Last Thursday, we introduced our new discussion system on Kotaku. We call it Kinja. It takes the place of our previous commenting system.
Since Thursday, I've heard from many readers about the new system. My team has heard from readers on the site. We've heard from folks though e-mail and on Twitter. We've heard some praise, we've seen lots of good discussion, and, yes, we've also heard complaints. I've replied to many curious readers individually, but I wanted to state things more publicly here, so that we're all on the same page (or browser tab, at least).
Thursday wasn't just readers' first day using Kinja; it was more or less the first day for everyone on the Kotaku team as well. We'd seen the new system on our sister sites—Gawker, Gizmodo, Jezebel, to name a few—but nothing compares to using it. A few days in, and having read a lot of reader feedback, I'd like to update you on where we're at and point out a few things you may not have been aware of:
- The new Kinja system is a work in progress that will be iterated on in the coming weeks, both to add functionality that increases personalization but also to address the kind of concerns that crop up any time a significantly different technology comes about. So, to those offering feedback, it's welcome and it's being passed along. You can expect to see changes in the coming weeks; just not immediately, as in not today nor yesterday.
- Part of Kinja's launch involved an improvement to reader inboxes. I've found myself replying to and engaging with readers a lot more through my inbox, which now displays the full text of reader comments sent my way and allows me to reply in kind without having to load a new article for each. (So much for maximizing pageviews! Who came up with this stuff???). If you haven't checked the revised inbox, look in the upper-right corner of your browser, where any replies to your comments will be tallied and indexed. It's certainly helped me stay on top of everyone's feedback!
- The complaints I've received about Kinja have almost all involved one of two issues. Either a reader is upset that they can't view all the comments under an article at once (without lots of clicking) or they're concerned that their comment—or another person's smart comment—might be lost as soon as it is published. They see just a few discussions being prioritized under an article and the rest shuffled off to the right of the lead discussions under a double-arrow icon. Regarding the first complaint, it's been heard, loud and clear. Internal conversations are underway about it, but I don't want to get anyone's hopes up. If/when things change on that front, I'll let you know. On the latter, well, let's break out a new bullet point here, because...
- This is important. We didn't simply introduce new tech on Thursday, but we're also promoting a change in the way that readers interact with stories and the people who write them. The old paradigm of Internet commenting involved some writer like me publishing some big story and then each of you having a crack at commenting about it. That's how it usually works online: most commenters see a headline, a video, an article and they react. Commenting threads included some nested replies, but a good chunk of comments anywhere all just sound off on the piece they're commenting on. It's logical. It's fine.
Our new system is different and ambitious. It's not primarily designed for 100 or 500 people to comment on my article; it's designed for you to say something smart or funny in favor or against my article and then for someone to reply to you and then maybe for me to reply to that person and so on. The ideal result is a discussion that reads like an exchange among people having a conversation, one that flows from the article but is potentially as interesting and important as the article. You don't see much of this online, and it might seem crazy to think this can work on a popular site like Kotaku, where hundreds of people comment on a given article. Kinja is designed, however, to encourage people to have these exact types of discussions.
The hitch we've encountered early on is that you can't have these kinds of discussions if everyone is commenting the old way—if everyone is sounding off on the article. If people do that, we get a broad array of replies, all tallied as the number of discussions under the story. In this current system, those separate replies spread horizontally, the majority of them being collected under that double-arrow icon. What we really want is verticality. We want a discussion that goes on and on, as people reply to each other. Kinja is designed with the assumption that we'll get a handful of long, interesting, winding discussions below an article, each of which can be read as a coherent exchange. If you're worried that your comment is going to be buried, then I ask you to actually try the experiment underway here: try adding to the existing discussions... add to the verticality of the comments below a story, not to the horizontal breadth of discussions. Don't think of yourself as sounding off on an article. Think of yourself as adding to the discussion(s) that flows from the piece. Or, if you have a reply that you think is worth a discussion of its own, go ahead and add it and maybe yours will attract enough people to become the dominant one.
- The writers of Kotaku have taken the switch to Kinja as an opportunity to get more involved with the readers in what we used to call the commenting section but now refer to as the discussions. We're trying to break down the barriers between writer and reader, and we're trying to further emphasize a long-standing value at Kotaku of respecting the great group intelligence of a readership that is passionate about games and collectively knows more about them than any editorial team at any outlet ever could. This is why you may have seen Kotaku writers participate more in discussions these past few days. But, as we've participated, we've inadvertently smothered some of you and shifted your replies to the side, as ours have dominated the exchanges below posts. We will pull back on that and make sure that the discussions involve readers and that we spend more time replying to you than to each other. We want you to be a part of this. We also will continue to more carefully and thoroughly read through the replies under our articles to engage with the most interesting replies beneath them, pro or con, serious or funny, text, video or animated GIF. This will help elevate the best replies.
- We are ever-mindful that the majority of our readers never comment. But I invite all readers to give commenting—replying, as we're calling it now—a shot. With Kinja, we hope to increase the odds that if you randomly land on a Kotaku article, you'll see an interesting and easy-to-follow discussion below it. That improved reading experience was the main motivation behind trying something so different. We hope that has come through. If you've never commented, stay silent no longer. The team and I would love for you to join in. All voices are welcome here.
For those interested in the iterations of Kinja, I'll post (much briefer) notes on the site when major functionality is upgraded or changed. For now, please do try to be more vertical than horizontal when you reply. Let's see what happens. Let's see if we can collectively give people something fascinating to read.