Francis Meyrick

Dropping Anchor at Writers’ Harbor (2)

Posted on August 30, 2011

Dropping Anchor at Writers’ Harbor (2)


Hi guys,

As we approach our first 100,000 “hits” on Writers Harbor (it’s 97,125 as of just now), I want to ask you all to put your thinking caps on.
First, I have been enjoying WH all the way through, since January 2007. It’s stimulating, challenging, and you often make me think. You encourage me to scribble. You even tactfully overlook my grammar goblins. Thanks for that.

Now, activity on the site. If you notice, the trend is upwards. More activity. More articles, more comments. Hits counter shows a lot more visitors.
Many of you are experienced writers and readers, and many of you have seen other writers’ websites come and go. Rise, and fall. Prosper, stagnate, and slowly decay. There are many reasons for this. I list but a few:

1) after the first burst of enthusiasm, people realize running a website is hard, often tedious work. It takes time, money, effort, and you are constantly dealing with software issues. It’s like you are always beta testing something or another. You fix one problem, but then you find “the fix” has caused another one. Right now, I have a list of THIRTY-FIVE required tweaks, being slowly addressed as we speak. There will be hundreds more, as time goes by. It’s a constant process of development. It never stops. People just don’t realize that.

2) People think it’s easy: you get a coder to write the software, or you buy something off-the-shelf, and you’re in business. Hey-hey, easy. In practice, people spend a lot of money on software promising all sorts of wonderful things, but so often they end up disappointed. And frustrated. And then give up. Some of the advertising for canned writers’ websites, straight out of the box, is totally misleading. Even fraudulent. Some jokers called “Alstrasoft” keep taking people’s money for reams and reams of basically garbage code. They are not alone.

3) trolls and other unpleasantness. Enough said! We’ve all seen it, and been shocked at the level of vitriol and hate.

4) Differences in philosophy and culture. One taste does not suit all.

I’m sure many of you could expand on these four points. What I want to bring up is how I’m hoping Writers’ Harbor will quietly expand. To achieve this smoothly, with continuous software monitoring, evaluation, and upgrades, that is where I’m asking for your input. If we have fifty writers in a few years time, then that’s fine by me, if we’re all having a good time. But if we have five hundred, or five thousand, that would also be very nice. It will take some work though, and one guy cannot hope to run all that himself. Nor would such an arrangement, with one guy calling all the technical website shots, be healthy. So let’s think about some principles that we can adhere to, as we wade through all the technical headaches and political quandaries we are bound to encounter. I’m sure you can add in some more yourself.

Principle # 1
Peace. Compassion. Be gentle. Passion is good, but the “soft word breaketh the bone”.
Principle #2
Diversity. Tolerance.
Principle #3
Technical Flexibility.
Principle #4
Extraordinary efforts to encourage young writers, or disadvantaged writers. People with great stories to tell, but poor technical writing skills. A non-judgmental, supportive effort.

Now to elaborate on these principles:
Principle # 1 seeks to make people feel welcome and safe in the Harbor. By default, we allow people to publish direct to the website, both articles and comments.

But that is a “privilege” and not a “right”.

I have the software capability to “fix it” so a contributor’s comments do NOT appear straight away. They arrive in my mail box first. They get looked over, and are then sent to the website. I have had to use that a few times. Now I am very, very reluctant to kick anybody off the site. Even trolls. They too are human beings, and one wonders what makes them so bitter, angry, twisted or malicious. I emailed with some people that turned out to be seriously hurting. So “banishment” is a very, very last resort. I’ve never actually done it yet. I’ve had people who didn’t come back, but none, (apart from spammers), have been booted.
This is a type of email a troll might get, and this one is based on… yep, you got it. Truth…

