Feedback Request Notes

This is going to be a little meta.

Yesterday afternoon I asked for feedback from Whatever readers regarding the site and what they liked and didn’t like and what suggestions they might have going forward. I got 150-some responses since then, which is a very nice, so thanks all of you for that. While I am still soliciting that feedback (if you want to give it), here are some thoughts on what I’ve received so far, plus some thoughts on 2012 content.

1. What people like/dislike/want to see more of is all across the board, which tells me something I already knew, which is that people who come here to read do so for a variety of different reasons — some like the pieces about writing more than other stuff, some like the political screeds, some like the pictures of cats and sunsets, and so on. This is fine, of course; I write the site in something of a “variety show” format, since that’s how my brain works and what goes up here is what’s in my brain whenever I sit down to write here. As noted earlier, I don’t see that changing much in the next year (or, well, ever).

2. That said, one thing you are likely to see more of in 2012 are politically-oriented posts. It’s a presidential election year here in the US, and I have a suspicion it’s going to be a particularly nasty election year, and I also suspect a fair share of my brain is going to be occupied with it. So there’s a good chance a lot of that will end up here.

I’ll probably have a more detailed post about this later, but for now I’ll just say that most of you by now have a reasonably good idea of what my political biases are, and that will of course inform what I post here politically. As for what this means, I will refer you to my site disclaimer, particular the sentence which reads “I make no claims as toward being even-handed, fair, or nice.” I think generally I call out political stupidity when I see it; however, I don’t believe that, currently, stupidity is evenly distributed across the political spectrum.

3. Regarding Big Idea posts, I don’t think you’re going to see much change either in format or frequency; I generally post a couple a week and it seems to be a good amount in terms of my goals for the feature, and for my ability to keep up with it. Some of you will remember I planned to spin off the Big Idea to its own site; that got shelved primarily because I and and the other two principals involved simply ended up getting too busy with other things. Fortunately it works perfectly well as a feature here.

4. Regarding the “New Books” feature, which were originally posts and then were added to the sidebar: It’s definitely coming back in 2012. I just got bogged down in real world stuff and didn’t update, and didn’t want it growing stale during the holidays. You can expect service to resume when the calendar turns.

5. One commenter wondered if my being the SFWA president had an effect on what I wrote here regarding current publishing debates, issues and events. The answer to this is, yes, a bit. Although I have been careful to deliniate between John Scalzi, private individual and John Scalzi, SFWA president (especially on this site), the two still reside in the same body and overlap, and what I say as a private individual is still noted by SFWA members, who may reasonably then wonder how it affects my thinking as SFWA president, and thereby, SFWA’s policy and organizational stances. This makes me (slightly) more circumspect about blathering on  certain subjects here than I might otherwise be, especially if I find it on point to something that’s in SFWA’s wheelhouse. It’s a combination of the nature of the position, and my own decision that I owe SFWA and its membership the courtesy of placing their priorities over my own desire to blather in public.

My reign of terror tenure as SFWA president comes to an end on July 1, 2012, at which point, of course, full unfettered blatheration will again be the order of the day. And I’m sure until then I will still have things to say on writing and publishing, as I usually do. “Circumspection” does not mean “completely silent.”

6. On the subject of site design and tweaking: As I’ve noted before, I am a bit limited in what I can do because of WordPress.com, but I think I should be clear and note that the largest vector of limitation is my own competence, not WordPress.com’s flexibility. For WordPress VIP accounts, true template tinkering requires me to upload changes via Subversion plus other technical stuff which strains my own personal limits of technical knowledge (most VIP-level accounts have dedicated Web dudes and dudettes; I have just me). So for now I use some standard WP templates and a little light CSS coding that can be accomplished without heavy lifting or resorting to Subversion.

One of the things I am considering for 2012 (or further out) is a top-to-bottom redesign of the site that makes it functional exactly the way I want it to be functional. But that will take both time and money and in both cases I will need to be able to justify the expenditure, especially since Whatever is essentially a glorified hobby. So in the meantime I’ll do the tweaks I can, but understand that my true talent lies in writing, not Web design.

7. On commenters: Many of you have praised me for comment moderation (thank you), but also see some people in the threads you consider trolls, or (more charitably) overly obnoxious and not adding to the conversation. The solution in those cases is simple: Ignore them. There will always be people who will skate right up to what I consider the general Minimum Level of Comportment, possibly because they’re socially clueless or because they’re assholes and that’s just what they do. In either case, when you see their name on a comment, just bloop over whatever that person has to say and continue on. I have to read every comment here, but you don’t, and you certainly don’t have to respond to them, especially when your response boils down to “wow, you’re just a perfect asshole, aren’t you?” Because that doesn’t make you look particularly good, does it. So: Ignore them. It’s not that hard to do, especially when most other people here are offering comments of substance.

