit, shake things up,and give me a starting point. Once the new system goes into place (anyday now? next week? next month?) the starred commenters will have roles that are truly indicative of their star. I don't know when the original star system went into play. I don't think Leitch does either. It wasn't necessarily a system that either one of us fully supported-- and, frankly, didn't worry about -- but with this new system in place, it was absolutely necessary to take a look at who had stars,etc. It sucks, but sometimes corporatey things suck. We all deal.

2. Instead of (Deadspin) being so myopically focused on comments and commenters, why not take a truly broad look at its community of fans and find a way to increase fan support and monetize that fanaticism?
AJ: I don't know how anyone can really "monetize" fanatacism. That's not really the goal of this. All Gawker sites have always had a standard for comments on the site -- try outs, approvals, etc. -- and since all of the sites have grown that system kind of collapsed under its own weight. The new system will have two-tiers: the starred commenter comments will be the only ones available after the initial click-through button. The non-starred commenters will still be able to comment, but they'll be collapsed. (Readers can still see them if they click a "See all" button or something.) However, starred commenters will now be able to go through and move non-starred comments to the front page. Once everyone gets used to that system (including me and the comment moderators) I think we'll have a better idea of how to employ more comment-of-the-week/starred comment nominees and other ideas to better blend the editorial with the commenting community. Since the whole system hasn't even been launched yet, it's tough to conceptualize a concrete plan for how this will be executed a.) we don't know who will be left b.) who will be added. c.) if people will hate the system and not bother with it. But once it gets going, I do have a plan to rebuild the community. It'll be smaller, sure, but thegoal of this is also to recognize that some of the commenters do enhance a post -- or make a post, in some cases -- and give people a better idea of what we're looking for in a starred commenter.

3. How is Deadspin going to reward its best commenters?
AJ: This was kind of covered above, so that's still a work in progress. But rewards are nice. I like presents. Who doesn't like presents?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bloggolalia: Deadspin and the Decline of Merit-Based Commenting

I've been interested in discussing Deadspin's decision to trim its commenter ranks for a while, but have been overwhelmed by apathy and underwhelmed as to how many people would be interested in such a topic. However, a surprisingly dull Saturday has finally provided me with the impetus to happily babble.

First, the Deadspin fiasco was funny because of all the uncomfortable truths that no one seemed to want to discuss. A sampling:
1. DU!AN only worked because of the fanaticism of Deadspin's commenters. It was an awful format to have a conversation. I tried it a couple times, and couldn't stand having to wait 5-10 minutes to get a reply for each comment. AOL circa 98 laughs at that form of discussion. The only times DU!AN really worked is when there was a major evening sporting event that could be discussed. Now, if Deadspin had been clever enough to adopt CoveritLive or another form of fan discussion for DU!AN, it may have been able to duplicate the fan enthusiasm I saw on Twitter for chatting about big games. However, it never quite could pull off a decent format for game discussion. (I did like the energy of live-bloggers, but Deadspin seemed to go away from that in the last year, e.g., no live-blogs for the NBA play-offs).

2. If you were a funny commenter, you should have left Deadspin long ago to start your own blog. KSK, among others, were smart enough to realize this. An occasional "+1" from Internet strangers sucks compared to being able to control your own blog and show off all your skills. No one gets wealthy, noticed, or benefits solely on the basis of being a Deadspin commenter.

3. Based on 2, Deadspin had to eliminate some commenters eventually, because soon only mediocre commenters would be left. If you just allow everyone to sign up, over time the old commenters start to dominate. It creates a dead site, humor-wise, because the best leave, and the mediocre commenters keep trotting out the same type of humor repeatedly. If you remember the fiasco over Facebook commenters, it was difficult for any new voices to truly get a shot. I signed up with a fake Facebook name and was amused to see how people over-reacted and refused to give this "new" person a chance. AJ had to clean house eventually, one way or another. I give him props for waiting a little while to do it instead of making wrong moves when he first took over. However...that's about it for Deadspin praise on this post.