“Dear ToHellWithYourGranny,
Thank you kindly for your recent contribution to Writers Harbor. I am grateful to you for taking the time and trouble to submit this article. We are anxious that you enjoy the site, and feel supported as a writer here. It is not our intention to be censors, or Cyberspace Bullies. However, on reviewing your work (comment) I am a bit concerned. Thus when you say this is the “typical comment I might expect from a sexist, fat bastard” I feel you need to perhaps move beyond mere labels, into the realm of argument. Why do you feel the author is sexist? And why does this make you feel displeased? What, in your view, is the connection between the author’s body mass, and his line of reasoning?
I would encourage you to look over your article (comment) and to re-submit it. I look forward to your reply…”

( he didn’t come back…)

Now I know we are walking a fine line here, between trying to keep the waters calm, and the dreaded C-word. Censorship. That is why I am so interested in the concept of “Families”. The software has been on the cooker now for a while, and I’m impatient to get on with it, and start beta testing. I know we will have a bunch of problems with it, but that’s the only way to get a working result.

Let’s side step here and talk about “Vicious Writers”. Here was a well established, productive, friendly group, looking for a new home in cyberspace. That is exactly the sort of homogenous group that I would like to give an environment, in which they can run their own affairs. What I’m talking about is the ability for people to join their old “Vicious Writers Family”, elect/appoint their own moderators, and set their own policies. Once that is set up, then the power to “intercept troll work” will rest with that family’s moderators. I’m basically OUT. My idea is that the family decides a whole range of issues. And it is for that reason, I want each family to have its very own discussion board, accessible only to family members. It may never get used. That’s not a worry. The OPTION is there. Similarly, the family can decide joining criteria, if applicable. I have no idea in the future, what Family Members will want. A group might want a closed group, with only very select membership. That’s fine by me. Other Families might want a certain age group, or philosophical/political/sexual/religious outlook, etc. It’s not for me to dictate any of that. Nor can I, if the site grows beyond a certain size. For the site to quietly develop and grow, in peace, you absolutely need mass participation by talented individuals, who see “their Family” in a special light, and who want to make it work, and who want to support fellow writers.
Who will, for instance notice, if somebody goes oddly quiet. It doesn’t take much to send an email: “What’s up, doc?”

Let’s look at some more examples. People have asked me several times how I feel about “read requests”. That is a highly formalized request, whereby somebody can send another writer a standard form, that in effect says: “Please read my story”. Now personally, I don’t think that should be a default arrangement right across the website, but if particular FAMILIES want that, then I would like that to be one of the many options available to that particular family. Settled by vote, maybe. The problem I see with “read requests” is that you risk losing your best writers. What happens is that somebody reviews the good writer’ story, and then sends a “read request”. Now there’s a moral conundrum. Just because somebody reviewed your story, are you now OBLIGED to read theirs? I’ve seen good writers swamped out, demoralized with read requests. And sometimes, these requesting writers felt that they were “entitled’ to be read, and capable of even getting nasty about it. So my personal, subjective view, is that it should not be a default arrangement, BUT, if a Family wants it, then they should have it.

Another example: Some websites aim to encourage comments and participation, and they do that by requiring you to post, say, three comments before you can post one story. Three comments, one story. Six comments, two stories. Etc. I don’t criticize it, but, no, I don’t think it should be the default arrangement right across the Harbor. Why? Because it tends to lead to shallow, routine, non-comments. “That was nice”. And it kind of conflicts with my libertarian instinct. The less rules, the better. The smaller government, the better. I tend to think that if you want to read only, and not join the site, and never write, well, go ahead. Be happy. From the hits counter it is obvious we have many, many readers (90%) who never join. That’s okay. Notice we do NOT make it an obligation to join before you can read, like some sites do. Similarly, if you just want to post, and you don’t want to comment, well, good luck, have at it. The point is I’m reluctant to dictate, but if a particular FAMILY wants that requirement, well, they should have it.

Another example: the default arrangement is that you can only be a member of ONE family. But any member can go into any Family and visit. Unless THAT Family says otherwise. Let’s say we have a family for gay writers, who want to discuss workplace prejudice and discrimination. They might decide that their stories and articles are for their family only. That’s fine by me.

Another example: say the retired Vietnam helicopter Pilots family wants to ascertain members eligibility first, and require proof of service in Vietnam. Fine by me.

