Adding comments to reviews?

So I saw Palladian's review for Hiraeth and got all excited to read it. I wanted to leave a thank you note for such a great review and recommendation, but realized how difficult that might be. Is it possible to add more interactivity to the reviews themselves, like a comment box for the reviews? Or would that just be inviting trouble and yet MORE stuff to moderate?

Just my opinion:

A) the forum has a whole section labelled "review discussion" where people comment on reviews or thank people. I think that's a good place for things like that.

B) I think it adds noise to a review because if you have a differing opinion you should be creating a review of your own -- and readers don't need to see people criticizing or thanking a review on the review itself when they're after someone's opinion on a story. Why give them opinions on opinions as well? That seems like more noise and less purpose.

C) We have had a lack of participation on reviews and the forum in general -- I'd be worried that comments on the reviews would be more discouraging if people decided to go trolling, and yeah, then you'd have a new moderation problem.

D) You'd be tempting me to critique reviews instead of writing my own -- for every three word "this story is awesome" review you'd get me saying "your review wasn't" -- do we really need that from me? I'm already working hard at not being a jerk. :P

If people just used the forums more I think that would be enough. I get thanked here and in emails pretty often.

I can see there being a few problems with that. I've had a long discussion with Emma Pooka about my review of Bad Influences (which was, as she phrased it, harsh), but Emma's been very well spoken about her perspective on the review (and my analysis). I can see situations where others wouldn't be, or where a fear of reprisal/criticism over the review might lead people to be less than fully honest.

As far as I'm aware, someone threatened Chris with a lawsuit because of a bad review not that long ago (I'm worried it was one of my reviews; I was the only person to leave a review in the recent past with less than three stars, then), and it's apparently not the first time. For some, this stuff is people's livelihood. That's major, and major feelings get involved.

It -would- be nice for there to be avenues for discussion about individual points of a given review, but I fear that it would open up a can of worms.

And my comment on Wildbow's review of Bad Influences would be "I agree with everything you just said. I admire your feelings. I hope to adopt them as my own." It's rational, well thought out, and encapsulates the problems I had reading the story too.

Bonus points if you can identify the movie I quoted.

Thanks guys. As suspected it would invite more trouble and work. Just wondering what the thought process was behind it.

Gavin you have a lot of good points that seem obvious but escaped my morning brain! I never thought about review discussion adding a lot of noise where the focus should be the review itself. You are very right.

Wildbow, I can't believe someone would threaten legal action over a review. We're supposed to have thick skins as writers! I mean, if I got upset over every time I got a bad review for being a comic and not prose alone I'd be sleeping on a pillow stuffed with money.

Anyway, point taken and I appreciate the thoughts behind deciding not to have interactive reviews. Next time I like a review I'll make a thread instead! More posts for the forum are always good too. :)

For what it's worth I've often YEARNED to comment on reviews, but yeah, what they said. Tinder for the flames!

Well, think about it. You put in dozens, hundreds or thousands of hours into a work, you're taking time out of your day to create something, and because you don't have the benefit of objectivity, you let yourself believe you're creating gold. All that time goes towards making something, and (short of having a donation button available) the payoff is delayed. You come to see that time as an investment, when it's really a gamble. If you succeed then you make money. If you fail, you can potentially make nothing. But we (particularly Americans) live in a culture where it's easy to feel entitled, to feel that investing X effort should get 2X reward. You've put in all this time, you can't help but see the parts that are funny, the parts that are gold, characters you've fallen in love with as an author, it's hard to imagine others having different perspectives.

And you finish your work. You've put a share of yourself into it, taken the time to edit and polish it to the best of your ability, rewritten bits to be more clever. You put it on a site and pay $18 for a specialized site design with features that move with mouseover and fancy graphics in the background, you put up a donate button and a link to the amazon page where someone can buy your book. Then you're on the edge of your seat, waiting for your story to work its way up the Webfictionguide queue and get listed.

And then this brat, this know-nothing tool from some dark corner of the internet pops in and reviews your story just after it gets listed, and he says it's derivative, that the only parts that seem like they might have some merit to them are cliched or blatantly ripped off from elsewhere, character development is nil, and your work is too simple for adults and has too much mature content for children... He gives you two stars and suggests he's being generous in doing so.

