All posts by bogeywebdesign

Why I’ve Recently Lost Interest In Reddit

I have been a lurker on Reddit for something like 4 years now.  I’ve been a user on Reddit for over 2 years now.  I’m not the best user they have – I’ve only had 1 (maybe 2) front page stories, most of links get little or no votes, I don’t comment often, I don’t up/down vote often enough, etc.  But I try and honor the Reddiquette as best as I can and add value to the site and community.

Lately though, I’ve lost interest in being a user of Reddit and gone back to more of a lurker.  Why?  A recent event that happened to me.  While perusing my feeds I came across this.  Having been using Reddit as long as I can, I was excited – I knew this was front page material, hands down.  I posted the link (stripped and from my reader) into the Reddit search bar to make sure it wasn’t already submitted – nothing.  Just to be safe I copied the image URL and tried that – still nothing.  Awesome – not only did I have guaranteed front page material (which proved to be right) but I had original material.  So I posted it.

“But wait”, you say, “that has 0 points, how could that have made it to the front page?”  That one didn’t.  This one did.  Now this is not a story about originality – that’s obviously a different link.  And it’s not about reposting content – Reddiquette clearly states “That said, sometimes bad timing, a bad title, or just plain bad luck can cause an interesting story to fail to get noticed. Feel free to post something again if you feel that the earlier posting didn’t get the attention it deserved and you think you can do better.”  If the original user had posted the link I used (even though he posted only a day later) I could have written it off as “bad title / wrong reddit” on my part – no harm, no foul.

So, what is my problem?  This line of Reddiquette “Look for the original source of content, and submit that. Often, a blog will reference another blog, which references another, and on down with everyone adding ads along the way. Dig through those references and submit a link to the creator, who actually deserves the traffic.”  Now, my example is perhaps bad – with an image it’s more difficult to track down the original source and perhaps failblog pulled it from somewhere else (though on the page, they attribute it to an upload from a user).  The one that made it to the front page obviously took the image from failblog and just cropped out the “FAIL” part though.  They knowingly violated this point of Reddiquette.

Going even beyond Reddiquette this leaves a poor taste in my mouth.  I generate themes for the WordPress framework and give them away freely.  While I don’t mind that people use my work on their site or adapt it to produce their own work I would mind if someone downright claimed it as theirs.  Original content creation is much the same – people work hard to write/produce something original and interesting.  When we do something like post a screenshot to imgur we’re robbing them of traffic, credit, and potentially income.  It’s just wrong.  It’s worse when it’s done intentionally.  What if someone just took a screen shot of one of The Oatmeal‘s comics, uploaded it to imgur and submitted that?  It would get down voted instantly.

My final point is that it’s not even just this case – this one just happened to hit me because it affected me personally.  If you look at this you’ll see at least several cases where people took a screen shot of a Reddit comment thread and uploaded that – directly stealing traffic (and ad revenue) from the very site they’re using.  Is karma really worth that much?  I’ve seen many similar occurrences where something is posted to imgur that is a screen shot of the original source instead of just posting the source itself.

I don’t know.  I’m not claiming it’s a majority of users – it’s not – but this minority has just left a bad taste in myself much the same as when Digg was controlled by a handful of users.  I stopped using and visiting Digg as a result.  Maybe it’s time I do that with Reddit as well.  It’s a shame because other than this it’s a really, really good site.

I actually thought about posting this to Reddit for a moment and decided against it.  Irony would be if someone else did and got a ton of karma.  I’d actually find that funny in fact.  And they wouldn’t be violating Reddiquette doing so.

New Theme: Bwd 3

As you can probably tell by my new site design I have another new WordPress theme.  It’s called Bwd 3 and is a basically two things:

  1. A minimalist theme with a robust options page that includes allowing you to participate in CSS Naked Day, have an intro message on the home page, have a custom home page, and/or have a social networking area in the right sidebar.  It additionally includes a footer that will check your first published post date and build a copyright off it ([first post date year]-[current year]).  Finally, it includes 4 sidebar widget areas – blog (tags, posts, categories, etc), custom home page, page, and 404.
  2. A theme template which comes prepackaged with all of #1 and good (I hope) commenting in the theme as well as a CSS template with comments (mainly via selectors – my challenge to myself was to use the least amount of classes/IDs as possible).

