Nick Denton: Don't count me out of Rex Sorgatz bet yet

Nick Denton may have just issued a long mea culpa to readers apologizing for problems with Gawker's much-maligned redesign, but that doesn't mean he's ready to give up on it.

I asked rhetorically on Twitter if it was time to pay up on the famous bet with MnSpeak's creator, who wagered $1,000 that Gawker would lose pageviews with the more TV-like design.

I was surprised to get a prompt response from the head of Gawker Media himself.

Here's my question:

And Denton's response:

@panopticon13 No, we have till October to show a rebound in pageviews. Six months is a long time in web media.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

The Origin of the Wager

It all started with a post by Sorgatz on his blog Fimoculous, in which he issued an open bet that Denton would eventually retreat from the redesign when pageviews collapse.

I'm on the record that I think the redesigns will fail. And I'm now officially opening the betting pool. I think Denton is going to be forced to pull back on this. If anyone wants to wager that the redesign don't get yanked back (or greatly modified) by, let's say, June 1... I'll take your bet.

In a fit of pique, Denton took him up on the offer, stating the terms that for every 1 million pageviews that the sites go over 510 million, Sorgatz owes Denton $10. For every 1 million pageviews under 510 million, Denton owes Sorgatz $10.

"I'm going to clean him out," Denton vowed of Sorgatz.

But since that heady boast, business has been less than brisk, which led to Denton's apology to readers today in which he called the redesign "more bruising ... than it needed to be."

More interesting was the accompanying email to staffers, in which Denton makes some candid confessions about how bad things are at the Good Ship Gawker:

Obviously, the reduction in traffic from Google -- as from most design changes -- has been significant. It doesn't affect readers of the site -- but it does have a disproportionate effect on uniques. Search optimization of the new layout is a top priority.

Tom is in Budapest working directly with the tech team there. But he will be sending an email update later this week with more detail on these and other changes -- as well as general improvements to the performance of the sites, the ad serving and edit systems.

In addition to complaints from readers, it seems the Gawker Media redesign has wreaked havoc with their SEO, a major traffic driver for a national website built on gossip.

Under the terms of the bet, Sorgatz automatically wins the $1,000 bounty if Denton retreats back to a more blog-like format. How exactly that will be judged remains to be seen, but Gawker has certainly backpedaled from the initial design of one big splashy story on the homepage.

Gawker's redesign: "This is not a blog."
Gawker's redesign: "This is not a blog."

Now there are multiple teases featured. The memo brags of a "Top 7" format to come, which sounds like six more stories than the big splashy one Denton initially touted.

Several of the bug fixes--including doing away with the awful frames that made scrolling so painful--are a throwback to a more bloggy format.

In the face of reader revolt, Gawker quickly publicized Classic Gawker--which to my eyes still isn't as utilitarian as the old design.

In his tweet, Denton seems more focused on the pageview part of the bet. But if he's wrong on that and stubbornly refuses to correct course, he stands to lose a lot more than the $1,000 to Sorgatz.

(This isn't the first time Denton has tweeted me about his blog controversies. I guess I'm kind of his Twitter Boswell.)

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