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Comment and Ratings problem, where do we go from here?

It seems to me that everyone has suddenly gone bonkers of the ratings and comments at the site. I've had more complaints this month than I've had in the previous 5 years combined, and frankly, I'm upset about it. I've never wanted to run a tight ship around here but it looks like a few bad apples are forcing me to do just that.

Let me say that I know how important feedback about your work is. I know that the comments and ratings matter. That said, I can't fathom why people get bent out of shape over some "troll" rating them poorly or commenting negatively. I was under the impression I built this place to serve as a way to improve your writing and I would assume everyone here is smart enough to distinguish honest feedback from some random joker's driveling. I thought that would be enough, but apparently not. Many of you have voiced your concerns about these types of comments and ratings and I've responded with an improved ratings system and ways to combat the comment problem. Of course, not everyone was happy about that either. I am on the losing end of this and no matter what I do, I'll look like the bad guy. I'm okay with that if it'll return Lit.Org to where she should be. It's time to put things right.

One thing I've noticed is people trying to "game the system" like it's a popularity contest instead of a place to improve your writing. This makes me wonder if comments, ratings and views shouldn't be private and only available to the author. I know I like reading comments almost as much as I like reading the works themselves.

There are a handful of issues with comments and ratings. Lets see if we can work through them and fix the problems.

Ratings:

1. Should we limit ratings to users who have a minimum of posts and/or comments? On the surface this seems like a logical idea. However, if we did this it would all but stop ratings. 90% of the ratings are done by casual visitors who prefer to lurk rather than write or comment. The rating system was conceived for this very reason. People have busy lives and we produce a lot of content to read through so the ratings provided a quick way to get feedback without requiring users comment.

2. GSMonks suggested a wonderful new version of the rating system which I think would be an excellent replacement for our current system. The advantage is it's more like a mini review on several aspects of the writing. This could cut down on comment "noise" as well as drive by ratings as it would take work to actually rate something.

3. Make ratings private. Only the author can see his or her ratings. This will reduce the impact of trying to use them as a popularity contest and it will make it easier to ignore ratings that were obviously done just to low ball the item. The main disadvantage here is that ratings provide a good way for new readers to decide what to spend their time on. We are working on a new system to highlight the best of the best so it may be a moot point anyway.

No matter what system we put in place for the ratings *nothing* will stop someone from logging in and simply scoring everything low. The only thing that can stop that is turning ratings off. One other option is to make ratings completely private accept for the write off and even then we could use an alternate system.

Comments:

1. Should comments ONLY be about the writing? The trend lately is to use the comments section to talk about the "content" of the writing instead of the writing. While this is natural, I feel it's an abuse of the purpose and that's to help writers improve their skills. If this is not the case and you are looking for Lit.Org to be a place for open discussion, say so and I'll consider it. Otherwise, I'm leaning towards the idea that this site is for improving your writing so comments should be related directly to the writing. Touching on subject matter is a part of talking about the writing. Debating politics, religion, sex etc. are way off topic and should not be part of the comment system. Nor should comments be posted in reference to other comments accept where it directly relates to the writing, however, most often replying to comments is not necessary. This is another argument to make feedback to your work private.

2. Repeated comments on one piece are often done to draw attention to the author or the commentor. Sometimes this is natural when a debate ensues (though debates should not - see above) and people get into a comment battle. I've also seen a rise in people writing thank you's to every person who comments, one comment at a time. Please don't abuse the comments in this way, they will be deleted.

3. Should comments be private? As stated previously, I like reading the comments. I know more than a few of you enjoy coming back to do just that. Would you prefer comments be private or public?

This is an open topic - how do you want me to regulate the comments? Remember, you've been complaining about them and I'm offering to solve the problem. Tell me what you want done. I don't want to make a decision that everyone will hate but we have to do something. A few more emails complaining about how a handful of users are running off all the new people and I'll shut this site down before I let some flunky ruin it. Help me solve this problem.

Views:

People are putting a lot of weight on the views items get. This was added as a general guide to how many times a story was viewed. Comments, ratings and users checking their own work artificially inflate this number and it's not easy for me to fix. It would require a decent amount of work to solve that and I will get around to doing it. Again, should we make this statistic private to the author?


