What is Kinja? The small, sad cohort of people who pay attention to this sort of thing ask. It's confusing because it's a new type of thing, or two previously separate things combined into one new-ish thing. It's a platform like Facebook or Twitter, but it's also a publication like Time Magazine or The Farmer's Almanac.
To be fair this mixture has existed for a while with Huffpost being the first major example to confuse people. Other companies currently confusing people in the same way are Buzzfeed and Medium. Huffpost is instructive in that what people are confused about is not so much technical as conceptual, transactional, and motivational.
For publications the old web 2.0 lure of free user generated content is still strong.
Buzzfeed, masterminded by key Huffpost insiders, while primarily known for its lists of things only 90s kids will understand has recently invested heavily in serious journalism. This is seen as a shift, but while it may be a shift in the quality of its content, it's not a shift in Buzzfeed's core identity which has always been that of a laboratory for figuring out how to make things popular on the internet. Most people probably don't know that anyone is allowed to log on and write a Buzzfeed post so they are not that confused, in this case, about the marriage of platform and publication.
Medium, started by a guy who was key in launching the extremely successful internet platforms Blogger and Twitter, is probably the platform-publication (publiform? [thought leadership]) people are currently most confused about. Where Buzzfeed is interested in scientifically analyzing how and why its articles are shared Medium looks at its mission through a user-experience focused design lens. That is it's interested in what is the best, most natural, pleasant way to read, write, and share its media. Which is very much the approach that led to Blogger and Twitter doing so well.
The thing that makes Medium different from those previous platforms is it's also interested in the quality of the media that fills out its carefully honed designs. There are publications that live on top of Medium, and there are other collections like monthly top posts lists. Some writers get paid to write there and some do not but no one is sure who is which. Management has assured us that this will become less confusing soon. Despite being very opinionated on the topic it's unclear that Medium has nearly the same level of insight into the whys and hows of publishing quality writing as it does into platform design.
Gawker Media, the creator of Kinja, and its attendant blogs (btw its confusing how one of the blogs is also called Gawker, that makes it seem like it's the boss of the other blogs but it's not), is much more a pure publication than those other companies which are looking at publication-platform hybridization from more of a tech industry perspective. Altogether creating a platform is a very technology company thing to do. When you read what Gawker has to say about itself it's very concerned about its editorial voice, breaking news, writing good stories, and just generally things publications get really amped on. That technology falls outside Gawker Media's core values explains why Kinja is not that great of a platform. Though there is also just the inherent tension between platform and publication that everyone experimenting along those lines is going through. Join me in examining how this tension plays out in the Kinja user experience.
Usually on a platform sign up page you would see a form encouraging you to enter your infos and sign up, along with very succinct text explaining what the service is and why you should use it - a simple design trying very hard to guide you through the signup process. Kinja's sign up page is dominated by a grid of blog logos and has a small sign up button in the corner that doesn't look like a button.
Some of the blog logos displayed on the sign up page are well known Gawker Media blogs, others are… not? One thing that makes it hard to tell is that there are now all these sub-blogs of the Gawker blogs. Some of them seem more official than others. I guess you can parse which is which by looking at the url and of the blog and if it's a sub-domain of a Gakwer blog it's sanctioned but if its a Kinja sub-domain then it's not. Except that paid Gawker writers sometimes write on their personal Kinja blogs then share the stories through the official blogs. Adding to the bewilderment none of the blogs' home pages have descriptions, just inscrutable names.
There's nothing on the sign up page to indicate that this is something that you yourself could use to write and share something (though there are blog descriptions!). Altogether, as with Medium, you are left wondering what exactly is going on.
I think fundamentally the problem is when publications set up platforms in order to use their readers as unpaid interns the relationship feels kind of icky.
Once you log into most platforms the sign up page morphs into a custom home page. The place where you usually find the cascade of relevant information, your feed. I logged in to Kinja and it looks the same as before except now there's a little user menu in the corner where I can compose a post, mess with my settings, log out, and visit my Kinja blog (though you can have more than one blog I guess?).
My blog consists of a few posts and some comments. Comments occupy roughly the same visual hierarchy as posts. Kinja is a commenting platform more than anything I guess? A while ago there was big talk about revolutionizing commenting or communication or something with Kinja by getting the writers more involved and like deconstructing what it means to even blog? Pretty much the only sign of that I see is Gawker writers making fun of of terrible Kinja comments on Twitter. Which makes sense considering everyone (except Mark Slutsky) knows comments are the worst.
I started my Kinja blog because a while ago I wrote a piece on tumblr about Google Glass that got reprinted by ValleyWag and I got like so many new Twitter followers. So I thought hey let's make this easy when I have something mean to say about a technology company I can put it on Kinja and then I will become very famous on Twitter.
BTW there's nowhere on Kinja to put a link to one's Twitter and many of the official sub-blogs don't even have Twitter accounts which is frankly unacceptable. In this behavior you can see Kinja attempting futile competition with a far more powerful platform.
I wrote a piece that got posted to Gawker that wasn't that popular probably because it was too designy/not inflammatory? Then Sam Biddle asked me to write something about the Apple Watch and I did and he never posted it OMG that stinker. TBF it was pretty rushed and half-assed and I don't really care about the Apple Watch that much other than to say that it's obvs dumb and prob people will buy it then be like what am I supposed to do with this use it to buy more Apple Watches? Long story short this whole kinja takedown: SOUR GRAPES.
Back to the present day and I wasn't following anyone on Kinja so I decided to do that and see what happened. I followed Gawker and Deadspin and Sam Biddle. Nothing happened. There's like no feed? I followed every blog suggested on the home page even Lifehacker. I had to click through each one to follow them. WTF is "Sploid"? I segiured Gizmodo en Espanol. I logged out. I logged back in. Still where is my feed. I can't quite believe it but I don't think following on Kinja does anything? I did not think things would be this bad. Maybe the new posts just haven't like showed up yet? Status: feeling paranoid that I'm missing something obvious.
UPDATE: I found the feed! I clicked on the light gray bullhorn icon next to the user menu, which revealed a list of notifications of people interacting with my posts, then I clicked on see all notifications at the bottom of that which brought me to a longer list of notifications of people interacting with my posts that had a side menu titled private view under which I clicked on all and I found the feed! I realized you can also get here by clicking on private view under the user menu, which i totally ignored before because what's private view.
It's weird the Gawker staff uses Kinja to do their jobs and yet I've never heard any of them complain about it. Maybe it works fine for their purposes.
I was planning on going through some more design things I saw in Kinja like how the home logo link on the sticky header turning into a discover menu when you're at the top of the page fucks with your spatial memory, how sticky headers are usually pointless complications anyway, the composition/publishing/sharing process, how the hamburger button is to be avoided at all costs, but the whole scene is just too twisted and dark for me man thanks.
IMHO It's all a manifestation of higher level conceptual problems anyway. And I suspect even if you sorted every other issue out people aren't going to ever have that much enthusiasm for a platform that exists solely to use them for the benefit of the publication.
Oh hey just noticed Gawker Editor Max Read wrote about the sub-blogs this morning. Very interesting. Glad I did not notice before I wrote this lol.
After you publish a Kinja piece an offer to use this thing pops up.
I know who A Dog is and am willing to dox for the right $$$.