Are comments a wretched hive of scum and villainy or an underused resource for publishers?

Commenters

There seem to be two competing views of website and blog comments at the moment: By far the most popular one is that reader comments — particularly on traditional media sites — are useless cesspools populated by trolls and hate-mongers who can actually do far more harm than good. The other view is that comments are a potential source not just of high-quality thought or opinion, but of writers who might be worthy of the same profile as a site’s salaried staff, not to mention a potential business model.

It should probably come as no surprise that Gawker Media is in the latter camp, since founder Nick Denton has a penchant for zigging while others are zagging, and is more than happy to rip up much of his existing network in order to try something new. The latest new thing is the Kinja discussion platform, which Denton talked about with me last year just before it launched — describing it as the core of the Gawker empire’s future. The latest version of the platform was just rolled out to users at Jalopnik.

Gawker comments1

Every commenter now becomes a blogger

As Tim Carmody at The Verge describes in a post on the new features, the platform essentially turns every commenter into a blogger. Prior to the latest change, readers had a profile page that showed their latest contributions, but now they have what amounts to a full-fledged blog with publishing ability — complete with their own custom address at Kinja.com. And editor Matt Hardigree says that the site, and by extension other Gawker sites, will be looking at the comments as a source of content and even future hires:

“If you want, you’ll also be able to republish articles from our site (and eventually all Gawker sites) and we’ll be able to do the same. If we do republish something you created you’ll get the byline, the credit, and it’ll be clear where it came from. When we look for the next generation of writers for our site, and other sites, we’ll be looking at who does well in Kinja.”

It’s worth noting that Gawker already has a history of hiring writers from its comment section, something that the political blog network Daily Kos has also done a number of times. And it’s not just blogs: Yoni Appelbaum, a PhD candidate in history, commented so intelligently on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ posts at The Atlantic that he was eventually made a guest blogger.

Denton’s plan with Kinja isn’t just to create platforms for Gawker readers to hold forth on whatever they wish — the new system is also designed to function as a potential marketing vehicle, with advertisers and brands encouraged to participate (and possibly even sponsor) discussions that begin in the comments on a story. This is just one of a number of revenue-generating experiments that Gawker is rolling out over the next little while, Denton says.

Gawker comments

Others also want to turn readers into bloggers

And Gawker isn’t the only new-media entity that is trying to reinvent reader contributions: The Verge, which is published by Vox Media, has turned its discussion forums into content hubs of their own, and often highlights them on the front page (Note: Vox Media founder Jim Bankoff will be speaking at our paidContent Live conference on April 17 in New York).

The question-and-answer site Quora, meanwhile, has launched something that is like an amalgam of Gawker’s approach and The Verge’s: the site recently turned its reader forums into blogs — which means that every contributor to those forums now has a blog page. And as my colleague Jeff Roberts recently described, The Huffington Post has launched a “Conversations” feature that gives popular discussion threads their own webpage.

In a sense, these efforts are just an evolution of the approach that the Huffington Post took when it first launched, which was to give almost anyone who wanted it the ability to publish a blog post. Will these new players produce anything valuable, or just a lot of sound and fury?

Images courtesy of Flickr users Jeremy King and Pew Center

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