In closing, I need your help to solve these issues. I consider myself a servant of Lit.Org but I continue to get grief over every little thing lately and that really burns a bit. I've put nearly 7 years into this site now and it's becoming so stressful that I dread checking my email. If you are willing to help me get this problem back under control then I'm willing to do what's needed to keep it that way. If I *have* to become a tyrant you can bet that I will. I think we can resolve this without it coming to that though.

Please take the time to comment here with your ideas on how to solve this. Please do no clutter the comments with chat, I will delete them. This is for discussion solutions to the problems above. If you prefer, feel free to email them to me at crowe@lit.org.

------
Chrispian H. Burks
Lit.Org Owner / Founder
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Comments

The following comments are for "Comments, Ratings, Views and new Guidelines!"
by Chrispian

re: 12 cents
Claire,

Thanks for the feedback. I think we are on the same page, you and I. I agree completely with your comments and those I've recieved via email (so far). I'll wait a bit until everyone has a chance to chime in, but I think I see a clearing up ahead ;)

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

( Posted by: Chrispian [Admin] On: March 8, 2004 )

personal opinion
I agree whole-heartedly with Claire...I've only joined lit.org about a month ago, and already it has been a tremendous help to me...to see the ratings/comments on my work, and also to read the comments on other's work, gives me more insight and a better understanding...If given a choice to make comments or ratings on my work public or private, I would keep them public just the way they are...It is inevitable that we have attention junkies here, no matter where you go, you'll find a handfull of trouble makers...my take on it, is just ignore them...if I don't remark on their comments, then I'm not fueling their fire...it's easy to see who is trying to help on your work, and who is just trying to get a raise out of you...
I like things just the way they are here, but if things have to change, it certainly wouldn't stop my particiaption at this site...thanks for putting up with us :)
Reba

( Posted by: Reba [Member] On: March 8, 2004 )

Pestimists;
Cris;
I think the authors should understand and recogize the difference between "Constructive" and "Destructive" criticism. An author may not make you comfortable, but it does make you think and untimately act to improve yur writings. "Constructive criticism" is to be embraced,and "Destructive criticism" is to be ignored coming from my point of view. I have been a member on this site about eight months, and yes I love to critique others art. I believe if we let the Author know if there's anything in particular we want them to read or look for, to critique it honestly.

Unfortuately, we do have a lot of Pestimists on this site. But, we as professional writers have to overlook that. Cris I do feel the need of an Advanced code list. You have some pretty good codes, But honestly, I would love to see more: For example, more codes for images,code tags, etc,. I applaud the PHP Codes that you have, I love those.

Getting back to the commenting; I feel You are doing an execellent job on that. I would love to see all writers having an reason to write. I myself have that urge, and passion for writing. Improving my writing has come a long way as Penelope stated. This site has helped me so much, that's why I stuck around. Sometimes what we think is right may be wrong for us.

Setting our goals in tact, and setting our goals to be express, not to impress. One's writing will automatically be more impressive. Learn to write with heart, have a passion for your work as others.

Chris, I think all Contests should be updated; I noticed when I clicked on certain staff members postings, I noticed that a lot of old contests were still posted.

Feedback, is most important to me, whether it is a bad or good comment. it helps me to see what is wrong and to fix the problem. Comments also from my point of view helps in the ratings, rankings, and popularity will grow. I wish that You could give stars, or maybe even a ribbon, showing that the Author is recognized by their achievement.

Most writers on here are generally interested in improving their skills and impressing the audience. which I think nothing is wrong with that. I love giving an unbiased comment on an Author's piece of art. We need to be encouraged to be critical I think.

Keeping comments on the work and nothing else. I know this site will expand its horizon,it is a well blessed site.

Take care Chris and keep up the wonderful work that You are doing.


Jeannie

( Posted by: JEANNIE45 [Member] On: March 8, 2004 )

well, I think
I think the author should be able to delete comments on his own post. That way, if the comment is off topic but the author likes it, he can keep it, but if the author prefers comments to relate directly to the writing he can do that, too. Lit.org isn't just a place to read literature, it's a social atmosphere. I've made several friends here that I never would have gotten to know if it weren't for slightly off topic comments (or, in Claire's case, lengthy debates lol).

This way would give the specific author more control (since some people won't want debates or anything), will be easier for you, and I think will make this place even better. I just hate the idea of comments on my stuff disappearing because someone else decided they shouldn't be there; while I trust your judgment, I'd like to be the one to make that choice.

