Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Why The New Gawker.com is Not The Future of the Web

The only good thing about the redesign is the apoplectic reactions it inspired on Facebook and Twitter.

  • February 9, 2011

Let’s talk about information density. No medium has ever demanded as much of it as the Web – and why? Hold up a piece of A4 paper to your “generous” widescreen laptop monitor. Oops - same size. Websites are built to fill that much screen territory, if we’re lucky. Developers are constrained by a sort of lowest common denominator when it comes to available space.

In light of these constraints, you’d think the redesigned Gawker don’t-call-it-a-blog empire would make sense. Here it is, perhaps most gorgeously realized on Nick Denton’s paean to his own geek past, io9.com:

The main article slot allows for a borderline-cinematic realization of the blog form. It makes other blogs, even the Gawker network’s old design, look ho-hum by comparison.

But once you get past the giant images and new galleries (video galleries, even!) it’s not very useful or user friendly. Gawker.com’s giant, every-page-is-a-homepage blog posts eat up all the territory that used to be devoted to something humble and necessary: the dek.

Deks are that bit of text that appears below a headline. Newspapers of the old style used to use them all the time, back when they were necessiated by the hopeless jumble of columns dictated by the nature of moveable type:

Gawker.com used to use them all the time, on the homepage, right below or right next to the headlines. It made it easy to scan the day’s stories and see what was worth reading. It was the same solution people who layout news have been using to conquer the problem of scan-ability and information density for a century. Because it works.

The new Gawker.com is inviting, and it elevates the article page to the status of homepage, which is smart in the age of viewers reaching content via anything but a site’s homepage. But those little headlines in the right margin? They desperately need some context.

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