As to why I tolerate the occasional commenter of cretinous comportment, well, the short answer is probably because it amuses me to do so, and because over the breadth of their entire engagement on the site I have not found every comment to be cretinous. I’ll mallet them when I think they’ve gotten out of line. And lest you think I am discussing a single person, I’ll note there is an actual list of people for whom the Mallet of Loving Correction is in a state of permanent readiness. Tolerance requires vigilance. Vigilance, I say!

8. There will continue to be cat and sunset pictures, never fear. Because I know how you are.

9. Some people wondered why I bother posting those “I’m not here” posts I do. The answer is because if I don’t by the end of the day I get e-mails/private tweets/social media messages from people concerned that something horrible has happened here at the Scalzi Compound. This is in fact one of the drawbacks of writing more or less daily; if you don’t, some folks will assume the worst. So it’s easier just to say “I’m not here today.” Yes, this is more than a little silly. But, eh.

10. My OCD requires ten items on this list.

Oh wait, I did have something here:

Tagging posts: I do in fact leave most posts untagged and the reason is because a) I am lazy, b) relating to the aforementioned OCD, if I start tagging every post from now on, I will feel a compulsion to go through and tag every single post here to date, which is more than six thousand. Which is a lot. It’s not to say I won’t do it, but if I do, again, it’ll take planning, and money, since I would probably hire someone to do it, that poor bastard, rather than do it myself.

There, done.

30 thoughts on “Feedback Request Notes

  1. Periclean Athens had a word for those not involved in Politics: “Idiots.” You could look it up.

    The second chapter that I wrote this morning — Ch. 269: “Uninformed” of the novel/trilogy Alzheimer’s War. Just got me past 1,100,000 words of fiction written since I doubled my daily quota to 2,000 words on 6 July 2010.

    What I passionately believe is that both Science and Literature, and thus most surely Science Fiction, depend on dialog. Or, in modern terms, feedback in the Social Network, causing nonlinear dynamics from Author-Author, Author-Reader, and Reader-Reader links.

  2. First-time commenter here…

    John, if you want to hire someone to do the tagging for you, I’d be available. I’m looking for freelance work on the crossroads of culture (literature, history, art etc.) and IT. I’m a natural speed reader, so that would help keep the costs down;-) If you’d like, I could draw up a short plan with possible tagging categories based on a sampling of your posts. You can reach me at the emailadres I provided.

    I know there’s a huge change you have no interest at all in hiring someone you’ve never met. I just thought “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.

  3. I think of Whatever as a sort of con suite of the geek internet–it’s a place to go and chill between more subject-oriented spaces, and participate in/shamelessly eavesdrop on conversations about all kinds of random stuff–good books, writing, tech, gaming, social issues, politics, and yeah, cats and coke zero.

    There are posts where I avoid the comments because I’m not in the mood to have my blood pressure raised, and there are posts that I keep open in a separate tab because the comments are engaging, thought-provoking, or hilarious (Like the cat picture posts. They’re nice on their own, but the Appreciation Society really make them something special).

  4. Apologies if someone has already said this on the other thread, but I wish the button to click on and read the comments was at the end of the post, not up at the title. I know it’s not exactly far to scroll back up to the top of a long post to find it, but it feels like it should be at the bottom, and so annoys me ever so slightly each time.

    Also (obviously, see para above) one of the things I like most about Whatever is the comments of other readers in general, and their sense of humour and general civility in particular. I realise this is no fluke and has been achieved thanks to years of application / threat of the Mallet, and it is most appreciated. And yes re politics, especially when mixed with critique of the reporting of politics. Who you guys elect affects the rest of us every day of our lives in oh so many ways.

    And I promise that 2012 will be the year I try again with science fiction/fantasy. (I know, I know, what am I doing here? I can’t remember who to blame for sending me here in the first place – may have been BoingBoing – but Ghlaghghee and ChangthatisnotChang were both having a particularly good run at the time so I kept checking in, and then I got hooked on the other bits too. But I still miss them.)

  5. Suddenly feel that I must point out that my own cats were named Titus and Fuchsia. Maybe I don’t read sci-fi/fantasy as nothing since has ever matched (for me) the world created by Mervyn Peake. I have nothing against aliens or spaceships – would quite like one at home myself – of either – but on the page they just don’t grab me.

  6. So you’re not running for re-election to the SFWA Presidency? Or are testing the waters? Or contemplating a move to Republican Party (it’s not to late, we have a vacancy! I’ll let go of your leg.)

