The Gawkerization of Facebook

Is there anything less appetizing, content-wise, than a mature web property? I say that as we see a bunch of companies limp to and past middle age, demonstrating -- yet again -- that when a website has a midlife crisis, it doesn't buy a Porsche. It tries to become TV.

Gawker was the first to reach this unlovely life-stage, naturally, since it was a relatively early blog and Nick Denton is a certified evil genius. I take no position on whether or not Gawker Media traffic is up or down, and I am confident Denton's sites are meeting whatever metrics of success he's set for them. (That's what makes him an EG.) But are they interesting? Not to me. I was a very early Gawker reader but haven't looked at it in years. When it started, it wasn't an MSNBC competitor. Now it is, and I don't read MSNBC, let alone it's competitors.

The first time I laid eyes on the forthcoming Facebook Timeline feature, I immediately thought of Gawker. And then of TV. And then of how Gawker was trying to become TV and how apparently now Facebook was, too. I think going mass, and -- better -- becoming a mass of infinitely individualized niches is probably good business, but I don't enjoy it. That's about the time I start looking for the door. I might just be an early-product-life-cycle consumer, if there is such a thing. (In the early days of alt rock, I think we used to call these people pretentious assholes.)

Why might that be? Where do they lose me? I think part of it might be that what I'm really interested in is writing. I say that in the lowest-brow way possible. I like snarky writing. I like informal writing. I like long writing. I like short writing. I really don't care, but my expertise -- and thus my fandom -- lies in the written word. And there's a point in the life of every website where it makes business sense to go beyond writing, to other, more expensive, supposedly more compelling media. This is the idea behind enhanced ebooks -- that books really contain platform agnostic stories that can be elaborated in a dizzying variety of other media.

But they also contain writing. That's what I like. And there's a point where a site steps away from writing to such an extent that they leave that space entirely vacant -- waiting for another site to occupy it. The Awl follows Gawker, perhaps, or G+ follows Facebook? Not sure those are the right analogies, but I do know that when sites cross over into that place where writing is instrumental and incidental, I stay behind and probably always will.

" Plus Ça Change" is a daily column on (but rarely about) Google+. For archives, RSS, and email subscriptions visit http://jimhanas.com/pluscachange .
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