4. Merit-based commenting is dead, for now. When I first became a sports-blogger, I wasted a lot of time commenting on different sites and interacting with other commenters. However, I can't say that it ever did me much good. It took me an hour just to exchange two comments with another blogger. Perhaps Twitter offers a better way; one can be notified via cell-phone when there's been a comment response. But right now, I don't see sports bloggers being interested in the comment section any more. The trade-off between responding to 5 comments and writing a new post leans heavily towards writing a new post. And when was the last time you saw a site truly reward its hardest-working commenters? Which leads me to...

5. The gold-star idea on Gawker (and thus Deadspin) was breathtaking in its stupidity. Many sites get unpaid help from commenters, reviewers, and editers. Gawker should have done its homework on how other sites rewarded free labor. Eventually, commenters have to be rewarded or given some attention, lest they focus on other sites instead where they get more feedback or praise. Rather than come up with an interesting reward system like thumbs up/down (youtube style) or comment of the week, a lazy default mode was used to award stars. People of course took advantage of this method. Then, when Deadspin belatedly realized that the star method was being abused, people actually bewailed the loss of their star. Kindergarten-style rewards provoked kindergarten-style behavior.

6. Randomly removing people's Deadspin accounts seems like an arrogant bet that commenters can be easily replaced. They can't, and it appears that AJ's background in oddsmaking failed him here. See 4: I really believe any so-called "golden-age" of commenting is long-gone. It's too late to go back to some ideal of merit-based, survival of the fittest commenter. Those days are long gone; the blogging culture has changed since 2006. People aren't as excited about hitting the "Submit" button anymore in a major blog's comment section; they take it for granted.

It's too easy to start up your own blog or become a fan of your team's blog rather than wait for an hour for the latest Deadspin post to go up so you can make a feeble attempt at a witticism that MIGHT get a +1 if it's within the first 10 comments. Where are these new commenters going to come from? Deadspin seems to have trouble drawing in the college crowd in any large numbers for the comment section. It does gain 20-somethings bored at their first or second after-college job or grad school, but those commenters fade out after about 6 months of frenzied commenting. Kicking out mediocre commenters isn't going to bring good commenters back. Once they are gone, they are gone. Rarely do people return to their favorite web-site after the magic is gone--ask, Friendster, Xanga, or Myspace about that. Unless Deadspin truly has a plan to make commenting interesting again or to recruit talented commenters, I doubt that commenting will improve in the short term.

7. I think that in the long-term, no one will remember this decision. Deadspin will be a little more sterile, a little less user-friendly, but will still put up decent traffic numbers. Google is the true driver of hits and revenue, not comments. However, long-term I think that this creates a vacancy for sports blogs that can do a better job of managing community. For too long Deadspin has thought that comments define its fan community, instead of realizing that comments were the only way that the community could express itself. Instead of being so myopically focused on comments and commenters, why not take a truly broad look at its community of fans and find a way to increase fan support and monetize that fanaticism?

In conclusion, comments were closely connected with the start of the site. They don't necessarily have a place in the future of the site; there are many other ways to incorporate reader feedback and tips. But any site (or business) that ignores or mistreats a subset of its readers must be careful of its future. Deadspin kicked out some useless commenters, but it also unnecessarily annoyed people who consistently contributed decent content, and seems to have no plan to create something useful from the entire mess.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Social Networks: Paradigm Shift, or Overhyped Fad? Part 2.

Part 2 of my discussion with Brian of MadPropstoBakedPotatoes follows. Part 1 ended with me asking Brian to explain how social network relationships would result in actual purchases.