( Posted by: evil_bacteria [Member] On: March 8, 2004 )

More cents, 'cause
...it certainly ain't sense.

I've put down my opinions on this matter and I stick by them. I also put them up on at least one matter in writingforums.com, just for extra effort, and I stick by them. I do believe that it should be that author's choice to delete comments, but I see also how that would not necessarily get rid of the complaint problem.

The ratings, for me, are less important than the comments, as a reader. Making them private might help those that feel the urge to complain resist the temptation. From what I've seen of GSmonks' idea, it looks like a good one. As for making a limit, or number of comments necessary to rate, I don't believe it in, at least at the moment for this particular issue.

And anyway, I -still- think you're doing a terrific job. I dislike the idea that people are cluttering up your life with their tiny ego trips and idealistic complaints. There just isn't a way to get rid of all of the trolls and the like. But you've done a damn good job of controlling them, and haven taken to heart even the incessant complaints. Well, don't let it get to you is all I have to say. Despite the fact that this is a rather lengthy comment. So it seems I had a bit more to say than that. Well, that's just the way it is, then. so there. Good job.

-Kitten

( Posted by: Kitten Courna [Member] On: March 11, 2004 )

A few ideas of my own
I have some suggestions, in which I shall quote from your piece as backup.

Quote:
One thing I've noticed is people trying to "game the system" like it's a popularity contest instead of a place to improve your writing. This makes me wonder if comments, ratings and views shouldn't be private and only available to the author. I know I like reading comments almost as much as I like reading the works themselves.


Now, this doesn't necessarily apply to me, and the only way that people are trying to "game the system" is in the write-off, I see. Make ratings public only in this section, and private and only available to the author in everything else that is not submitted/accepted to the Write Off. All comments should be publicly read, so ohter can add their own two cents if they agree with something. After all I like reading comments, too, and I'm not looking to be loved by everyone here.

Quote:
I don't want to make a decision that everyone will hate but we have to do something. A few more emails complaining about how a handful of users are running off all the new people and I'll shut this site down before I let some flunky ruin it. Help me solve this problem.


Now, there is no need to get extreme and shut down the site indefinitely as a result of more complaint e-mails. Remember what I said last time about taking it out on everyone? Shut down this site because of a few bad apples that spoil the bunch, and it'll look like you're punishing everyone, including the ones who post and comment responsibly and professionally (like me.:))

I post on the message boards at www.muchmusic.com, and what the moderators do there if there are major bad problems (like spamming, or if posters are downloading inappropriate pictures or visuals) is they will take it upon themselves to ban that poster(s) immediately. If the same poster comes back under a different login name and does this repeatedly, make attempts to track down the IP/ISP number(s) of those abusive party(ies) and report it to the higher authorities. (These moderators had to do this when we were dealing with a fecal/porno spammer last month.) Remember, punish only the "flunkies" who take it upon themselves to abuse the priveleges of this beautiful site. And I think only a small minority fall under this category.

Thanks, Chris, for letting me speak my mind. I hope to come back here with more ideas.

( Posted by: davewriter [Member] On: March 11, 2004 )

Oh, I forgot something
This is davewriter again, with further information, and a third idea) on the rating and commenting thing.

In my last comment (currently being validated,) I mentioned that the moderators on the MuchMusic message boards (at www.muchmusic.com) take action to ban poster(s) who are being abusive. Sometimes, if the good posters notice the abusive posters are up to no good before the moderators do, what the poster will do is click on a button at the bottom of the offensive post in question, that states "Notify moderator." This button consists of a piece of paper with a "line circle" through it. If the author (or viewer) notices a comment that does not keep with the writing in general (or a debate comment,) they should go to that comment and click on the button. This will link them to a page asking if moderators should be notified. They can click on "yes," and the comment will be done with promptly.

I think this button should be added to all future comments, so other posters can easily report anything they think is offensive. It'll help take care of the bullshit (to put it frankly) in seconds.

Thanks, and I hope you'll take this into consideration.

Take care.

