Feedback culture is dead, long live feedback culture!

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Title: Feedback culture is dead, long live feedback culture!
Creator: iguanastevens and various commenters
Date(s): December 2017
Medium: Tumblr
Fandom: Pan-fandom
Topic: Fanwork feedback, reviews and AO3 feedback culture
External Links: http://iguanastevens.tumblr.com/post/169053918912/feedback-culture-is-dead-long-live-feedback (original URL) https://longlivefeedback.tumblr.com/post/169082303463/feedback-culture-is-dead-long-live-feedback (relocated URL)
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Feedback culture is dead, long live feedback culture! is a Tumblr post by iguanastevens aimed at drawing attention to the shortcomings of current feedback culture in fandom - specifically on fanfiction posted to AO3 - with the goal of gathering suggestions on how to improve AO3's interface in ways that would encourage more feedback.

The post focuses particularly on the ratio of hits (visits to a particular fanwork) to comments on fanfics, and how longer, multi-chapter fanfics often see "diminishing returns" in terms of feedback, which can disappoint authors who need motivation to complete a long work.

The post contained a link to a Google doc with a "plan of action" for improving this situation, which was designed for other fans to add suggestions, thoughts and ideas that might eventually be presented to AO3 and implemented as features. The doc was later made read-only due to an excessive number of users weighing in, and the original Tumblr post proposing the project was relocated to a dedicated blog, longlivefeedback.[1]

As of 1st January 2018, the post has more than 18,000 notes on Tumblr.

The Original Post

AO3, fanfiction, and comments: the system isn’t working.

Fic authors have a problem with feedback – or rather, with the lack of it. Fanfiction has a notoriously low ratio of comments to hits, and many of us have expressed our frustration that we can get a hundred, two hundred, five hundred, even a thousand views on our stories, but only a handful of readers will leave kudos, let alone comments.

Unfortunately, this only gets worse for long, multi-chapter stories (aka, the longfics we know, love, and would sell our souls in a second if it meant an update), which also happen to be the stories that authors need the most support to continue and complete. Law of diminishing returns, y’all, and it sucks.

We’re not here to guilt you into leaving comments. We want to address the problem by changing the format, and we need your help to do it.

The goal is to increase the amount of feedback authors get from readers, especially on stories with multiple chapters, and to make it easier for everyone to show how much we love fics. We’re opening a discussion with ao3 to figure out how/if any of these options can be implemented, but first we need options to present!

Some of our current ideas:

  • Ability to leave a form of kudos on every chapter, instead of only once on the entire story: this lets authors know that you’re here and you’re reading their updates, so their hard work isn’t getting tossed into the internet void.
  • Comment templates: suggested comments that can be customized or posted as-is. Many of us draw a blank or get nervous when we try to think of a comment, so having pre-made options will both increase the total level of feedback and serve as practice, making it easier to leave more in-depth comments in the future.
  • Upvoting/leaving kudos on comments themselves: positive reinforcement makes giving feedback more fun and rewarding, and it lets the author know that readers are present and agreeing with other comments, even if they don’t leave one themselves.

We’ll contact AO3 to discuss the possibility of adding any of these as native features, and if that won’t work, we’re looking into creating and sharing a user script.

What you can do to help: As a reader, what would you like to have? What would you be most likely to use? New ideas, opinions on ideas that are listed here, they’re all good. As a creator, how would you feel about each of these options? Can you think of other ways of receiving or encouraging feedback? Pros and cons of these (note: our thoughts on this are discussed in this google doc) GET THE WORD OUT! Reblog this post, send it to your friends, link to it from your stories. We need as much input and support as possible to get this off the ground. Feedback makes for happy authors. Happy authors make for more stories. Let’s keep this part of fandom alive!

More details about our thoughts, discussions, and ideas can be found in this google doc.

Some Comments by Tumblr Users

katieandkirby:

Ok yall, I’m gonna keep this as short as I can because I don’t really want to get into it but like. I’ve been doing the fanfic thing for a long time. Reading more than writing, but I did that too. When I first starting in fandom it was on fanfiction.net and you what? Getting reviews wasn’t a problem. People got plenty of reviews. You left a review on basically every story you read. But that’s because those writers were doing something yall ain’t doing.

They were Responding.

I remember, in the days before you could privately reply to a review, authors would fill their notes before and after the chapter with responses to every single reviewer. Even if it was as simple as “Thanks for your review!” because there wasn’t anything else to say. But most of the time there was more to say because the reviewers were asking questions and coming up with theories and interacting with the story. This continued even when authors got the ability to reply to reviews. Some kept doing it in the chapter but even if you got a PM response to a review, it was a response.

