Reader Feedback 101

Some authors on the site often beg for reader feedback, and some others contacted me and complained that the site’s feedback system is not working for them, or is broken.

I took it upon myself to test various issues with the feedback system.

The biggest thing that I’ve noticed is that authors explicitly asking for feedback or complaining that the system does not work, do not answer their fan mail. How do I know that? Well, simple, I tried it.

I emailed many of the authors who complained about the lack of feedback from readers through the system with comments about their stories. Some were simply a ‘thank you, keep up the good work’ notes and other more detailed feedback. I sent three messages to each author, and the three messages to prolific authors that don’t complain. Of course, I used different email addresses to identify myself.

I received no reply from the authors that complain and received a reply to each message from the authors that don’t complain.

So, what’s the verdict?

Well, just as authors want readers’ feedback, readers want to know that the author received their feedback and appreciates it. A simple ‘thank you for your note’ is often enough.

In the past, when I had more time to read stories, I’ve always sent feedback to authors and always felt disappointed when I don’t hear back from authors, and quit sending feedback to those authors that never replied. I understand that not everybody has enough time to answer each message, and I’m fine with ‘thank you for your note, I appreciate it, but I don’t have enough time to answer all my email’ type of response.

So, to all authors seeking reader feedback, answer your email or you won’t be getting more feedback from disappointed readers. You don’t have to send a two page response back, but you have to send something back. Anything, whatever it is, is better than nothing.

And if you’re a reader: authors need feedback to feel that their work is being appreciated. Votes are good, but email messages are much better. If you like an author’s work, let them know about it, otherwise they may feel that they’re not appreciated and stop writing.

New Review System and Other Notes

I read all the comments on the previous post. One important issue that most of those expressing their opinions keep forgetting: the voting system should serve reader goals as well as author goal. While authors view story scores as a kind of feedback – which it is, an author should not forget that the score should also help readers decide what to read and what not to read. I know it’s hard to think that there should exist a mechanism to help readers eliminate stories from their potential reading choices, but it is important.

As a reader, wouldn’t you want something to help you wade through the thousands of stories on the site? There is no perfect system, but for a site like storiesonline where readers are limited in how many stories they can access per 24 hours, some kind of help must be provided for them to find something to read without wasting their download allocations. Codes and scores serve that purpose. No reader can judge each and every story on the site for themselves.

Specific issues:

Individual chapter scores: Don’t work because the reader/voter has no real idea how a particular chapter fits within the grand scheme of a story, so while one chapter can be great fun to read, another can be hard to stomach, but necessary to the overall plot of the story. Readers should not be allowed to steer the direction of the story by a simple mechanism. An author should feel comfortable taking the story in any direction that they want without having to worry about the instant votes of readers that may not approve of the stuff in one or more chapters.

Author votes: Why shouldn’t an author vote for their own story? The president of the US votes for himself. Plus, those who worry about skewing the score, come on, the author can vote only once; after 20 more votes, the author’s vote becomes nearly irrelevant.

Thoughts on the Current Voting system

The current voting system, while not perfect, works well enough for most readers. But, authors looking for valid feedback from the score will be disappointed. The current score is merely an approval of the story in all facets combined by the readers’ collective.

I’m contemplating dropping the voting system to a lower scale, from 1 to 5. I’ve been analyzing votes for the last couple of days and it seems that some values are almost never used. It seems that voters don’t have enough to go on to judge in such small increments. I’m not sure about this step, but I’m contemplating it. And since the current voting system seems to be more of an approval system by readers, it would be better if the change was to be made, that the new scale would be of the ‘1 – Hated it’, ‘2 – Didn’t like it much’, ‘3 – It was OK’, ‘4 – Great fun’ and ‘5 – Absolutely Loved it’ variety. Of course choice of words would be thought out properly. Such a lower scale would be easier to understand by the voters, and authors won’t mistake it for the extensive feedback system that they wish it to be. But, since the current system works well enough, I’m not really sure that I will be making such a change.

The New Reviewing System

The decision to re-implement the reviewing system has been finalized and I’ve started the feature draft.

Every reader will be able to submit a review for stories. The review will have the user’s Login ID in it, so no anonymous reviews. That will cut down on those willing to submit a review, but since it’s all anonymous to begin with, it’s not really a step back in privacy, plus, anybody wanting to submit a review that affects the story and its author should be able to stand behind what they say. Also, since readers can change their Login ID, the old id and the new id will show if they do make such a change.

Reviews will have to be a comment (may have a size limit), and a three-criteria score. Plot and Character, Writing Quality and Appeal to Reviewer. There will be no stroke score; many stories have no sex in them so it shouldn’t be a factor in judging a story.

I’m not sure how I’m going to combine all three scores to come up with one review score to be displayed in story listings. Of course, all individual scores will be visible in expanded-review view. Should grammar be as important as plot and character? after all, an author can have multiple editors going over their work, so grammar score would not necessarily mean that the author has a great grasp of the english language. I’m thinking 25% for grammar (can be greatly enhance by an editor), 25% for appeal to reviewer (reflection on personal taste of the reviewer) and 50% for Plot and Character (that’s where the author’s talent shows)

There will be no reviewer profiles, it’s enough work to submit reviews, reviewers shouldn’t worry about identifying their tastes and fetishes (which can usually be deduced from their reviews anyway.)

Every author will be able to choose whether to allow reviews for their stories or not (the way it currently is, I know for a fact that some authors prefer to refuse reviews.) So if an author chooses to refuse reviews of their story, nobody would be able to submit any review for their stories. However, the author cannot choose to accept reviews on per story basis, it’s global on/off switch for reviews for all the author’s works, not per story setting.

Anybody can volunteer to be a review moderator, but it’s not automatic, they have to go through me to become a moderator.

A reader will be able to submit a review (it goes to moderation), edit an existing review (it goes to moderation before the changes take effect), delete an existing review that they have previously submitted and view the status and edit the reviews that they have submitted that are not on the site yet.

Each review will need to be approved by two moderators, so a moderator will be able to give first or second approval to a review, or reject a review. If a review is rejected by one moderator, it does not go to a second moderator and if it is accepted by the first moderator and rejected by a second one, then it does not go to a third moderator.

Authors cannot submit reviews of their own stories.

Authors who volunteer to be moderators cannot moderate reviews of their own stories.

Moderators cannot moderate their own reviews

Request for Suggestions

Of course, your suggestions are most welcome. If you think that I missed something important, don’t be shy.

Update – 2004-11-09: 3:15pm

• The voting system is going to stay the same. There is no need for a change.

• Each review must have two approvals or two rejections