Because of that review, less people check out your story, which means less people write reviews with differing opinions. Potential readers dismiss you out of hand, or they do look at your work but the review means they approach with prejudices. All that effort you put in, for which you deserve compensation, it's falling apart because of one 'unfair' review at a crucial time.

So what do you do?

You send a scathing email to the administrator of Webfictionguide and demand he take that review down or, by golly, you're going to sue him and get the money you deserve that way.

I can totally picture the scenario.

But actually, I bet considerably MORE people check out the story than if it had gone unnoticed, or even had a mild, neutral, boring review. And quite possibly some of those people will like it.

Example: Ballad of the Emerald Bard. Four people reviewed it, and they all pretty much agreed it was a 2-3 star first draft with some significant flaws, and yet I bet almost everyone who's read the WFG home page in the last two weeks has clicked through to see the story for themselves. Haven't you all?

I totally agree. But the offended individual might not.

Wildbow, you really ARE a writer. That was a great character portrait! haha

And Fiona, I tend to click through a lot of low star reviews too to see for myself. I'm always, "Oh it can't be THAT bad." ....

People have threatened lawsuits over reviews more than once. No one's ever followed through. In each case where someone did that, it was an editor that wrote the review--so no need to worry Wildbow, you're not at fault.

Generally people get really annoyed not just at the review, but also at the fact that Chris won't remove their listing from the website.

Personally, I've lately gotten to experience a little bit of what people feel from bad reviews. On Amazon, Goodreads and here, I've gotten good reviews for Legion of Nothing, but on "Page 99", a site that asks people to rate page 99 of a work (without any context), I've gotten some bad reviews--mostly because people don't seem to get the "superheroes in prose" thing. Many of the bad comments boil down to "this sounds like a comic book."

OK... And back to the original topic: I often think that it would be interesting if the reviews could have comments. I think Chris was even thinking about doing that at one point, but it would probably take a bit of work, and it was part of a much larger redesign.

Amy, as someone new to this game I click the low star reviews but I'm always, "I wonder if mines that bad, better see what they did wrong..."

Getting a bad review isn't fun. It's certainly survivable. But there are consequences for them at WFG, and it does negatively affect your traffic.

... wait, that doesn't sound right. It doesn't negatively affect your traffic because that implies that a bad review here starts a campaign against you, and suddenly people are actively boycotting your work. That's not what I mean. WFG has some mechanisms in place that make well-reviewed work more accessible to the population, which positively affects your traffic, and bad reviews take you out of the running for that. So bad reviews negatively affect the positive traffic from WFG.

But it's not the end of the world. You keep writing and posting and drinking and sooner or later there's a dead hobo in your bathroom and you can't remember why.


I think maybe we should define terms a little better. A "bad" review could mean a short, uninformative five star cheerlead, or a one star troll dump. A "negative" review would be less than three stars. A "bad" review can positively or negatively affect your traffic because ten cheerleaders marking 5 star will weigh heavier than one 2 star review, no matter if they're badly written or well-written.

"Well-reviewed" would mean thoroughly thought through, (say that three times fast) whereas "positively reviewed" would mean 4 stars or more. Positively reviewed stories positively affect traffic. Negatively reviewed stories negatively affect traffic. (In theory). So bad reviews might be positive or negative towards traffic.

So I would amend what ubersoft said as "Getting a negative review isn't fun." If there are more negative reviews than positive ones then it affects your traffic negatively, and vice versa.

But one negative review will not affect your traffic negatively just because it exists, as they're weighed against the other existing reviews. It only matters if it's the only review, or if it forms the dominant opinion. If the majority agree that the story should be reviewed negatively, those aren't "bad" reviews, the story has been "well-reviewed" and it deserves by popular opinion to not get traffic in comparison to the majority opinion in comparison to other positively reviewed stories.

Fun fact -- I've heard back several times that a negative review INCREASED readers because they wanted to see what was up with the negative review for themselves, proving the system works.

I think that's a sensible interpretation. A bad (that is, lacking information, inaccurate, heavily biased or lazy) review is bad for Webfictionguide, a negative review is (arguably) bad for the story's author.