( Posted by: davewriter [Member] On: March 11, 2004 )

Idea and Apology

Actually I think a large part of the reason that comments go off topic is that the existing options for moving an engaging debate or a tangled train of thought to a more appropriate area is somewhat difficult (ie, if I post in forums about the topic at hand will anyone find it?) I think a simple way to tackle this problem would be to add a portal feature to each posted article linking it to a pre-created and article specific forum. The portal could consist of a small box with an embedded hyper link (perhaps the name of the article then forum?) and text noting how many comments are in it. The forum area could be activated with the first installed comment, so there wouldn't have to be multiple empty forums taking up space. With this forum portal installed near the comments section there would be no excuse for making off-topic comments on a writer's work and off-topic comments (not specifically about the writing) could be deleted without any qualms about freedom of speech being curtailed (just as miscategorized articles are deleted without a terribly big to-do). The forum area's comment section could either be placed in the author's control (allowing him/her to delete absurd comments) or the alert button Davewriter mentioned could be used instead, keeping the act of deletion within the hands of the current forum admin. It might also be feasible for authors to turn off the forum portal feature from their control panel, so that if they don't want to entertain or engage in off-topic discussions regarding their writing they don't have to.

It strikes me though that a lot of the recent brew-haha has centered around disputes of technique and form. Bitter feelings which have resulted in ranting comments and vindictive ratings seem most of all to have stemmed from a sense that this or that writer is being marginalized or not considered fairly. To that end, I don't think that much re-working of the current ratings or comments protocols will really change the current state of affairs.

I think the first thing that needs to be addressed is that it is well and good to have a vision of what your writing will become, what you are trying to achieve with words and ideas. It is another matter entirely to attack another member or become engaged in a virtual shouting match over whose conceptualization of literature is the more fitting one. As they say, one's right to swing one's arm ends where another's nose begins. I think that in any revisal of current comment rules, on prinicipal, comments which include the words "You are..." and end with a derisive phrase, should never make it to the page.

For the above stated reasons, I'd like to publicly apologize to RightingIt for using him as a reference in one of my past articles. In retrospect, I've decided that the reference was unnecessary, unjustified, arrogant, and only created all the wrong impressions as to what I was trying to convey at the time. RightingIt, I'm sorry for not treating your work with the respect it deserves. Our opinions may differ as to what works best within the written form, but that gives me no right to get out of line and place your efforts in a dim or cynical light. For that act I am deeply wrong and truly sorry.

Most of all, I'd like to see Lit.org remain a place where all kinds of written efforts can be posted and viewed, not just the finished or polished ones but also the odd or scarey ones and the kind of "just getting started not sure where this fits" ones. To that end, whatever will help to maintain that kind of open and friendly working envrionment is something I'd like to see put in place.

And thanks for everything Crowe. I'm sorry, too, if that doesn't get said often enough.

( Posted by: hazelfaern [Member] On: March 12, 2004 )

thoughts

hey, let's keep comments public. it's always kind of nice to scroll through the comments and see who's come and gone since last i visited. plus, i tend to follow my favourite writers through the things they've commented on, assuming i'll like the piece (or... have something to say about it, at least), too. also, like claire, i often will respond to a piece of work because of something that someone else's comment pointed me to, or something i disagree with in someone else's comment. i also like being able to see how people put their comments together: often it inspires me to go have a look at their writing. i think it's much less of a community if we can't see the comments.

ratings, i think, could be private, or be cut entirely. i rarely rate pieces because it seems too simplistic. i do understand that not everyone has time to comment fully, but you can always leave a short comment. or not. people will comment on the work that stirs them, either towards love or loathing.

i definitely don't want lit.org to become an open discussion forum. in my opinion, that's what the forums are for. i'm here because i don't currently have a writing group happening and because i'd like specific, critical, constructive help with my work. i'm also willing and able to offer that level of help to others, if they want it.

i think that davewriter's idea about the Notify Moderator button is stellar. definitely. do it.

i've noticed that when the comments start turning into a chat or debate situation is most often in opinions, blogs, or rants. i've noticed that often, especially with the recent brew-haha (thanks for the spelling of that, hazel), people aren't particularly interested in getting feedback on their writing for those categories, but on hearing how others might agree or disagree.

and you know, i don't care that much if people want to start a bunch of debating comment threads. i'm not one to join in; that's not what i'm here for. i think it does split our focus, though. and on my poetry posts, i'll be irked if debating or mud-slinging starts. actually, i'll be irked if mud-slinging starts anywhere. and i have been. it's hard to know what to do about it, in a virtual community. you can't exactly call a meeting. all you can do is stay out of it, i think, and alert chris, both of which i did. and chris, thanks for laying down the law.

