Nick Denton was taking on all comers. Late on a Thursday morning in April, the 45-year-old head of Gawker Media debated a group of media types, techies, and assorted droppers-in about value on the Internet. The discussion was tense, but reasoned and mostly respectful. One by one, Denton's guests--among them, former Gawker Media employees--fired questions at him, often in successive bursts, as he patiently answered all the inquiries worth answering. The focus and weight of the talk would lead one to think it were being conducted in a Gawker conference room. Instead, it was taking place in an arena not known for focused, substantive discussions: a thread in a comments section on gawker.com. This one was being held below an April 26 post entitled "Why Anonymity Matters," and was facilitated by Kinja, the new proprietary commenting platform Denton and his team launched earlier in the month.
Over the past few years, the historically lawless comments frontier has been experiencing a sea change. Everyone from startups like Disqus (which has had its platform integrated into more than 1.4 million sites) to Facebook Comments (used by 400,000 sites) is attempting to reboot online conversations. (Even Google is rumored to be working on a commenting system; safe money is on Google+ being involved.) But as Denton evinces, the grandest ambition belongs to Gawker, whose platform could inject added editorial potency to comments and even supercharge the business generated by them.