Feature discussion, 2012

I'm going to try to separate out the site feature discussion from the Black Blossom discussion, as the existing conversation is getting a bit messy. Please add your comments on site features here.

We now join your regularly scheduled discussion, already in progress . . .

Can't say I'm actively updating the site software very often, but the last several changes were to de-emphasize editor picks, as they really aren't being maintained. I've just altered the criteria to make it easier to get into (Worm now appears).

Hey cool. That's interesting to know. Thanks, Chris.

Out of curiosity, is it mainly the fact that there's less editors rating/reviewing now, that was skewing what determined an 'editor pick'?

@Wildbow When we started, every listing got an editor review at some point, so it was reasonable to make them a significant part of the site. Unfortunately, that proved unsustainable. Editors burn out. Quickly, as it turns out. And, as you can probably tell from the lack of reviewing in general, there's no supply of new blood.

All in, WFG didn't work. That's due partly to the overall site design (which I never figured out how to do right), and partly due to what seems to be a fairly laissez-faire attitude amongst the readers of web fiction when it comes to talking about what they are reading.

I wonder why there's no supply of new blood? That's an interesting question. Who reads web serials (in English, since there's no shortage of popularity in China and Japan)?

Another question worth asking might be, who writes reviews of web serials? Those are really the people we're looking for, right? My guess at that answer would be "writers for the most part."

I suspect that like most fiction listing sites, WFG attracts the writer as a long term user more than it attracts the potential reader. At least that's a theory. I haven't tested it. I suspect that readers are more likely to click through the site, find something that interests them, and click through to that without coming back.

I kind of agree with Jim -- fans of an individual story will tend to write a short, positive review if their writer bugs them on the original site, but the long, in-depth reviews tend to come from other writers. The only consistent, prolific non-writer lengthy reviewer I can think of is Fiona, who puts a lot of thought into everything.

I think we need to think of the site as "writer-driven" -- I got my start with building any sort of fan-base by hanging out on Pages Unbound, reading other people's stuff and then commenting and reviewing on the ones I really liked, developing a relationship with those writers and then convincing them to check out my stuff and do a review. I got involved with WFG at the beginning because I found Sonja N. on PU and we got along, and she led me to Sarah Suleski. They were instrumental in helping NMAI be great, and then launching "The Surprising Life and Death of Diggory Franklin." Because of Sarah I helped with WFG and there I got to know MeiLin and moved to DigitalNovelists (.com) and had a home for all my stories.

Because of WFG I got to know Chris a bit, and Jim, and now because of Jim and "The Legion of Nothing" I read "Worm" and bug Wildbow. I think as writers we should be doing more reviewing to help follow authors, and drive our readers to WFG to find more things to read. If someone likes me, it's not a stretch that they'll like what I read -- so then if they follow my recommendations on this site they'll have a whole new library of stuff to check out. Then we can coax more reviews and trade readers back and forth and hopefully they'll spread the word and talk to their friends. I used to be more involved trying to do things like that, lately I dropped off the radar even for updating my own story because of the twins being born and work and things -- but I'm building update momentum now so we'll see if I can get comments, readers and reviews going again.

I think WFG would help itself a lot if it required a new writer to review three stories before theirs got posted -- we have tons of new stories all the time but few reviews, and that might help even out the imbalance. It should be a give and take relationship, not a place where you list your story and hope for readers without getting involved, just my opinion.


The problem with your suggestion is that it would raise all sorts of questions as to the honesty and quality of the reviews. Reviews are supposed to be unbiased and not written for compensation... if an author has to review 3 stories to have their own listed, it's almost like being paid to review. Also, I imagine it would just result in 4 authors getting together and make some kind of deal -- the resulting reviews would therefore be biased.

And someone would need to vet the reviews. An author could just invent 3 reviews without even reading the stories, just to get listed, which would take time to check/approve/reject... Aaaand given the varying quality and length of different reviews, how would we ever set guidelines on what makes an acceptable review or not?

/end rambling.