There’s more information as well as a download link on the theme page in my portfolio.  Enjoy.

If you’re following 1000 people you’re really following noone

So I’ve been using Twitter a lot more lately and, like most people, I’ve found it interesting but useful and useless at the same time.  How is that?  Let me explain.

So Twitter is interesting for many reasons.  Microblogging is a lot easier than blogging – as is evident by my hundreds of tweets and zero blog posts the past 6 months or so.  It allows you to follow interesting people and interact with them – I’ve actually responded to and gotten responded back by both WP Limits and The Ferrett.  It allows you to keep up with and see “behind the curtain” on interesting people – web comics I enjoy like Shortpacked and Questionable Content, awesome geeks like Felicia Day and Shamus Young, or even just keep up with friends or friend’s projects.  It even allows you to give feedback to companies and get replied back to.

So it’s useful for the above reasons – how can it also be useless?  Well, like blogging for every one meaningful @reply or comment you get there are dozen or hundreds of voices lost in the wind.  For the common man is there really any use?  Also, there is the follower dilemma.

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed is for people follow people incessantly.  Now, following some people is part of the usefulness of the service.  But there has to be a tipping point.  At the time of this writing, and after doing a cleanup of the people I follow, I’m following 74 people.  I see hundreds of tweets a day – if not thousands.  The fact that people are limited to 140 characters helps but even at that I tend to skim a lot.  What is the benefit for someone to follow 200 people?  500?  1000?  It’s not like Facebook where you can friend someone and then hide them – so that you can interact with them if need be but they’re not part of your “stream.”  If you’re following someone on Twitter they’re always in your stream.  I suppose lists help but even they only serve to raise the tipping point by an order of magnitude.  Is someone following 10,000 people really following anyone at all?  They’re likely not reading most – if any – of the tweets in their stream.  So why bother?

I guess the real issue I have is the “popularity contest” aspect – “if you follow me I’ll automatically follow you” mentality that some people have.  Yes, you end up collecting followers like Pokemon and have a large audience to blast out your content to – but is anyone really listening?  In the cases of celebrities, sure, I can see the point to having thousands of followers – and even following them back as it makes them feel proud and connected to say “celebrity X follows me on Twitter!”  But I’m curious if anyone else ponders the fragility of the facade for the common man.  I guess my point is that unless you’re someone who would naturally have a larger audience – celebrity, web comic, organization – you’re only fooling yourself.

I’m going to experiment more with lists.  I haven’t really yet.  Maybe they’ll change my outlook on the “following many people” aspect at least.

WordPress themes in the Theme directory

Just a quick post.  I finally got around to submitting two of my themes in the official Theme directory.  They were accepted after some minor corrections.  You can find them here.

I just happened to check the stats today and between the two I have over 1200 downloads.  While not impressive considering some of the other themes on the site, I’m pretty happy with that.  It will be interested to see if it starts to be actually used on sites and gives me some linkbacks.

Next: I have to make homepages for the themes.  I’d also like to do some updates to them and craft a third.  Hopefully all before the end of the year.

Dealing With A Large, Opinionated And Active User Community

At my current position we are lucky to have a vibrant, active, large, opinionated, and outspoken community.  Perhaps it has to do with having a writing site but most users are logical and literate in their arguments which allows us many insights into the usability of our site, potential flaws / bugs, outstanding issues with new (or even seasoned) features, and, generally, into how a user sees our site.

One of the difficulties with being a programmer or anyone that works “behind the scenes” – developing, testing, or specifying features – is that no matter how hard you try or how good you are at your job you have an entrenched opinion about the site that you work on because you have made it.  It’s impossible to fully look at it with user’s eyes so no matter how much you think about a particular feature you’re always going to miss something that a user will see.  It’s just natural that you assume certain things are logical when in fact the flow, usability, or design of a page might be extremely confusing or present a high hurdle to all, or even a subset of, your users that can render the page from difficult to use to unusable.

