THE OFFICES of Gawker Media offer precious little sign that any work ever gets done here: three collapsed leather sofas, two laptops, a table piled with books, some dried flowers and several dozen champagne flutes appear to be the only physical attributes of Nick Denton's weblog empire.
Yet the nine internet sites that comprise Denton's Gawker Media company are among the most original and influential of their kind. Collectively and individually, they have become daily reading for New York media types, LA film people, Washington political junkies, computer gamers, gear-heads and gadget freaks as well as "enthusiasts" of pornography.
Denton, a British former Financial Times journalist, would like to begin our conversation by explaining what a weblog is. Which is reasonable because while people tend to talk about weblogs and look at weblogs, few can describe what makes a weblog a weblog.
"Weblogs are just websites that happen to be arranged in reverse chronological order," the 36-year-old Denton explains. "They have the characteristics of honesty and humour and they speak to audiences at their level, not from on high."
Denton's nine weblogs, which boast such names as Kotaku, Jalopnik, Screenhead, Wonkette and Gizmodo, have all been set in the past two years. In this short space of time, the collective of Gawker sites is now probably second only to Matt Drudge in terms of recognition and online traffic.
Last summer, Fortune magazine called Gawker Media "an empire of the fledgling weblog industry". Denton's blogs, it noted, were "deliciously wicked". Business Week flattered that Gawker's blogs are "irresistible to the chattering classes - media, power, sex, and toys... Denton is skimming off the demographic cream - the influential chatterati".
Wired magazine, the daddy-o of technology magazines, called Gawker "a must-read for anyone involved in the Gothamite stew of news junkiness, celebrity trash, and bitchy gossip". And, perhaps most encouragingly of all, co-online publication Slate calls it "monotonously sadistic".
The formula behind the Gawker empire, Denton says, is simple: "The one common theme is to take an obsession, say a gadget obsession, and feed it - produce more content than the people could ever dream of having or consuming."
This formula is not far removed from that of consumer magazines, and Denton knows that adherents of media gossip, pornography, computer games and so on are more or less insatiable. "Everybody likes to read about themselves, about their worlds," he says. "As with addicts, the more you give them, the more they want."
With a single editor and a number of web-surfing, chore-running interns, Gawker sites are constantly being updated. In Washington DC, people read the politically oriented Wonkette; in L.A, the celebrity dirt of Defamer. Fans of pornography are drawn to Fleshbot; Screenhead is online entertainment for guys who are too lazy to watch television; computer gamers go to Kotaku; car drivers, to Jalopnik, and so on.
Denton is not prepared to say which site turns a profit but it's obvious Jalopnik stands the best chance; it recently struck an exclusive sponsorship deal with Audi. The gossipy Gawker, the site to which New York liberal media types surf, probably does not.
Like many internet companies, Gawker Media doesn't like to talk financials. It's unlikely there's much to talk about, anyway. Although $7bn was spent on internet advertising last year, very little of it currently goes to the fledgling weblog industry.
Having experienced the false expectations of the first internet boom, Denton knows that to talk profit is a fool's game. …