Last week, BuzzFeed launched a new “community vertical” that hosts user-generated and curated content. The BuzzFeed community vertical follows on the heels of a Gawker Media project, Kinja, a combo blogging platform, social media interface, and forum built around Gawker’s various properties. Whereas the BuzzFeed’s community vertical encourages users to produce content for the site itself, Kinja is semi-segregated from Gawker’s actual sites. Instead of participating in content production, Kinja users create and curate from behind a partition. So does Kinja count as a community vertical?
Primed as a possible competitor to blogging platforms like Tumblr and WordPress, Kinja started a solution to an age-old Internet problem: how to manage trolls. Gawker designed Kinja as a rebooted comment system. Faced with an uncontrollable population of malfeasant commenters, Gawker decided to disguise a few basic barriers to entry as a personalized profile cum social media plugin. Strip away anonymity and offer a pseudo-community, all in one stroke. If Kinja hasn’t conquered the Internet, it has improved the Gawker experience. Although obnoxious commenting doesn’t seem to have decreased much, extreme bullying, harassment, and spamming seem less common, at least from my anecdotal observations. The community seems to enforce a higher standard of conduct than in the former system, where anonymous, outrageous behavior was the norm.
Writing for Mediabistro, Karen Fratti is more skeptical about Kinja’s potential as a blogging platform. Fratti indicts both the quality of content and Gawker’s ulterior motives: monetization. But are monetization and authentic participation mutually exclusive? That is to say, is it impossible for a user to make a genuine contribution to Gawker’s content and for Gawker to monetize that contribution? No, and in fact, it is only natural that Gawker turns a profit on user-generated content. And just as the community seems to have established social norms for acceptable comments, hopefully that same community will determine editorial norms for good content.
Kinja is not a community vertical because it is too closely integrated with Gawker’s other content. Gawker’s new layout promotes a fuzziness between commenting and writing substantive material, and it can be unclear who is writing what, where, as Fratti notes. Yet Kinja’s translucency with “real” Gawker content might facilitate more sincere and enthusiastic participation than a boundaried community space, in which users feel like second-class citizens or factory labor pumping out short form stories. As Gawker and BuzzFeed continue to drift apart in style and strategy, either Kinja or the community vertical will emerge as a dominant model for user-generated content. Determining a victor will depend on a combination of user preferences and the ultimate possibilities for profit.