The idea is good in principle, but I just think it'd be impossible. We can't hold people's listings hostage. If anything, there would need to be another kind of incentive to encourage reviews.

@Gavin: I like the idea, but agree with @Anna's criticisms. Unfortunately, for every author who will take up that challenge honestly, there will be a half dozen who whine and angst about it and try to find dishonest ways around it. Hell, I've recently had *another* author threaten to sue if we didn't delete a bad review. Tiresome.

The truth is writing a quality review is the easiest way to get your name on the WFG homepage, and most of our traffic leaves through those links. If you are an author and want your listing to be prominent, writing reviews of other stuff is a great way to do it.

Maybe it's time to remove the listing indices from the site: make it so the only way you can get traffic from us after the initial listing is to participate.

Well, one thing I can do in the short term is add a link to the review byline, so every author's latest listing is right there with the review they write.

In terms of reviews for new listings, maybe this would work: one review, on one listing of a shortlist I provide, and it only goes to the home page if it meets the usual standard. Then ditch the "new listings" list on the home page. Basically, if you write a quality review, your name and listing go to the home page.


I'm just suggesting a possible solution based on a problem other people are identifying:

1) we aren't getting a lot of reader reviews

2) we have a lot of unreviewed listings

3) we have new listings coming in

I think creating a mutual relationship where a writer interacts with the community starts to solve all three problems -- stories would get more reviews from the writers coming in, but also that increases the chance of new readers for those stories, and then potentially more reviews as different readers discover different stories through those portals.

I think it's silly that someone would consider suing -- first of all, WFG doesn't make money, second of all free speech, third of all reviews can be done by anyone and other than the editors they aren't speaking for WFG itself. Isn't there a disclaimer somewhere like in movies, where the opinions expressed in the interviews don't necessarily reflect those of the company?

I would say that if someone didn't think it was worthwhile to participate in the review process, maybe they shouldn't list -- because they're expecting reviews and not willing to give back. It should, ideally, be a mutual-benefit relationship, and not parasitic.

(besides that, I've heard from a lot of people that they get MORE traffic after one of my negative reviews)

Just so everyone knows, the opinions expressed in my comments and my reviews don't necessarily reflect those of WFG -- I'm an independent, sassy operator.

@ A.M.'s criticisms -- I don't think Chris's proposals would result in writers working out a deal to review each other because a) Chris could choose what a writer reviews, b) they would already be stories present on the site, so it wouldn't be a case of 4 writers all trying to help each other get on, because the only new writer would be the one writing the review. That seems to prevent bias, and if a writer doesn't put much thought into the review then I suppose they can expect that subsequent reviews of their work won't have much thought in them either.

Engineers call that GIGO -- garbage in, garbage out. I think it's self-sustaining/self-policing because it will show what kind of relationship a writer wants with the site. And I think an editor SHOULD vet the review before the new writer's story is listed, because anyone trying to game the system would then not get listed based on dishonesty.

If they don't like it, they're free to put the years of work into programming and maintaining their own site the way Chris has, in my opinion. He put a lot of work into something where there's very little compensation, I think the least anyone can do is review a few stories.

If it was a really fair Pay it Forward situation, though, then I'd have like 100+ reviews of my stuff, too. I tend to write a lot of reviews and then get burned out, and that's on a voluntary free-time basis -- it would be nice to see other people writing reviews more consistently.

It boggles me that writers threaten to sue over bad reviews. :-/

I mean, they're no fun. I get that part. But... yeesh.

I thought the purpose of WFG was to provide an online archive/database of ... well, web fiction. Not to be a place where you list your stories in order to get reviews and feedback. I didn't list my web serial here in order to get as many reviews as possible, I listed it so that people would know I was writing a serial and could check it out if they liked the sound of it. Most of my traffic comes from WFG, so as far as I'm concerned listing here was a success. People can find my serial listed on this site and read it if they want to. Any reviews I get as a result of listing here are just icing on the cake.

Granted reviews can help to make up someone's mind as to whether or not they want to read a given story, but not everyone will have the same tastes or opinions as a reviewer, and might want to check out a story even if it has bad reviews, and may hate a story even if it has good reviews.

