BookCamp Vancouver 2010 – Part 3

New Playgrounds for Readers & Writers: Growing Online Book Communities

Ran into Sue Nelson Buckley, veteran Sunday Brunch chatter and TC’s current Best of the Boards winner between sessions, so I said hello, and we sat together during this session.

Waiting for online book communities session to start with @s_nelsonbuckley 11:19 AM Oct 1st via Seesmic for Android

It would help if I remembered the hashtag 😛 #bcvan10 11:24 AM Oct 1st via Seesmic for Android

The presenters were @namastepublishing and @nickb from Protagonize, a collaborative writing site. Protagonize is popular with teens (12-18 is most common age group; 23 average age of users down from 28 initially).

@AngelaCrocker @nickb shares that @protagonize was inspired by the Choose Your Own Adventure style. Love it!

Ratings make people behave badly—game the system to increase their popularity.  (But aren’t ratings also a huge part of what attracts people to a social-networking-style writing site?)

@katrinaarcher Apparently ratings encourage bad behavior in communities because people try to inflate scores

@katrinaarcher “popularity” needs to be an aggregate of several metrics, not just a single rating for it to be useful.

Namaste has a mascot who tweets.

@AngelaCrocker Interesting @NamasteBooks created @Bizahsays as a friendly face for their online community.

Hmm, maybe TC needs a mascot. The snark could start tweeting… #bcvan10 11:31 AM Oct 1st via Seesmic for Android

Protagonize puts a Creative Commons license on work by default (users can change).

@kindacrazy @protagonize and his support of #creativecommons. Share and share alike!

Which makes sense with a collaborative model. Also, goal of Protagonize seems to be primarily first draft, just-for-fun writing. So users may be less protective of their writing. However, in my experience newbie writers are the most protective of (paranoid about) their writing. Which makes me wonder, if they’re mostly teens, do they really understand Creative Commons (and copyright, for that matter)? Considering how many adult writers do not, I’d be surprised if many actually knew what they were agreeing to.

@AngelaCrocker @nickb working on a professional dashboard for aquisitions editors & agents to filter @protagonize content. Useful.

Ok, I’ll admit, I snarked a bit when this came up. I think the chances of a collaboratively-written first draft of a story with 27 different authors being discovered as the next big thing by an agent/editor who just happened to be cruising the site might be just a tad overly optimistic. Then again, I have been accused of being cynical 😉

@jmv cultivating more detailed feedback is a challenge; both overly positive and negative @nickb; ie: @thetyee uses “best comment”

Which goes back to what I said earlier: part of the appeal of a social-networking-style writing site is that you can click-rank (the author, the story, the collaboration, etc.). You don’t have to think about what was written and come up with some original feedback of your own like at old-school forums like TC. TC is never going to have a million users, because actual workshopping (giving thoughtful critiques, rewriting work in response to feedback) is hard and most people aren’t interested. Many people want to write just for fun (which is awesome, as long as one is realistic about what it is) not to practice/master a craft.

Anyhow, a million users would be unwieldy. What we want is a critical mass, whatever that is, where the forums feel busy & active—people are participating in discussions, giving critiques as well as asking for them—but aren’t so busy that it feels overwhelming to people who are already juggling multiple responsibilities.

@katrinaarcher blogger outreach important when launching a community. After launch, use SEO

fwiw, I see bloggers complaining about pitches all the time on Twitter. Hard to do right, apparently. What they do like: developing a relationship via reciprocal comments, tweets, emails, etc. Which now that I think of it, goes back to the lesson from previous session: if you tell the blogger to use your awesome whatever because it’s so great, they’ll be turned off (even if it truly is great), but if you just leave a trail of breadcrumbs and they “discover” it’s so great on their own, next thing you know they’ll be telling on their friends about it.

@katrinaarcher Sorry to disappoint the introverts but @seancranbury says you also have to meet people in real life to grow a community

Ideal, but not always possible when your community is spread across the world. (Aside: I hate the use of “in real life” to mean offline/in person. Online communication is real life, too.) Was thinking we could do some recruiting at NaNoWriMo meet-ups: they’re free and everywhere and full of writers…

@shannonsmart create systems that encourage good behav from users

@LisaManfield When building an online community, give readers some sense of ownership

A rating system that rewards helpful behavior like constructive critiques might be something to look into for @toasted-cheese. #bcvan10 October-01-10 12:12:02 PM via Seesmic for Android

Thinking rather than ranking just for the sake of ranking (“I’m the best!”) perhaps points could be assigned for giving feedback, and then they could trade the points for some benefit like an in-depth crit from editor once they had accumulated a certain number?

(Idea totally stolen from from my grade three teacher who had two paper chains hanging from the ceiling in the classroom. Every time she was pleased with the class about something, we got to add a ring to one of the chains. When a chain got to the floor, we got a treat.)

Other ideas I think might encourage people to participate more without ratings/rankings:

  1. a word count and/or time writing tracker
  2. a goal setting list (where items could be crossed off as completed)

Yesterday: Recap of first session

Tomorrow: Recap of third session