i also think it's kind of a weird thing for anyone to be able to delete comments. maybe i'm confused, but is this the case? i kind of think only staff members should be able to delete comments, and that as members of the site, we should only be able to delete our own.

blah, blah blah.

the new look is good, chris. snazz-y-o.

ark

( Posted by: ark [Member] On: March 13, 2004 )

Maybe 'splain the rules once in a while
All: First off, I want to say, the few weeks I have been signed up have been great! Top notch. Best website of this type (writer feedback), I have found.

I would like to be able to keep the comment section, and I think I am as guilty as anyone about straying off topic. Thanks for putting that into the initial comment. Maybe a warning or two directing to leave comments about the writing, not use it as a springboard for discussion could remind folks from time to time.

Maybe some "buttons", or fields that have to be filled in, example, "what is the strong point of this writing", "how can it be improved", "what makes it interesting", those type of question, and then at the end an open section, as it is now.

The rating thing, I don't know. I leave feeback, but most of the time, it is only for those I leave positive feedback for - I find it difficult to ding anyone, but others I am sure do not feel that way.

I think keeping the ratings private would probably help. It might make for more honest evaluations, but again, this could be abused.

( Posted by: CaptainKeyboard [Member] On: March 13, 2004 )

Ch-ch-ch-changes
Personaly I think you're doing a hell of a job and I love this site (though I don't get to it as often as I'd like anymore).

I think the rating system is a little flawed but there isn't really anything that can be done about it because it is inherent. I don't care either way about the ratings whether they stay, go or other.

As for comments I don't think that they should be private simply because there have been times when someone else's pov on a piece has helped to inform mine. the added perspective given by others has changed my perception of a piece - often for the good.

I would prefer that commenting remain basicaly open ground - like it was until recently. If someone wants to heap coals on my work I would prefer to see it rather than have an arbiter decide that it isn't appropriate but that is just me.

There have been times when I have toed or crossed the line into unaceptable and I have been called on it publicly in the comments. For me at lest this has been effective, but I understand that you don't want to have to play crossing guard all the time so I can live with your decision.

I definitely do not think that it should be up to the author to delete comments that he/she doesn't like. This would only serve to turn this place into a show-piece vanity site where only "good" reviews survive.

refering to Hazel's comment, "It strikes me though that a lot of the recent brew-haha has centered around disputes of technique and form." it seems to me that discussing form and technique is kind of the point of commenting - it is the form and technique that make writing writing. You will always have people who adopt an attitude of, "My stuff rocks and if you can't see that it's your problem" no matter how bad their stuff is.

Noses will get out of joint - it is unavoidable when you are dealing with a wide range of people and fragile egos - but it is important to have people call you on misteps (to be diplomatic) because it is through learning to see these misteps that writing improves.

I like Hazel's idea of dealing iwth off topic posts. I don't know how hard it would be to implement a system like that and I can understand if you would consider it too time/labour intensive. I doubt I am alone in saying that I would hate to see you chained to this site like Conan at the Wheel of Pain.

To conclude, I think you are doing a great job and running a kick-ass site. I like the open style of it and the comparative lack of restrictions. However, like any good guest, I defer to the judgement and taste of my host.

Be well Cris, may you never thirst.

Elliott

( Posted by: enforced bliss [Member] On: March 14, 2004 )

Comments, et al
I would hope you keep the "comments" public. I enjoy reading them as well as the piece being commented on.

As for the ratings, I don't care one way or the other, so why not leave it as is. Personally, I sometimes get a chuckle out of them.

I don't think comments should be deleted whatsoever unless they have nothing whatsoever to do with the written piece. After all, writers can defend themselves.

Also, I don't see any problem with commenting on subject matter, craft and style, and straying a little bit off subject is okay with me. I wouldn't want to see critiquing become nothing but cold and skeletal.

My motto is, "keep it simple."

And by the way, maybe some of the complaints you receive are by people who are a bit too thin-skinned.

And thank you for lit.org and all the work that you and the crew put into it. It is sincerely appreciated.

( Posted by: gomarsoap [Member] On: March 28, 2004 )





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