This is where an active community is a boon.

By engaging those users – we use a message board (built on the open source SMF software) and a blog (using WordPress) – you are able to gather information, tips, questions, and insight into the finished product in the wild.  Many times it allows us to find where copy or page flow is lacking and provide instruction to users.  We have certain community leaders (which we call stewards) that many times will use the information provided by us throughout the boards to instruct other users – propagating the knowledge for us.  Other times it allows questions to arise that we may not have thought of and allow us to schedule new features or feature updates to correct deficiencies.  Finally, we may have an instance that we did not foresee or couldn’t create in our test environment and only through exposure to users do we see bugs in the site – basically turning our community into testers.

This is an extremely powerful tool that is not always used on large, non-technical sites – where users who are naturally knowledgeable in the technology will speak up of their own accord.

So how do you empower your users and speak out to them in order to have access to this tool?

  1. Provide tools for them to reach out and communicate with you. Besides the normal help e-mail area we have public facing tools that allow users to engage us and the community for answers.  Some of the tools we use are:
    • A wiki for our help section – allowing quick searching of a large, complex living document to quickly provide answers to new users.
    • A blog for community instruction and brand building – also searchable we discuss features in new releases, reasoning behind features, and other items which are not targeted at new users necessarily but require some sort of “stickiness.”  Sometimes a blog post is moved to the wiki to become part of the living help document.
    • A community board for user-user and user-employee engagement – besides help sections where users can question logic or features we also have simply community areas where users can just engage each other, build relationships, and have fun.  This means they are not providing direct value (content) to the site, however, we’ve seen for the most part that it promotes user happiness and, indirectly, that increases productivity on the site.
  2. Have employees engage users directly. We have employees from every division practically communicate with users even though we have a department specifically created to do so.  Development members like myself, vice presidents, and even our CEO have communicated with users via our boards and blog.  This builds rapport and trust with users.  It can be frustrating at times and takes away productivity from assigned tasks but the benefits far outweigh that as our users love and respect that they can ask us questions and gain insight that they can’t from other sites – even if they realize sometimes we can’t answer them fully because of proprietary information protection.
  3. Be as transparent as possible. Let users “behind the scenes” – they love it.  Let them know why a certain feature works a certain way.  Have fun with users.  Make them a part of the team.  This is especially important in a “Web 2.0” or “user generated content” site as they really are part of the team.  Be honest with them when you can’t share proprietary information and why you can’t.  They’ll respect it.
  4. Empower motivated, hard working, driven, intelligent, and / or respected users to take control of parts of the site. One of the programs instituted where I work is our steward program.  Basically it gives users some amount of power of sections of the site.  It might be as small as a leaf channel, larger like a base channel, or in some users cases they have control over our community boards.  Does this open the door for abuse?  Of course.  But communities are self-policing and we’ve had few, if any, abuse issues.  For the most part stewards have gone above and beyond what we’ve asked them to do because they are invested in the success of the site just like we are.  If we fail, they fail.  If we succeed, they succeed.  It’s a powerful motivator.
  5. Really listen to their ideas. I’ve participated in a lot of good debate on our boards about current and future features – what users like, what they want, what they feel they need to succeed.  This is ammunition in your pocket.  When meetings are held about features the ability to say “users on the boards requested this” or “some users on the blog mentioned that this feature could really use this little extra thing” is extremely powerful. They won’t always get what they want but many times what they want is “low hanging fruit” that can be a big win.  There’s nothing like a feature that takes 2 days to build and is lauded about by the community.

Most of these should be common sense however most sites ignore their users – thinking them too ignorant or that they are not proficient enough to know what they really want.  Sometimes it’s true – users don’t always have the “big picture” vision to take your site to the next level.  However, they do have the knowledge of the nuts and bolts of your site in order to polish what you currently have.  Many times, it’s much easier and a better return on investment to improve your existing infrastructure instead of simply plowing forward with new features.  While everyone likes the “shiny new toy” if your base is not solid you won’t succeed.

Anyways, that’s my thoughts, opinions and insight after having been a part of an amazing and active community for over 2 years now.