Brian: You're approaching it wrong - stop thinking in terms of monetizing your social network
MC: Ok, I'll keep it more to the level I know, then--friendizing it, if you will, ha.
Brian: Stop thinking in terms of real-world vs online-world, because they're becoming the same thing
MC: Hmm...the days of using social networks for escapism are over, then?
Brian: It's the same as walking into a cocktail party as far as I'm concerned
Go in, meet people, learn about them, become friends
Someone needs a freelance writer, and I'm like "Hey, I know so-and-so from this or that network - they'd be perfect"
MC: And so a large database of skills and personalities is assembled, that might not be available locally.
Brian: I mean those are the broad strokes of what this all is.
If you're a business there are certainly tools and techniques you want to use.
MC: But, when we talk about "making friends" in an on-line sense, there still is not the same level of legitimacy, trust, and reliability that there is in real life.
Brian: But in broad strokes, this is "you can now have a cocktail party with the entire world"
MC: And maybe if your vision is true that the two are merging, that will change.
Brian: That's part of what's happening - notice I'm no longer The Cavalier
MC: I see social networks as giving me MANY weak ties--but few strong ones.
Brian: You want to know who I am, you can search me out and find out
It's all what you make of them - you can be as transparent as you want
MC: one thing I appreciate about soc. net. is that credentials don't matter.
Brian: But I'll bet you find you make stronger ties with your real name than you do when you're MCBias
MC: I find the key is to put up real photos/video of myself. If people see a real image, they connect more.
Brian: I'll tell you what the next big thing is
And remember, I called online video a year before YouTube
What's next is Personal Branding
It's why Linkdin is growing so fast
MC: I initially was very high on social networks when I first got involved...I just find over time that I become more cynical on how far they will take you
I can shove my foot in a lot of doors I never could have gotten into before
and having a few friends opens the door to more friends in a nice golden spiral of sorts
But the true pay-offs seem to be beyond social networking--you still can't make a frog into a prince or what not.
MC: I think that looking at social networks as a paradigm instead of a tool may be mistaken, but I am surprised by how many inroads Facebook has made in the older set.
Brian: Well the term social networks is like the fetus of what this will all be eventually
MC: I think that there will be a sharp demarcation in the end
between the daylight, which will be personal branding, somewhat sanitized social networks
like linkedin and facebook
and very obscure, escapist, no one uses their real name communities
But I wonder, what's our capacity to be involved with social networks? Are we all going to be sitting in our houses drinking beer and chatting with each other instead of going out locally?
Brian: Sure, but everyone will have a foot in the former - you'll have to
That's where mobile comes in
MC: I think I may have said this, but I think Twitter's popularity is 90% due to being first mobile social network.
Brian: Sitting at a desk working at a traditional computer will be for people who need that type of hardcore hardware and processing power
(had discussion on American vs. European/Japanese innovation and tools, omitted)
I'm talking like ten years from now - you might be having a party in your house, and you've got essentially a massive screen on your entire wall
Brian: You hop on Twitter2020, and want to find a party in Tokyo to "party-connect" with - their party is on your wall and vice versa
MC: And I've seen some of this already in the blogtv communities
Brian: You can do some Minority Report action, call up the profile on the hot blond in the dress, and see her name, what she does, etc
MC: capabilities are there. But people are holding back.
Brian: and you talk to her. And she'll need for that profile - her personal brand well established
Brian: If I had to sum up the entire thing of what I'm trying to say, it's that social networks are the beginning of "The ability to easily and genuinely connect with real people worldwide".
Brian: How you use that ability is the same as how you use the ability to connect with your immediate world right now.
MC: I agree with easily. I strongly disagree with genuinely and worldwide to this point, given my previous experiences.
But perhaps I should stop being such a cynic--I mean, I just came back from NYC where I did a sports blogger meetup
Brian: That's why it's a paradigm shift - we're only just beginning.
MC: and I've been doing stuff like that easily in 2009, where it never would work well pre-2009.
Brian: Right - I mean the stigma of "meeting someone online" has only begun to wear off in the last 2 years or so!
MC: Hmm...I'll keep paying attention to social networks. They fit my skills well. The last thing I want to do is climb off the bandwagon just as my work is about to pay off
Brian: Soon there will be no difference - the online world will just be a different platform of the real world.
MC: But, I don't have the "this will turn water to wine" look in my eyes I first had
Brian: And there will be dangers, just like in the real world.
MC: when I went through my first two Internet community experiences
Yes, and perhaps personal branding and more transparency is the answer to those dangers...or at least a start.
I guess, count me as a doubtful fan of social networks. Maybe my excitement about them was just premature, and the world will catch up.
I still think that people will be surprised just how hard it is to match real and on-line worlds, though.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Social Networks: Paradigm Shift, or Overhyped Fad?