So the default arrangement is very loose, and everybody is a member of the default family to start with. If you want to stay there, fine. If you want to leave us (sniff!) and join a Family, great!

I have absolutely no idea what Families might appear down the road. I’m not worried. I want to delegate as much autonomy, as quickly as I reasonably can.
People have asked me a lot about “rankings”. I’m not wild about that. I tend to think you risk people taking themselves too seriously. But if a family wants that, sure, we’ll try and write the software for it.
One area that worries me is “young writers”. That is the life blood of the future. How do we ESPECIALLY encourage young writers?

I ask you how do we measure success on Writers Harbor? I believe one of the yardsticks will be the degree to which it runs itself, and diversified, local decision making (Families) by many talented individuals, results in a busy, yet CALM creative environment. No hate. No trolls. No boring crudity and blatant, tasteless pornography. There are so many sites that will happily cater to that sort of shallow stuff, why park it here? Let’s write. Real, honest writing. Just Art, for Art’s sake. The LESS central government we have, the better.

I will leave it there for now, and ask you to give me your feedback. I’ll add to this as I think of more issues. Lastly, bear with us as we beta test new software, especially the Families trial. You just know it will be a headache. It never, ever goes smooth from the git-go.

Happy writing. Give ’em hell.


Last edited by Francis Meyrick on August 30, 2011, 8:06 am

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12 responses to “Dropping Anchor at Writers’ Harbor (2)”

  1. Hi there
    I’m all about fun, mostly.  I think that sometimes it is easier to offer reviews to other writers after you get to know them better.  And I think the easiest way to get to know each other better is to be able to leave comments on people’s profile pages.  I think adding a Shout Out box on profile pages or some other type of general Say Hi comment box would make it easier to break the ice and would lead to more participation.  One warning though — I would use this often and for generalized silliness, mostly.

  2. Ok, yes, I saw Story Guide but it never occurred to me that this was supposed to be my personal profile info section.  This might be why a lot of people dont have them filled out yet.  I think renaming would be a good move and linking it to the writer’s avatar interface and also adding some kind of shout out comment section is crucial to promoting friendships and increased participation.  The shout out comment section would also allow people to thank others for their reviews because if you thank someone on your own writing  post comment box they may never see it.  You would definitely need a small avatar to show up of the person leaving a comment linked to their own profile page so that conversations can happen back and forth.  This maximizes random comment capabilities and generalized silliness, as other members would eventually learn to check friends pages to see what they are up to and as they scroll thru comments they can also join in.  It is all very busy-body-scientific, mostly!  Thanks for considering these changes.

  3. Ok, I’ll back up for other readers. At issue is a feature on WH, which may have been poorly named. If you go to "account" (click), look left, you see
    Click on this. Scroll down. You will see:  STORY GUIDE.
    Hooray is right in what she says: it would be a smart move to maybe call it by a different name: PROFILE PAGE or maybe, to indicate the function
    Hopefully it would tell people about what the writer likes to write about, hyperlinks to the stories, (and not just all about the local football team…)
    Now what she is saying is to add a feedback function. A comment area. I can’t quite visualize it, but I’ll work on it. Drop-down box, etc.

    The next thing is to make it easy to find people’s Profile Page. Right now you find it (if the writer has set it up) by going to Interface # 1. (you get there by clicking on anybody’s Avatar). There are currently three buttons there:
    View all works
    My favorite stories
    Best stories by others

    Then you have to click on "view all works". And then (if you try it with mine, Francis Meyrick) you have to click on "Show full guide". And there it is. On mine, I have a lot of hyperlinks to the stories.
    Now this may be a little convoluted for new users.
    So what we have in mind there, is to add a FOURTH button to interface #1.
    So then all you would do is:
    click on a person’s avatar,
    (straight into interface #1,)
    click on 4th button, "Personal Profile- Story Guide"
    Bingo, you’re there. I think that makes sense.
    I’m a little puzzled how the comment box would work, but I’ll put it to the coders, and see what they come up with.

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