Popup Ads on our sites!

I’ve been receiving many questions and complaints lately about popup ads littering the text on storiesonline and finestories. Even a couple of reports about outright graphical ads on the site.

Let me make something clear: storiesonline and finestories don’t serve, host or link to ads.

These ads are typically served by a malware-style browser extensions. Firefox, Chrome and IE have such extensions.

The easiest way to verify this is to turn off all the browser extension that you have and see the ads vanish.

To identify the offending extension, turn extensions back on one at a time. When the ads come back, the last extension activated is the culprit.

Poll for the Clitorides Awards

As I work on the moderation end of the Clitorides Awards site, I’ve become aware of something. Many of the nominated stories are no-sex stories. As in not a bit of sex in them.

The clitorides awards were created to promote the erotica writing community; even the name ‘clitorides’ is a reminder of that.

So my question to the community is: Should no-sex stories be eligible for the awards?

Story Delivery Changes

I’ve implemented some important changes in the story delivery mechanism today. The new system has the ability to deliver long stories or long chapters in multiple pages.

Explanation:

Storiesonline is a busy site. Very busy site. In order to keep the site running smoothly and responding as fast as possible to readers’ requests, the reply time for those requests must be kept short. The servers have limited numbers of connections. So the faster each reader got their file and their browser disconnected, the faster the server could respond to another reader. In order to keep connection times short, I tried to keep files as small as possible. That meant for long stories that took a while to reach the readers’ browsers, I used to divide the story into chapters and long chapters into sub-chapters. That’s why some stories have ‘Chapter 1A’, ‘Chapter 1B’ etc…

While the old way was perfectly functional from the story delivery point of view, it created some undesired side effects. The side effects were mostly in management and database size. Each story and each chapter has two database entries, one for the meta data (title, size, etc…) and one for the text itself.

Each time an author wanted to repost a story that had been divided for size, one of us (me or the author) had to make sure that the replacement matched the old divisions. Many readers didn’t realize that chapter 1A and chapter 1B were the same chapter, simply sliced in two in order to keep each part short. It lead to confusion on everybody’s end. It was a mess.

The new system works around all these shortcomings.

So, the new system has ‘Pages’. From the readers’ point of view, it’s a little different.

Each long story (that doesn’t have any chapters), whose size exceeds 60,000 characters (including all html formatting) will be delivered in pages. There will be a mini navigation bar for the pages. When the reader first clicks on a long story, they’ll get a part of the story with the small navigation bar listing the pages. When they’re done reading one page, they click to the next and so on.

Long chapters also get pages.

That change affects on-screen reading only. Downloading archives and using the ‘V’ link to download individual chapters from stories still works exactly the same way as before.

The implications:

Not many implications. For long stories, instead of seeing ‘Chapter 1’, ‘Chapter 2’ etc… you get pages and you click from one page to another. And for stories with multiple long chapters, you won’t see ‘Chapter 1A’, ‘Chapter 1B’ etc… anymore. You’ll also click from one page of the chapter to the next.

For authors, no more ‘Chapter 1A’, ‘Chapter 1B’ in the wizard. Each chapter stays as one entity.

For stories and chapters that were divided under the old system, they’ll stay that way, for now. It’s too complicated to fix for now. Maybe sometime in the future when I have a good chunk of free time for programing, I’ll whip a script that joins those parts.

While I tested the new system extensively, I can never be sure that I worked all the bugs out. So if you stumble on some unexpected behavior, please let me know about it. If you have suggestion for enhancements, I’m all ears.

Scoring Changes Implementation Follow Up

It’s been ten days since the implementation of the new voting system, so I thought I would keep everybody up-to-date with how things are shaping up.

First thing to report is that voting is up. The number of basic votes cast per day added to the number of TPA votes cast per day is about 30% higher than the previous week’s number of basic votes cast. So it seems that many people were not using the old system and were encouraged by the new one. So for those who were afraid that the new voting system will lead to people moving away from voting, rest assured, it didn’t happen.

Second, the voting form wording change is affecting scores mildly. The median of votes cast after the change is lower. It currently stands at 8.00 compared to 8.82 prior to the change. Of course, the Q Score is compensating for this difference and the Q Scores are more consistent.