Reviews, especially if they're nice, positive and detailed, are a great boost to the author. But I never really thought they were what WFG was all about. I don't think reviews and ratings should be important, and for me, as I said, I listed my serial so people would know it exists. That's it.

And to paraphrase Bones McCoy, "I'm a writer dammit, not a literary critic." - I know how to write a story (at least I hope I do) but I don't have the faintest idea how to write a decent review, and I'd rather use my free time to better hone my craft.

When you get right down to it, what's more important? Getting reviews, or letting people know your stories exist for them to read? I've always felt that the latter is why WFG was made - to provide an archive of free web fiction, not as a mutual appreciation society.

The reviews are not more important than the stories IMO.

Personally, I'm inclined to think that we ought to be reasonably sure my suspicion is correct before taking action based on it.

That said, if I were to be right about that, I'm inclined to think that any action's got to be a "soft" push rather than a "hard" push. What WFG is first of all, is a place to list your story and make it easier for people to find it. Sometimes people stay and become part of the larger serial fiction community, and sometimes they don't. It's in WFG's interest, however, to list everything in its field (and be as barrier free) as possible or people won't bother to list things here. That in turn would make it less likely a community would form here in the first place.

My suspicion is that while readers come through, find something interesting and leave, the same is true of writers. They come through, list their story, and leave (for the most part). The difference is that there's more "soft" reasons to linger and become part of the community for the writer than the reader.

For the writer, there's the reviews of one's work (even if that's not your main reason, it's hard not to be curious), the possibility of self-promotion, the community of writers already here that you can ask questions of, and so on.

For the reader, there's the filtering factor, the lists of stories, and the reviews to read. The reader's reason to linger mostly don't require interaction with others, though.

I like Chris's suggestion for making people's byline available in reviews. More small things like that (and I don't know what they'd all be) seem likely to push people to review and interact with each other.

By the way... Chris: I don't what precisely you meant by saying that WFG had failed, but I don't agree. I'd agree that it didn't end up working exactly as intended, but to me the main focus is that it allows people to list web serials, and allows people to review them.

On the whole, I think it works reasonably well for that.

@Alice -- to some extent you're right -- when I describe WFG to people, I tend to call it the Web Fiction Library -- a place with lots of free stuff to read on its shelves, where there's something for everybody. And @Jim, you're right, it succeeds at that.

But some of the comments in this thread seem to be subtly implying (and maybe I'm reading too much into it) that there's a general unease about the fact that there's not a lot of new reviews, and that seems like a lack of participation. My suggestion would (ideally) solve the problem of a lack of reviews. When this site was conceived, way back in 2008, it was set up with every story being reviewed by an editor -- that way there would be some sense of objective, unbiased fairness to counteract crowd popularity. So reviews were always up there in importance with the listings, it wasn't just a library. If an author wants to use it as one, that makes sense -- but then they won't complain about the lack of reviews.

People who want reviews should give them -- that's mutual and non-parasitic in the sense that you're not asking for something for nothing. An author who doesn't want reviews isn't asking for anything, hence they're not a parasite -- I'm not using it in an accusatory sense but rather in a "you get what you give" kind of analogy where I can't think of a better word. I didn't mean any offense by it, is what I'm trying to say.

For those who don't think reviews are important or a problem, it doesn't apply to them. One solution for the lack of reviews is to get writers to participate, as an exchange for listing. I don't think that's asking a lot when Chris recommended it as a one-time thing -- it's the solution that occurred to my over-heated mind today. That doesn't mean there aren't others, but not much else has been suggested.

The byline idea is good because it's a subtle reward for participation, I agree with Jim on the "soft" push.

See, it almost sounds like you're contradicting yourself here. You say:

"For those who don't think reviews are important or a problem, it doesn't apply to them."

Which seems to suggest that people such as myself, who don't care about getting reviews for their work, shouldn't have to leave reviews for other work. Which is fine.

