The Troll Economy for real

While the online art world ponders Trolling and Friending as Bullshit Relational Aesthetics and How Can We Monetize Them, news arrives from the world of soulless capitalism that Gawker has a new economic model based on sponsored comment threads controlled by the advertiser.

The way it works, as explained non-judgmentally by Felix Salmon:

So Gawker’s new commenting system is based around threads, with the default view being the main, most interesting thread. It’s possible to click through to other threads, and every thread — indeed, every comment — has its own unique URL; what’s more, the person who starts a thread has quite a lot of control over which comments in that thread will get featured.

What that means is that if an advertiser buys a sponsored post — and sponsored posts have been part of Gawker’s menu of offerings for some time now — then once the new commenting system is in place, the advertiser will have a reasonably large degree of control of the conversation that most people see in that post.

Denton’s vision for Gawker Media’s editorial product is very much moving towards comments and away from posts, and he reckons that advertisers will follow him in that direction if he blazes the trail. Expect Gawker’s blog posts to get shorter, in [the] future, and sometimes just be a headline, at least in the first instance, so that the conversation can get going before a pretty post can be put together. And if Denton’s scheme goes according to plan, when you follow a link to a Gawker website, it will often — or maybe even usually — be a link to a comment, rather than to an original post. Eventually, it’s possible to envisage a world where the distinction between the two is erased completely.

The Exiled blog describes this succinctly as "monetizing corporate trolling." Content dwindles to a provocative teaser headline that makes you want to click through to discussion. Is the discussion real or fake? You don't know. A good moderator keeps the selling agenda on the down low, nixing skeptical comments, and at some point goads you over to the company's website, where more "discussion" continues and you are fed disinformation about a product or service.

Here's how the model might work in practice. I'm going to use Paddy Johnson as an example because she's playing with sponsored post fire; HOWEVER, what follows is a work of fiction and she wouldn't actually do this.

Let's say you have software that balances gender considerations as you write text. "Did you use 'he' too many times? Here are some alternative constructions." You pay Paddy to host a post titled "Enough With The Dude-centric Net Art Shows." Everyone in "new media" has an opinion on that (219 comments at last count) - you don't even need an article. Paddy turns the thread over to you to moderate. A sock puppet says "You know, what curators need is a software that makes their computers beep when men outnumber women in the press release they are writing." A commenter says, "what is this, an ad?" You nuke the comment. Another commenter plants a link to another "lively thread" on your page which keeps plugging the Gender-Eaze (tm) software. Brad Troemel describes corporate trolling as an "unscrupulous form of DJ art" on his tumblr and links to Paddy's thread. Troll gasoline ignites and orders start coming in for your product.