The number of TPA votes is about 30% of the basic votes number. So, it’s quite high. I didn’t expect it to be this high. So, I’m not going to keep individual TPA votes indefinitely. I can’t. I haven’t decided how long to keep them, I’ll wait for future development to guide this decision.

Implementation changes:

The Appeal component of the TPA is now a part of the Q Score. It’s processed as a basic score.

During the implementation, I changed the minimum number of votes needed to show the score on the site from 10 to 15.

The expected developments are that some authors and few readers are still trying to find a concrete relationship between the Q Score and the regular score and since they don’t have any hard numbers, many are just ending up being confused and already declaring the new system to be a failure.

My advice to those who are trying to correlate the scores is: Don’t. You don’t have the numbers and if I gave you the exact formula, you will still be missing the data used in the formula to calculate things.

Yes, relative positions of stories may change between the old score and the Q Score and that’s because different posting and updating dates of stories affect the Q Score a lot. So unless you can dig the data from the database, the exact formula won’t be much help.

The unexpected development is that so far, I’m getting a lot more support for the Q Score from readers and few authors. I’ve received many requests to remove the old scores completely and just leave the Q Score and the TPA (many of those requests came from premier members). Reasons given in the requests are that the score next to the Q Score are confusing things and that with all the data presented in the tables, there is too much info to scan through making the site harder to use.

I’m starting to lean in that direction already. If I receive more requests of the same, I will start the process of removing the old average scores and just leave the Q Scores. When/If I start that change I will make it so that the TPA score is also hidden if the number of votes is below 15.

Scoring System Changes Implemented

Well, it’s done.

Today, I implemented the display changes to show the new system in action.

You can read the previous entries in this blog to see how these changes came about.

First change is the voting forms. The old form has been redesigned with the new look and the wording has changed. It’s very close to the temporary change that I implemented at the beginning of December, but with one major difference. The 10 is no labeled like before; the current version says ‘Most Amazing Story’, which makes it more attainable.

Another change is the reversal of the order of the grades. It used to be that the 10 was the first item under the mouse, now it’s the furthest one. This is a subtle change, but one I implemented to encourage readers to think before they cast their vote.

The second change is the availability of the Expanded voting form. I designed the system to switch easily between the two forms and be able to set the default from within the form itself. This functionality relies on some JavaScripts. For those of you who run without JavaScript or your browser doesn’t support the advanced functionality, if you want to use the Expanded voting form, you need to change the preference in the ‘My Account’ page. There is a new entry titled ‘Edit Voting Form Preference’.

The third change is the display in the listings. I added a new column to most listings pages titled ‘QScor’ (the ‘e’ is missing from the word score to keep the column as narrow as possible).

For those of you who didn’t read the previous blog entries, this column contain a new score calculated by comparing the story’s usual score with the median of the scores of all the stories posted in the same period as the story in question.

For example, if the story you’re looking at was originally posted in 2000, the Qscore is calculated based on the median (the midway point) of all the scores of all the stories posted between 1998 and 2001. After 2001, it goes by year, until today.

This calculation is designed to take into account the general voting patterns of the period to compensate for the constant upwards score creep. Stories posted in earlier years have lower scores generally, regardless of the quality of the story.

Both scores will be displayed side by side for the next year or so. After that, the average story scores (the old ones) will be removed and only the Qscore will stay.

Due to the change in wording of the voting form, newer votes will tend to be lower generally, resulting in lower average scores than what you’re used to. The Qscore is designed to compensate for that, so for newer stories, the Qscore will be more consistent. So you should start getting used to seeing and relying on the Qscore instead of the average score.

Theoretically, a Qscore of 6 and over means a good story. A Qscore of 6 is the equivalent of an old score of 8.8.

The last change is the addition of the TPA score. It stands for Technical/Plot/Appeal score. It’s a composite score derived from the new (optional) Expanded voting form. It works almost like the old form. It’s an average of all the votes cast, but each category is on its own and no fractions. So if somebody gives a story a 9 for Technical Merit and 8 for Plot and 5 for Appeal, then the story will have a TPA score of 9.8.5 if another person give it 4, 5 and 10, that means its TPA score will become 6.6.7, the count of the TPA votes is to the left of the TPA score.