We reviewed because it was polite but it was also how you met people. How you made friends. You reviewed their fic with something like “Wow I never thought of it this way, I love the way you make the characters so believable in this setting!” and they would come back it “it was a real challenge making sure everyone was in character, but overall I like it. was there any part you thought was really spot on?” “Yeah and here’s why:…” it was a conversation. It was all of us trying to get better together. It was all of us as a community.

When I stopped getting replies I stopped reviewing. I’m not writing a 500 word review not to get so much as a “Thanks so much for your review!” in response. It’s not worth it to me. Yall think writing a story is yall’s half of the deal and that people owe you comments for creating, I’m telling you, no one wants to mindlessly stroke your ego. Respond to your comments. Make it known you respond. Because that’s what killed feedback culture. No one wants to heap praise into a void.[2]

jmathieson-fic:

Hits aren’t t readers. Hits aren’t readers. Hits aren’t readers.

No matter how many times I say it no one will ever know or understand, because I don’t have enough followers for my posts to spread very far.

Nothing has changed. Commenting culture hasn’t changed. Engagement hasn’t changed. The only thing that changed is that AO3 put added a Hit Count display. Which probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but instead it has caused this idea that people “don’t comment any more”.

Because people look at the Hit-to-Comment ratio and think “952 people read my story and only three left comments”. Except that HITS AREN’T READERS.

The Hit Count includes the bots that post new stories to Tumblr & other social media. They include the scripts that people write when they’re doing fandom stats. They include every time someone uses the “Mark for Later” function. They include everyone who read the summary/pairings/warnings/tags and then decided not to read the story.

I generate 3 or 4 ‘hits’ for every story I read, because I almost always use the “Mark for Later” function, and I don’t leave a tabs open. I’m old and browsers didn’t used to have tabs, so I never got into the habit. And there are way more old people like me in fandom than you think.

If you’re going to petition AO3 to change something, petition them to remove the Hit Count. Because as long as it’s there, people are going to think that Hits = Unique Readers and be upset about their ratios.

And no, AO3 can’t fix it to make Hits reflect actual readers. Not without a huge amount of work that would only be able to filter out some of the bots, and not readers like me who legitimately ‘hit’ a story’s web page 3 times to read it once.

HITS AREN’T READERS! [3]

Kryptaria (direct response to the above post by jmathieson-fic):

^^^^^

Hits are a TERRIBLE metric.

I add +1 hit to fics all the time, by opening them in another browser tab. Then I skim the first paragraph. Maybe 75% of the time, I close the tab; the other 25%, I download the fic and put it on my Kindle. Of the fics that survive to make it to my Kindle, probably another 75% get deleted from the Kindle before I finish reading them. That leaves a tiny, tiny percentage of fics that I “hit” to survive and make it to my Fave Fics folder on the Kindle. Periodically, I go through that folder, open those fics (adding another +1 hit), and click the Kudos button. And on very, very rare occasions, I’ll add a comment.

Hits have NOTHING to do with the quality of a fic or the number of people who enjoyed it.

The real problem here isn’t something that’s going to be fixed by petitioning AO3′s volunteer coders to add features. I’m not even sure it should be defined as a “problem.” More like, human nature.

See, I wrote a book. That book has gotten lots of 4- and 5-star reviews. It got a starred review from the American Library Association. It made it into the ALA’s top ten debut romance list.

And it has a whopping 41 reviews on amazon.com. After 16 months, just 41 reviews.

I’ve had more than 41 people contact me privately – via email, twitter, FB, and Tumblr – to tell me how much they loved the book. I’ve sent out swag, autographed copies, given interviews, and written guest blog posts. I periodically interrupt my twitter stream of cute doggo pics to remind my followers that I have a book and would love reviews.

After all that work, I have 41 reviews.

Hell, I’m guilty of the reverse. I’ve posted maybe three reviews to amazon.com, and those were of books I absolutely loved. I think I’ve posted five reviews over at goodreads, at least one of which was a scathing “I wish I’d never bought this book and will never get back the last two hours of my life” review. Should I review? Absolutely. Will I? Probably not, because 1) I’m an introvert, 2) I’m ridiculously picky, and 3) I’m an author, so it feels weird judging other authors, especially in my own genre.

That doesn’t stop me from grabbing my friends and screaming, “YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW OMG!” I just don’t scream that into the void. I do my screaming in private, one-on-one. Which doesn’t do a damn thing to help a book battling uphill against amazon’s advertising algorithm – nor does it help a fic get into the first 10+ pages when sorted by kudos.

tl;dr: Seriously, hits are meaningless. If you’re an author, stop looking at your hits right the fuck now. If you’re a reader, click the kudos button. If you’re an awesome introvert reader, type “I really enjoyed this!” and click the comment button. If you’re an awesome extrovert reader, do all of the above, then add the fic to a rec list here on tumblr, tagging the author and fandom/ships.[4]

On December 29, 2017, dawnfelagund shared some detailed observations on feedback culture in Tolkien fandom and how this is linked to websites such as Livejournal, as well as how fandom feedback behaviour has changed over the years.[5] Some excerpts from the post:

...in 2015, I conducted a survey of Tolkien-based fanfic writers and readers. The survey was approved by the IRB of the university where I was a grad student at the time. In the time since, I have been sharing the results, largely on my blog but also at conferences and in, to date, one peer-reviewed journal. I also own and moderate a Tolkien fanfiction archive, the Silmarillion Writers' Guild, which I founded in 2005.

