Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Dreaded User Ratings Poll

With this, tomorrow’s fray really starts to take shape. User ratings, a simply thumbs up or thumbs down, and a hit counter for individual posts.

It seems Slate is aware of the “issues” involved with empowering the mob, but they’re pushing ahead anyway because [red herring alter] although the fray is full of lively and thoughtful discussion, it’s almost impossible for newbies to find it. So, visualizing this, a new reader can’t find lively and thoughtful discussion when they click READ MESSAGES, yet last I checked every message on a topical board was on-topic. So is Slate saying that the list of on-topic messages that a reader is faced with when they first enter the fray is not lively or thoughtful? And if those messages aren’t the good stuff, then where does the good stuff come from? Maybe posts are like wine in that they get better with age. Who knew?

Here’s a thought. Why don’t we take a poll of “active Fraysters” asking them whether they read the fray unfiltered or filtered? Or better, how about we poll active fraysters whether or not they even know what the fuck the filtered fray is?

Now I have to say I’m a bit disappointed with the latest revelation. I figured a rating system was coming. I even welcomed it because I thought it would turn off many of the fray’s best, and they in turn might find refuge at nuponuq. But I didn’t anticipate Slate hiding the results of their user rating system behind a View Fray Editor’s Picks filter. Did no one tell them that no one reads the fray through this filter? Did they not get the memo, Subject: I know we like to think the View Fray Editor’s Picks idea was a good one, but for a number of very practical reasons--they can’t see their own posts, they can’t see what people currently “present” are posting, it turns out the best discussions are inspired by idiots--fraysters don’t ever use it.

It’s farcical that they’d go through the trouble to institute a pushbutton rating system and then, practically in the same breath, make it irrelevant. It’s classic. They’re so concerned about making everyone happy that they’re mitigating every innovation at every turn. Pick a demographic already Slate. You either want a forum friendly to people who write, or you want one friendly to people who click. Can’t have both, and in trying to, you’re going to drive the writers away and leave the clickers scratching their heads. And we all know, clickers hate scratching their heads.

The crux of the matter, as far as I can tell, is no one inhabiting the otherworldly place that is Slate is speaking up and calling bullshit in the face of the two contradictory goals propelling the decision-making. The first and most obvious is to make the new fray a hands free department. To do that, they are intent on delegating fray editor’s responsibilities to fraysters. Here is a rating system, aren’t you encouraged, now police yourselves. The second, and incongruous with the first, is this bizarre insistence on preserving thoughtful and erudite discussion which requires a forum [bullshit]. To put it another way, Dear Readers: We value your considered contributions insofar as they are better than spam. It’s a reflection on us you see. Therefore, we hereby present you with our plan to have even less to do with you, and in return we will empower you, dear reader, to not only continue working in obscurity and for free, but to reward yourselves!

Here what’s missing in all this. Fix the login and hire a fray Editor who views fraysters, not as cattle, but as his or her pool of writers. And just as no one tells Jacob how to run Slate, empower that fray Editor to run their little corner of Slate as if it were an entire magazine in and of itself. Get someone who cares about their job, who defines it as a job worth having, and give them all the space (is cheap) they need to make it happen.

In other words (look around), copy us.

Disclaimer: Slate doesn’t read this blog, so although I was writing to them, my hope is the fray reads it.