Some time ago I joined online writing communities Jottify and WeBook. See Orla's Code Gets a Makeover. Along the way something dawned on me: a website influences the human connections it facilitates.
WeBook has two main features: Ratings and Projects. For £3 you can have the first page of your manuscript rated anonymously and top rated work is put forward to agents. Along with a numerical selection: 1 to 5, you can select why you chose 1 to 5. For example, someone rated Orla’s Code as 4 because it “wasn’t original enough”. Now, I’m open to criticism – I need it – but if there’s anything Orla’s Code is, it’s original enough. It doesn't even have a genre! See Orla's Code Update which includes my attempt to define it. But, as ratings are anonymous, this isn't an opening for discussion, it’s just a little comment bomb that I couldn't do anything with. I suppose if you got a lot of the same ratings, that would be useful. But in 2 weeks I rated 22 works and got 2 ratings in return. As submissions are distributed randomly, it seemed there was nothing I could do to increase my exposure. To be sure, I emailed WeBook Support. After receiving an email failure, I did get a short reply which was already information available on the site. So, no was the answer; all the networking on a Sunday wouldn't increase the amount of times I got rated. Oh, and if I wanted to change my submission, that cost another 3 quid. Feeling my frustration? Well, Projects is a facility to openly share finished work, work in progress or just an idea. You can join projects and collaborate which sounds like fun but my interest is more in finished or nearly finished work. It was hard to filter my search on this; I kept coming across project ideas but also there’s no way to prioritise popular or active projects, so often I came across dormant projects. If people are enjoying this facility, I have no idea. That’s because WeBook doesn't display live data. There’s no list of what's being read or what’s trending. After a while I became aware there’s no easy way to see how other people are using this site and it began to feel isolating. You can make connections with people of course but one person asked to see my work before accepting my friend request. Could it be that the lack of information flow inhibits openness? When you think about it, how are you supposed to know the culture of a site without seeing other peoples interactions? It’s like going to a party and meeting the other guests in isolation.
Jottify allows you to follow people, as on Twitter. So when you log in, your main page shows you the activities of the people you’re following. Like such and such commented on this work. Then on a side column you can see most popular work today, most read work today and editor's choice. You can gift people ink pots if you like them or their work or are just in an ink pot kind of mood. When you are gifted 20 ink pots, you get the option to plug your work which means the next 1000 people who log in will see it at the top of their page. It's a clever and simple way to encourage interaction. When I joined Jottify, people started gifting me ink-pots straight away. I seem to remember something similar on WeBook - icons that you could gift people - but I never swapped them with anyone. You can post as must work as you like on Jottify in a flexible structure and you can even link to an e-book store if you're selling your work. I’ve posted the first chapter of Orla's Code and my poem My Couch Says which have both received many friendly comments. Another nice feature of Jottify is that all the web pages are open; you don’t have to login or be a member to see them. So, you could use Jottify entirely to showcase your work without the need of a personal website.
I guess this fluidity is the Facebook model. Blog-site providers do it too, with widgets to show your latest tweets and most popular blogs (take a look to the right side of this page). Followers photos and number of 'likes' are the same sort of thing. It’s showing what people are up to which is what provides the community feel.
There’s a fascinating psychology to website design, which I know little about but, I always try to link to something I mention in blog posts because I feel it is in the spirit of the internet – everything should lead you somewhere else. Of course there’s a downside to the modern template. If a site is good at information sharing, it’s hard for the user to suppress it. Facebook causes me a level of anxiety that I find unacceptable in a leisure activity – in that there shouldn't be any anxiety at all! But I think Twitter has got the balance right. Recently they started emailing me activities of people I’m following. There was a button at the end of the emails to unsubscribe and when I pressed it, a message popped up saying: “Too much information? We get it”. How easy that was.
I'd like to verify my comments on WeBook. It's been a while since I was on the site and perhaps I’m miss-remembering some things. But the site has actually been down for some time and now seems to have changed hands and be under reconstruction. If anyone is looking to join a writing community, as always, with the internet, there seems to be an infinite supply. Maybe WeBook will get it right the second time round but, obviously, I'd like to recommend Jottify.