  7. I would rather see the book haul return as a regular feature and maybe (if I beg) another book haul video.

  8. I just had this ingenious idea.

    Someone should develop a WordPress App/Plugin that allows ‘community tagging’ of posts. That way, you wouldn’t have to hire anyone, and your community of readers could tag posts for you.

    The way we want to tag them.

    Hmm…I can see some problems with that.

    Scratch that.

  9. I dunno if anyone else has said this, but if you are tweaking the look of the site, can you put a “comments” link at the bottom of the posts please? The comments link being at the top of the article before the text just seems odd to me, I don’t know if I want to comment/read the comments until after I’ve read the article and seen if it has interested me. Then, if it does, I have to scroll back up again.

    Post numbers (or a reply function) would be nice as well, it makes it easier if you want to respond to a previous poster’s point.

    Apart from those incredibly minor site tweaks, I think you are doing great and look forward to another year of more of the same. Thank you for being such an awesome host John.

  10. Oops, sorry, should have added #suggestionsforthe2012redesign to my post. In the meantime thanks very much for sharing your glorified hobby and long may you enjoy it as much as we do.

    Gingrichosity. Now my screen and keyboard are covered in tea.

  11. The one point I wanted to make in the earlier thread was this:

    Do what makes you happy running this joint. Obviously there are a lot of people who enjoy the heck out of it so you are doing well enough to start with. If you start over thinking or doing things you don’t enjoy just to please some mythical readers I’m afraid you’ll burn out & stop doing any of it.

  12. The thing is, sometimes I check back to follow the comments, and then I want to know how many there are so I’d like that number at the top, please. Other times I’m reading the post for the first time, and then I’d like that number at the bottom. See, I’m easy to please. Both.

    As for more politics, please no. I can skip over the occasional imbecilic rant, but if there’s too much skipping required I’ll just drift to a politics-free site.

  13. The problem with allowing Scalziminions to do the tagging is that we are a whimiscal and feckless bunch and we’d get bored. And then we’d start getting creative. Some of the basic tags are obvious: cats, politics, sunset, writing, and bacon. Let me at the archives and you’d get: morefuckingjourney, shitmykidsays, youcantbecoolandplayaukulele, rantyrantyrantyrant, generalissimofrancoisstilldead, and ihavethemalletrightheresodonttryanythingfunny.

  14. @Clarence Rutherford, How much are you willing to pay him for the privilege?

    @ John. Maybe you should put it up for bid and see what people will pay to be “Lord of Whatever”.

  15. Is there any way you could change to a more eye-ball friendly / less-blurry-on-screen font? I enjoy reading whatever, but I have to lean really close and it makes me squint.

  16. Saith Scalzi: “if I don’t (post an “I’m not here” post) by the end of the day I get e-mails/private tweets/social media messages from people concerned that something horrible has happened here at the Scalzi Compound. This is in fact one of the drawbacks of writing more or less daily; if you don’t, some folks will assume the worst.”

    Hmm, sounds more a compliment than a drawback. I mean, logistically it’s a drawback to have to answer them all and tell them that the Scalzi compound wasn’t overrun by zombies, but emotionally it must be somewhat satisfying to know that there are all these people (most of whom have probably never met you face-to-face) who are sufficiently concerned about your well-being to send you an email.

    Saith John Kerr: “I wish the Whateverettes would hurry back!”

    Ah, John Scalvi and the Whateverettes! I remember their big hit from the 60s, “If I Had a Mallet of Loving Correction”

  17. >10. My OCD requires ten items on this list.

    John, every REAL compulsive knows that the proper initialism (not acronym, thank you) is “CDO”, with the letters in alphabetical order as they’re supposed to be.

  18. At least you didn’t forget the third item on your list. Speaking of numbers, I like to come back to the comments and look at the new ones occasionally. It would be great if they could be numbered:-)

  19. I think you’re a little insane to refuse bannination to people whom you claim make you not want to post to your own blog, but your place, your rules.

  20. “Periclean Athens had a word for those not involved in Politics: “Idiots.” You could look it up.”

    And thousands of years later, the opposite is true.

  21. I hope this isn’t a bad spot for this question – it’s a bit tangential, but did you make any changes to the site’s typography today? It might just be me, but the text looks a bit different today…I had to use my browser’s ‘zoom’ to make it more readable.

    I could just be getting old.

  22. John, in response to point 6: to help justifying the expenditure, if you were to add a ‘Donate’ button to the site then I’m sure people would chip in once in awhile. I would. I’ve spent money on stuff that was less informative and less entertaining.

    I don’t have any issue with the site and its layout but I would like to see your ‘glorified hobby’ continue, and I’m not going to buy another copy of ‘Old Man’s War’… alright, I might buy the 10 year anniversary edition with fancy embossing with the deckle edge.

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