The TPA score is designed for authors and those readers who prefer to give detailed feedback to the authors.

The regular voting system still allows for 1 vote per reader per story and you can’t change it. The new Expanded voting form allows you to change your vote. However, if you vote with an expanded form, you can’t change your mind to an overall vote and if you vote an overall vote you can’t change it to an expanded one.

It’s a lot to digest, and the additional info displayed definitely makes the site’s pages more crowded, which I don’t like. But for a while, we’ll all have to live with it the way it is now, until most of you have gotten used to the Qscore and the TPA scores.

Six months from now (maybe earlier, we’ll see how things go), the top listings pages will get sorted by the Qscore.

A year from now the ‘Score’ column will go away.

90 Days from now, the overall voting form will lose the numbers and will have labels only.

Update:

I’ve posted a follow up to this article:
Scoring Changes Implementation Follow up

Expanded Voting Form: Wording and Value distibution

I’m working on implementing the new optional expanded voting form referenced in my previous blog entry Final Decisions. I need some feedback about the wording of the voting form.

The form will have three separate criteria for the reader to select values for and I want it to be clear enough about the meaning of each. So for each criteria, I need a short, concise sentence that goes under each option, to explain what the reader is selecting. It has to be as clear as possible as to not leave the reader confused about what they’re selecting and short enough to be simple. So far I’ve come up with:

Quality:
Spelling and Grammar

Plot:
Thoroughness of the storyline

Appeal:
Appeal to your personal taste.

Also, I can’t display all the numbers, so I must combine the three criterias into a single value to display.

So far, the relative score is going to be in its own column and the expanded score would be in another column.

So it’s going to be:

Size | Dnlds | Votes | Score | E Score | Q Score

The E Score is the expanded one and the Q Score is going to be the Weighed score. (It’s going to be really confusing for a while.)

Authors can already see the Q Score in the stats page.

Now, to calculate the E Score value, I’m thinking:

Quality: 20%
Plot: 50%
Appeal: 30%

Quality can be easily fixed with a proofreader’s help. Appeal is a subjective value that varies by the reader’s personal taste. So the emphasis is on the Plot.

I would like to hear as many opinions as possible about the wording of the form as wells as the distribution of the values to be calculated.

Derailed

Well, it has been an interesting experience to say the least.

If you haven’t read my two most recent entries about changes to the scoring system on the site, you should read them.

The gist of this blog entry is to tell you that ALL changes to the scoring system have been canceled and reverted.

A recap of what happened.

For the last couple of years, story scores on the site have been edging up higher and higher due to various psychological reasons. The median for all scores of last year is about 8.87. Which means that half of the stories are scoring more than 8.87 and the other half below 8.87. The results of this median is that story scores are in general, extremely high.

Over the last year, I kept hearing from many authors how ridiculous the scores are becoming, and from readers how they can’t trust the system to guide them to the better stories. The phrase ‘I don’t read anything that is not scoring over 9.25’ came up very frequently.

So, because of these things, I set out to correct what’s causing these issues. I planned to do two things:

The first is to change the wording of the voting form to be more consistent and somewhat realistic of what those votes reflect, which is the reader’s feeling about the stories they read. The current wording is somewhat confusing, some grades are related to feelings, some others are related to the quality of the work. I seem to have made the grave mistake of wording the top score (10) entry in a way that few readers really could give a 10 but to the really best of stories (which logically is the way it should be).

The second was to create a different score evaluation system that took into consideration what date the story was posted and the average of all the stories posted in the same period of time. The new system would have taken care of the over-time creep up of scores and made the playing field between old and new, more level. It would have also leveled the playing field between older stories that were scored using the old wording and the newer stories scored using the new wording. There wouldn’t have been a large discrepancy between the meaning of older stories and newer ones.

This new valuation system would have shifted the median of scores down to a more logical median. My goal was to have a median of 6.

I guess I aimed too far down.

On December 1st, 2006, I announced the upcoming changes, and implemented the vote form wording change.

The wording change had its intended effect and stories posted after the change had a more moderate, more reasonable score average. Many seemed pleased with the change, although, I only received two approvals, one from an author and the other from a reader.