@ubersoft. True. There is that. In the early days of WFG the original concept was for several editors to review every listing, to ensure it got a fair shake. That ambitious plan fell by the wayside pretty quick. Now I can see how the way things fall out currently will seem arbitary to some, but the saving grace, I think, is that authors never really lose, in a objective sense, by listing on WFG, no matter what happens. Best case scenario, they get multiple 5 star reviews, rise to the top of the listings and attract a trove of new readers as well as an encouraging ego boost. Worse case scenario, they get overlooked entirely by reviewers and languish in the back pages. But even then the listing and some potential for readers to find it is still there, and one day an intrepid reviewer may rescue it. A negative review falls in between, it at least gets you some attention and something to think about. I hope I'm right about that.

Back to Amy's original question - isn't the "helpful" mark on the bottom supposed to be an endorsement of the review itself?

@Wildbow. I don't know that I'd even call a two sentence review "Great story. I loved it!" bad for WFG. It's not very informative, but it works as a little vote of appreciation and shows that someone liked the story. Heck, people are even encouraged to give ratings without any written justification, so anything a person may want to say is bonus.

I guess the only really "bad", as in damaging, reviews, would be those that don't honestly reflect the reader's true impression of the story, but are posted for some ulterior motive (eg. troll, insincere booster).

The ratings are weighted accordingly, though, through a complicated formula that I don't entirely know the details of, but I know it takes all kinds of things into account such as: if there is a review, how many YES's the review gets, how many other reviews the member has written, and so on.

@SGL. Yes indeed.

Also, aren't review by their nature subjective and biased?

I guess I'm trying to say that short reviews are not 'bad' for Webfiction Guide, they arn't as good as a long detailed well thought out review but they will always add something. Readers can access the detailed more helpful reviews from the 'helpful' ratings mechanic.

Again, I think we need to be careful of how we use and define terms.

A subject is the active noun in a sentence. An object is the noun receiving the verb. "I am writing this comment." I am the subject, the comment is the object.

A subjective review is about the writer of the review -- "I loved this story. The characters really spoke to me. I enjoyed every post and waited for more."

An objective review would be about the story. "There was excellent grammar and technique." Or "There was heavy use of passive voice and tense shifts." "The characters are stereotypical, often seen in Other Works X, Y and Z." "The descriptions have poetic metaphors and really bring the scenes to life." Those components are either in the object, the story, or they're not. That's measurable. Whether or not it's enjoyable goes back to the subject.

Short booster reviews reveal only subjective bias, thus they don't tell us anything about the story itself that we don't grasp from the star rating. If it's five star, I get that you loved it. If it's one star, I get that you hate it. A short subjective review only shows your personal bias and so it says the same thing as the stars. I think that's a "bad" review because it has no qualitative content. It doesn't inform a potential reader of any reason to read the story aside from the fact that it inspired bias in the reviewer -- and that might not be because of the story quality, but because of a relationship between the reviewer and the writer.

There could be such thing as a well-written subjective review, if the reviewer is naming their biases. "I really love superhero stories, I grew up with them, so I'm probably more enthusiastic about this story than the average reader." But at least they're giving the background to the subjective bias, so we can add or subtract our own likelihood of enjoying the story under review, based on our own subjective tastes.

What I would agree with is that there's nothing "wrong" about such reviews, and they are valid. I believe in freedom of expression, and because of the weighing metrics all voices are included. I do, however, think that there are qualitatively better reviews that are less biased, more objective and thus more helpful.

And reviews don't have a nature. The person writing the review has a nature. We are all subjective, we all include ourselves in our responses to our lives. But some of us are more objective, referring to the things we observe in a way that others can look at the text and see that those observations are present in the story, the object, and so objectively exist beyond the mind of the subject reviewer. Observation is not biased -- it is being present in the moment and seeing what is there.

What we choose to observe and ignore may reflect bias, our emotional response to what we observe is certainly subjectively biased, but if we focus on the object's components we make bias less of a review component. Identifying our biases in a self-aware manner helps others to look at the story as an object, because they can subtract out our subjective response when it is made known.

Most of us are writers, and all of us are readers. We live in worlds constructed by language. I think we should be intentional and aware of the words we use as much as possible, and "subjective" and "objective" are extremely important and their proper use is beneficial. "Oh, reviews are just subjective" is a handwave that erases the need to approach something rationally -- and this is a mistake. When one does that, they invalidate the person who had a genuine emotional response. However, if that person doesn't provide context and reasoning to their response, they do themselves a disservice, because then their self-expression becomes noise without purpose. Reviews are NOT always "just" a subjective emotional response showing bias. They CAN be objective, measurable and helpful, and when they are they can be learned from.