I asked fandom friends what they were interested in seeing data about, and naturally, feedback was near the top of the list, so for the last couple of months, I’ve been crunching my various data to get a picture of commenting behavior in the Tolkienfic community. A big part of that is why people don’t leave feedback.

This post considers the latter question in some depth, with data showing that a lot of people want to leave more comments than they already do, but a lot of people just don’t know what to say. (And a smaller–but still too large of a number–worry that the author won’t care when they do.) In my non-fandom life, I am a teacher, and this data suggested to me that commenting is a skill that has to be taught in most cases, and a lack of comments might come down to people feeling underconfident in what is really a challenging and unique writing skill (pinpointing and expressing what “works” in a story) and then performing that writing publicly or to a writer that one admires. I know that I have to teach my students those skills, and it is difficult and grueling work to do so. My own bias assumes that other adults in the fanfic community bring the same skills that I do, and I no longer think that’s a fair assumption to make.
Most interaction about Tolkienfic used to occur in relatively close-knit, intimate communities and archives. Because there were so many–and because the Tolkienfic community went through a phase where it was aggressively partisan about its archives–people tended to share their work with audiences with narrower interests than on a large, multifandom site but, more importantly than that, they shared in spaces that facilitated a personal connection that extended beyond shared fannish interests. Many interactions about stories also occurred outside the typical comment box: on journals, discussion threads, or locked communities and writers’ groups. I recently reviewed the SWG’s 2007 message archive for its Yahoo! Group and was astounded (in retrospect) how much personal (not fannish) communication went on, not in off-topic posts, but in between the lines of talking about Tolkienfic. It was obvious that the people involved in those conversations knew and cared about each other beyond their participation in that fannish community. But of course, fandom was largely located on LiveJournal at the time in terms of social media, and LJ users generally wrote to an audience of “friends” rather than posting with the expectation that anyone could read their words, and most of us shared our personal as well as fannish lives on that platform. A fandom friend of mine recently put the difference between LJ and Tumblr like this: On LJ, we routinely formed the kinds of relationships where we sent each other holiday cards, postcards when we traveled, and even gifts. Although, she pointed out, she’s had many lovely interactions with people on Tumblr, there’s never come a point where she felt she wanted to do something like that or even felt like it was appropriate to consider. I would agree.

(And I feel the need to add, before I get jumped on, that this does not mean it’s impossible to form close friendships on Tumblr or that people shouldn’t use it or should feel bad about using it. But for those of us who, so to speak, have had it both ways, there is widespread acknowledgement that it is much harder to make close friends now, and I do feel like the diffusive and relatively impersonal nature of fandom now has impacted commenting.)

I believe that these kinds of close friendships and communities absolutely encouraged commenting, not only because we tend to want to bring joy to the lives of people we care about (especially when we’ve often witnessed the creative process that produced the story we just read) but because commenting to someone who is a friend or at least an acquaintance removes some of the barriers of shyness and anxiety that seem to prevent people from commenting.

Action Taken From the Discussion

The Google doc created to gather ideas for the feedback project also outlined a proposed nine-stage action plan for making the ideas a reality: [6]

  1. Collect as many ideas, opinions, and information as possible. This is the time for canvassing interest, and brainstorming for ideas.
  2. Collect information on how people feel about each idea, and analyze ALL the potential pros and cons. Remember, our goal here is to improve the overall experience, not upset people or worsen it.
  3. Determine whether the most popular ideas are even feasible in terms of ao3 capabilities
  4. Create a userscript for the concept, and test it with a control group. For example: 100 users try an add-on that gives outlines for possible comments, and we collect data on whether the number of comments they leave increases, if the comments are too generic, and how the authors receiving these comments vs traditional comments.
  5. Refine the concept, collect more data, repeat. If it doesn’t work, we scrap that idea or modify it heavily.
  6. When we have a working concept that people enjoy using on both the author and reader side, we’ll contact ao3 and present our idea, our rationale, and our results.
  7. At this point, ao3 says either no or yes or maybe to each option. Nothing will change without a lot of thought and testing, so don’t worry!
  8. For each successful, popular suggestion that ao3 rejects, we’ll work on sharing and improving the userscript to make the feature easy to use and widely accessible.
  9. Potentially raise money for coding/design compensation?