Recently I decided to argue with, err, talk to Brian of MadPropstoBakedPotatoes about his enduring enthusiasm for social networks. While I've had lots of fun playing around on various forumboards, blogs, and social networks, I don't think that social networks will truly transform our world. I thought it would be a good time to discuss this, as Twitter/Facebook's recent popularity may represent the moment where social networks truly become mainstream. Part 1 of our edited chat is here.

Brian: I'm here - hit the wrong window and nav'd away
MC: See, problem #1 with social networks, ha
when someone doesn't reply, you don't know if they hate you or if its tech problems
But ok, explain to me how social networks represent a paradigm shift.
Brian: What's the best way to get more business, attention, connections?
IN the real world?
MC: What I do is look for powerful people I can relate to and have some sort of possible in with
or just befriend as many people who are slightly higher on the ladder than me
and hope it pays off.
If you're a company, you search for a snazzy marketing campaign.
MC: How does the world of social networking change this?
Brian: Well, I would answer my own question differently.
Brian: OKay, best ways to get business:
In order of importance:
1) Word of mouth, personal referral
2) Personal connection or attachment to product or service
3) Advertising
Would you agree with this?
MC: I would say that yes, 1) is the best place to start early on, but pretty soon you run out of new fans and word of mouth runs out
it's like telephone, eventually the message starts getting misheard as it's being transferred
But I definitely agree with the order for new companies/starting out.
Brian: Well that's my entire point - you now have the ability to connect on a personal level with as many people as you want to - there's no reason word of mouth has to ever run out
I'm surprised you don't see this frankly
MC: Ah, but see, to keep up those relationships requires quite a bit of effort
once you cross the 500 fan mark
it's very difficult to continue growing and adding to your network
Brian: OMG you mean it's not EASY lol
MC: LOL yes, sometimes I have to write the pretty girls first before they write me back
this makes me sad
But the ads make it seem so easy!
err, never mind
Brian: We are about the same age, right?
MC: close-ish, I'm 29
Brian: I don't know about you, but I can't be sold to
As soon as I feel you're trying to sell me something I'm tuning you out
MC: true
Brian: But be my friend, and I'll do anything for you (without reason har har)
Best Buy is a great example - I would read up on what they're doing
You don't need to be best friends with everyone
MC: But see, all of this is only succeeding because social networks are new. Let me give a quick example
First blogger to write a book? I rush to buy his book, go to two of his signings
Second blogger? I pick it up when I next go to the bookstore
Third? I skim it at the bookstore, decide he sucks, ha
I mean, do you really think we're talking about lasting value here? The novelty factor is high.
Brian: I don't understand the correlation - you're talking about a product, I'm talking about a platform of interaction
This isn't new - none of it. On a conceptual level it's not any different from how things have always been.
MC: Ok, good, at least we agree there.
Brian: Since the beginning of time, one of the primary rules of marketing is to make a personal connection between product and consumer
You quite literally have an ability to do that on a massive and real scale
The tools are one part. The other part is the transparency that social networks are giving us.
The days of "hotbabe453" are leaving.
MC: I feel that social networks have two advantages: (1) speed and (2) rapid search capabilities for the exact type of person you're looking for.
Thank goodness, hotbabe453 would never return my messages anyway.
Err, I mean...
Brian: Let me give you some examples:
MC: But what I'm not seeing is true follow-through from social networks.
Brian: 1) Joe writes a book with a very narrow target audience. Let's say only 10,000 people on earth would like Joe's book. Joe now has the capability to go find those 10,000 people, connect with them on a real level, and eventually they may read his book.
Does this make sense?
MC: Yes, Wired went crazy about this--saying that this enables people to design products for the long tail
Brian: So scale that concept out 50 different ways - it makes sense.
MC: But my counter-argument is, are those people really going to rush to buy Joe's book in the real world? They may think Joe is cool, and makes funny jokes.
But when push comes to shove, will they break out their wallets? open their homes? etc.
I have real doubts about this. Any time actual dollars are stated, and people seriously want commitment from their social network, I see no follow-through.
And I'd love to hear your experience on this--perhaps you have mastered it.

Part 2, including Brian's response and an interesting discussion of personal branding, will be posted tomorrow.