However, the opposition was far more vocal and came from authors. I received many worried notes and nearly ten authors asked for their stories to be removed if the score weighing were to take place.

Since I’m not in the business of pissing everybody off – and to me, ten vocal opposing people represent a 100 opposing silent ones – I canceled the score weighing system implementation.

I left the new wording in the forms and the newer stories continued to be scored lower on average. I received few notes from authors angry about unfairness of the lower scores and one demanded that I remove his stories from the site.

I agree that having lower average scores is not fair, considering that readers won’t really know or care why the older stories have higher score average than the newer ones. They’ll understand the drop as a drop in story quality. I even received one note from a reader asking why all the newer stories were crap (based on scores).

So, last night, I reversed the change in the voting form, and in an ironic twist, had to use the same code that I created to calculate a weighed scoring system to raise all the score of the stories posted after the wording change to a level more in line with the scores of stories posted before the change.

And now a week after the start of the changes, we’re back to the same old system that many mocked and distrusted and complained about. We’re back to a kindergarten-like system where everybody is a winner and everybody gets an A for their effort.

I don’t know what I’m going to do next, but I’ll think of something to keep the scores under control. I really don’t want to see the scores on the site compress any further and lowest scoring stories reach 9+ and high scoring stories reach 9.9+.

If anybody has any suggestions to make the system work better, without confusing the hell out of authors, I’m all ears. And please, no suggestions of a complicated score weighing system. I had the perfect one and it was rejected. If there were supporters for the new system that I planned and announced, they mostly kept it to themselves.

Update: Please see my following entry about the subject.

Email Feedback System: A minor, but important change

I’ve made a small change to the email feedback system that all authors should be aware of.

From now on, all non-anonymous email messages coming from the site’s feedback system will be coming from ‘feedback’at’storiesonline.net’ with their ‘Reply to:’ field set to the real email address submitted by the feedback sender.

The net result of this change is that less feedback messages will have the chance of being blocked by spam filtering software/services. And that’s because the site’s mail server won’t be pretending to be the sender’s mail server in order to deliver the messages.

What will this change mean for authors? should be nothing.

All email services and email clients, whether desktop based or web based respect the ‘Reply to:’ header and when you click the ‘Reply’ button in your email client, the ‘To’ field should be filled with whatever email address is set in the message’s ‘Reply to’ field/header.

If you filter messages based on the ‘From’ field, then you may have to change that to the ‘Reply To:’ field.

Anonymous messages will still come from ‘anonymous.at.storiesonline.net

With this change, all email being sent from storiesonline’s servers will be from the storiesonline.net domain. Also, the new mail server installed on the site, which is responsible for receiving mail sent to the storiesonline.net domain, is configured to scrutinise incoming messages as much as possible to cut down as much as possible the amount of spam being received by the mail server.

All in all, this change will make the site a better net citizen.

Library Usage Examples and Tips

Lately, I’ve been getting many requests for certain features for the library system, even though those features already exist in the Library, like update dates and a way to track serial stories.

So in order to address those requests, I’ve created a page that shows a sample uses of the Library system on the site.

I linked the new page from the various help pages on the site.

The page can be found here.

The new page shows how to use the library for tracking active serials, to remember stories for reading later and for managing bookmarks on the site, on other sites and on your own computer.

Of course, other creative uses suggestions for the library are most welcome.

A small request

The last section of the new page details how to use the library to bookmark stories on other web sites and on your own computer. In that section I give a JavaScript snippet to use as a bookmarklet for adding stories from other sites and from your computer to the library easily.

I created the code, but I must admit, I’m not an expert in coding JavaScript. I was able to make it work on the Mac with Safari (my browser of choice), Camino and Firefox. I couldn’t figure out how to make it work with Opera (it does not send the cookie in with the request) and couldn’t make it work with iCab either (it wouldn’t even initiate the connection despite allowing popup windows). Currently, I don’t have access to a Windows computer, so I cannot test the code snippet on IE (theoretically, it should work). So if you have the expertise to change the code to work with the browsers above or other browsers like IE or any of the linux browsers, send me your changes and I’ll add them to the list.