October is Feedback Month!

Some thoughts from a chair I am sitting in

I have been active on Everything2 for 11½ years. It's been fun, I've got to know many people, some of whom I count as my closest friends. I have met many of them, and even married a noder. I intend to stay.

The past couple of months have been pretty damned exciting to be on the staff here. Mostly this is connected with the simply awesome Jay Bonci, who has been doing things behind the scenes to make the site faster, more stable and easier to maintain. Many of these changes are pretty much invisible to the rest of us, but by Crikey they sound good. He has also been very good at letting us know what is going on, even though a lot of it is Greek to me. Thank you, Jay. I know there's more coming.

I watch New Writeups pretty carefully and do try to read everything that scrolls down there. According to the Site Trajectory we still have plenty of new writing (two to three hundred a month, typically) and a small percentage of these are by new users (of whom there are typically between four and six a month). Is this good? Well if we compare figures for ten years ago, New Writeups zipped along almost ten times faster, with thousands, rather than hundreds, of new contributions.

So what are we doing? Well, translating some of what Jay is doing into user-speak, he is making it more likely that our site rises higher up in Google search results, and readying the site to include features that will boost our visibility, as well as make it more likely to retain readers and get MOAR USERS.

I mentioned watching New Writeups. One thing I have noticed is an apparent increase in new users coming in and posting scads of poetry. Now I am not opposed to this, but like many here, I am aware that poetry often has a tough time here, and newcomers are often put off by a variety of things, notably a perceived hostile reception (downvotes and feedback on how to improve).

I mentioned feedback, so I want to congratulate to everyone who is contributing to the site. You are an excellent bunch of writers, and I love you all.

Enough of that, what is wertperch doing?

Well, for one thing, I am adding my weight behind efforts to make the newbie noder's life easier. One way to do this, I believe, is to look at the way we offer help to new users. To that end, I have joined the E2Docs usergroup, and will be spearheading a project to clean up, simplify and improve the Help documentation. This is going to be a moderately lengthy process, and whilst there are a number of people in that group, not all of them have time at the moment to support the undertaking.

I am looking for ways of improving feedback. I already use the blab! box to offer suggestions, both to new and old users. Whenever I see any user asking for a review of something, I leap in, read and offer suggestions. Sometimes, it's about typos, style, formatting or links,but always it's friendly and (hopefully) helpful. Since the demise of the E2 Mentoring program, I believe it is the job for all established users to support the improvement of everything written here, so I follow my own advice and keep it simple, friendly but honest.

Does that always work? Well, no, it doesn't always. Sometimes (as happened recently) the user will explode in a volcano of defensiveness and go on about how this was the best work s/he'd ever produced. If they do not come down, why expend more energy? Move on, do not engage the troll. Find someone who will appreciate your guidance and critique. I did this with another newcomer, and was delighted to strike up a series of conversations with someone who has been writing elsewhere for a while. She (I think it's a she) responded very well, applied lessons, and persisted in gaining understanding what E2 is, and doing her best to fit right in. This gives me a nice warm feeling.

I am publicising many of the great writing here. I point it out to friends, post on Facebook and recently, to Stumbleupon. I want more people to know what a great place this is, and not just for writing either. A place to learn, read and be challenged. To make friends, have fun.

Finally, I am asking for help. I realise that I cannot do all this by myself. No, not even my superpowers and sexy superhero cape will enable me to do everything. I need your help. E2 needs your help, and there is plenty that you can do without having fancy buttons or tools at your command.

So, what can I do?

  1. Write more. There's the 2012 Halloween Horrorquest going on,so why not stretch yourself and write something for that? A few years ago, I did just that, despite my not being terribly comfortable around writing fiction. I enjoyed the experience, learned something, and by Gum, I may just try again this year. I have several new ideas in my scratch pad as well as a few unfinished pieces. I am setting the goal of trying to produce a new writeup every week or ten days. According to the Noding Speedometer, I am generally on target for that, writing my last 50 nodes in 537 days. This works out at 10.74 days per node.
  2. Promote E2, to publicise the work we have! Well again, I recommend that if you find something you really like, why not use the "social" buttons conveniently located at the end of each writeup? (Hint: if you don't see them, enable them in Advanced Settings). This enables you to share with Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon, I know from looking at the source of our traffic, that the latter, at least, provides appreciable traffic here. Go on, do it. You know you want to. Not only will you be doing us a favour, but you will show what bloody marvellous taste in writing you have.
  3. Offer feedback to users. Look for opportunities to help newcomers, remembering that you too, were once such a newbie. You can help to keep new users by encouraging them and gently correcting them. I'm sure you all blab! from time to time, but setting a new goal will help even more. Let newcomers know that you care, by offering supportive advice and remaining open to further questions.
  4. Feedback on Reviews. Go to your Nodelet Settings and make sure you enable the "For Review" section. Check in the nodelet from time to time, read and comment as you feel. If you are on staff, you should also enable the ""...user asks for review of a draft" setting on your Notifications.
  5. Poets, step up! Given the amount of poetry (of variable quality), I call on the poets to take especial care to nurture the incoming poets. I'm not a poet (despite my meagre efforts in that arena) and often find it hard to give appropriate help to newcomers.
  6. Finally, get to know other users. Make it easier for us to get to know you. E2 is about communication, let's open that up. I want October to be feedback month as well as a lead-up to Hallowe'en, and that need not be scary. Join us... Oh, and don't forget to write.

You want to help improve the documentation? Well, feel free! Offer your help to me, to E2Docs. Read help files, and pass on any comments or criticisms. Is something out of date? Tell us. Is it unnecessarily complex? Tell us. Is anything missing, duplicated or just plain wrong? Tell us - we need new pairs of eyes, new views, more brains. Mmmm, brains.

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