But you contradict yourself with this:

"I think WFG would help itself a lot if it required a new writer to review three stories before theirs got posted"

And then this:

"One solution for the lack of reviews is to get writers to participate, as an exchange for listing."

In other words what you seem to be saying, as far as I understand it, is this:

"If you want your story listed you have to leave reviews."

Which, if that is the case, makes what you are saying a contradiction. You claim that people who don't want or care about getting reviews don't need to worry about reviewing other people's work, yet you also say that anyone who wants to list a story/serial on WFG MUST leave reviews before they can do so.

Which is it? If authors MUST leave reviews to get their work listed on WFG, then how does that NOT affect people like myself, who don't care about whether they get reviews or not?

I mean if I started a new web serial and wanted to list it here, would I be allowed to do so? Or would you insist that under this new scheme I must first leave three reviews for existing stories? If so then that means your proposed system DOES cause problems for and affect people like me, who don't care about reviews.

I might have read what you're saying wrongly, in which case I apologise. But could you please clarify what your suggestion actually is? Because at the moment it sounds contradictory, and I'm still strongly opposed to it. I'm fine with "Leave a review if you want a review", but I'm really not okay with "Leave a review if you want to be allowed to list your fiction here on this site". That one is not a good idea IMO.

Er. I feel badly that we have hijacked MCA's thread. (SHould we move to another thread MCA?)

WFG does work for others. I used to snoop Project Wonderful stats and can see that some folks are getting dozens of hits a day from WFG. However my observation is that the folks who benefit more are those in the "recently updated" feed or have reviews left on the front page (which in turn get fed through Twitter in both Ergofiction and WFG's stream.)

It just doesn't work for me because I don't have a means to take advantage of those two mechanisms or am not submitting a new listing. (That said, I could , just haven't.) Topwebfiction (it's subsidiary site) does work for me, though. Not in huge numbers, but decently and usually those readers are hanging out for a while on my site (which is good, IMHO) unlike readers from some of the scattershot approaches I"ve taken with advertising on fantasy webcomics.

But the larger issue is that "webfiction" in itself is a name that only people "in the know" will query. Finding this site is tough when there is no agreed upon "term" for what we do (unlike webcomics which have settled upon on that term.)

We're definitely fragmenting readers as such --

Currently I'm following various people all trying to essentially do something with online fiction, everyone from "Tuesday Serials," "Project Fiction," and a whole host of for-profit entities like "Eat Your SErial" and publishers who use everything from "weblit," Webfic, "webfiction," "serial," "ebook" in reference to what they're doing. This makes it impossible to market a concept or interest to the public. It makes it quite challenging to get any forward momentum on the online fiction front as well.

Anyways, that won't get fixed by the writers alone.

As for reviewers -- could we remove one barrier to leaving reviews if the WFG signup is linked into Twitter/Facebook authentication? Noticed a lot of sites are allowing OpenID, Twitter, Facebook or G+ authentication for leaving comments/feedback. Wordpress itself does have that available as well. (Have yet to experiment though)

I don't mind the hijack, I think it's a fascinating discussion. :)

I think it's worth asking what the goal of the website is. If it's to exist as a listing for webfiction, then it does its job already. If what people want is interactivity, reviews are probably not the way to do it.

@Alice -- I'm pretty sure the ones you're quoting that contradict my last post are from a previous post, in which case the most recent post is a revision of my ideas as I read what other people are writing and adjust to their point of view. I said three at first as an idea, and then thought Chris's idea of just one seemed pretty fair. That's what I call listening and learning, because I don't have an adamant, invested position. I'm making suggestions, because I like brainstorming.

I'm not insisting on anything, because it's not my site and I'm not in a position to insist. I'm suggesting a possible solution to what I perceived as the problem other people were identifying. It's not even my problem. Just seems logical that if writers hang out here more, and we don't have enough reviews, then writers could review more. They're more "invested" in the site because they list here -- readers get free content, and there's nothing for them to exchange. There's no means of control and we don't want control when we want a free library. But if writers themselves want reviews, the only way to get them is to do some themselves and hope it encourages others.