Many Organization for Transformative Works volunteers, including AO3 Support and coding volunteers, were among those who commented on the proposals in the doc, bringing the project organisers into contact with AO3 sooner than they had originally anticipated.

After moving the doc to read-only mode, the organisers announced that they had moved on to Stage 2 of the project - collating feedback about each idea, and analysing pros and cons - and that further updates would be posted to the longlivefeedback blog. On 29th December, they published a 'General Overview' of many of the thoughts and sentiments raised in the Google doc, including the most common reasons cited for not leaving feedback, and the most popular and controversial ideas proposed.[7]

The following day, an additional update was published to the blog, entitled 'Updates and Progress':

Updates and Progress

An overview of what we’ve done, where we want to go next, and when we’ll be able to sit down and share it all.

  1. (The Big One) We’ve talked with ao3 about some features that have already been proposed, and whether they’ve been accepted, rejected, or are under consideration. We’re working on summarizing the new information so we can share it!
  2. Look into developing new (and promoting already-existing) userscripts for the most popular suggestions that are a no-go on the site itself. Examples include an interactive comment guide/tutorial and researching whether the floaty review box does or can have any functionality on (android) mobile devices.
  3. Explore how to use other sites and resources: for example, authors linking to a group chatroom or forum site where readers can hold discussions about the work, and posting works on google docs to allow for in-line commenting.
  4. Continue brainstorming ideas for features, changes, userscripts, mobile functionality, and external resources.
  5. Collect information regarding why people don’t comment, how different subsets of authors respond to various forms of feedbacks (pro-kudos and anti-kudos), and other questions that arise.

More information on all of these, particularly the first point, will be up… uh, soon. (Sorry everyone, the two admins on this are running into a time crunch!)

For now, thank you all for reading, and thank you for all your feedback and suggestions! Though we haven’t had time to respond to the asks we’ve received as of yet, we appreciate everyone who’s taken the time to contact us with so much useful information! [8]

Suggested AO3 Features

On January 1, 2018, longlivefeedback posted an update entitled 'AO3 and Feedback: Yes, No, and Maybe', which summarized the results of their discussions with AO3 volunteers about what might be feasible.[9]

The post divided the suggestions that had resulted from their initial data gathering into five sections: What's here (for features that already exist on AO3 or in some form online), The "yes" (for features that would definitely be added), The "no" (for features that would definitely not be added), The "maybe" (for features that would be discussed after other AO3 projects were closer to completion), and To be asked/discussed (for features that hadn't yet been definitively discussed with AO3).

The following features appeared under each section:

What's here

  • Anonymous commenting (AO3 feature)
  • Replying to another user's comment (AO3 feature)
  • Copying segments of a fic as you read to incorporate them into a comment (Userscript)
  • Guides on commenting (Various exist in different places)
  • Hiding fanwork hits (AO3 feature)

The "yes"

  • Changing the "You have already left kudos here :)" message to suggest commenting
  • Revamping AO3's search filters
  • Private messaging on AO3

The "no"

  • Multi-chapter kudos (or some variant thereof)
  • Chapter reactions
  • Commenting templates
  • Saving comments as a draft
  • "Author accepts concrit" toggle option
  • Kudos/upvotes on comments
  • Adding moderators to fanwork comments
  • Fanwork recommendations

The "maybe"

  • Native "floaty review box" (which is currently a userscript)
  • Previewing comments prior to posting
  • A window of time to edit comments before a notification is sent to the fanwork creator
  • Logged-in anonymous comments
  • Native feature for quoting fic excerpts in comments
  • Visibility over how many times a work has been Marked for Later
  • Visibility over how many times a work has been downloaded

To be asked/discussed

  • In-line kudos, comments or reactions
  • Highlighting parts of a work, a la Wattpad
  • Comments being shown by default
  • Excluding fanwork creator responses from comment count
  • Changing the word "Comment" to something like "Review" or "Discussion"
  • Feedback milestone badges (visible only to the user)
  • Ability to see all comments you have previously left on works
  • Comments that are visible only to the fanwork creator

On January 31, longlivefeedback reblogged a Tumblr post by naryrising, co-chair of the AO3 Support Committee, entitled 'Suggestions for AO3', which addressed the issue of an excessive number of features being submitted to AO3 (many for the same features, and some for existing features), and gave three considerations for users to bear in mind before submitting a feature request.[10] In response to the post, longlivefeedback decided to readdress and redefine the goals of its project and talk about what role it wanted to fill in the process of suggesting features to AO3.

What we want to do:
  • Use this blog as a center for discussion of all fic feedback-related topics, both theoretical and related to concrete action.
  • Deepen our understanding of what roles feedback plays, why people leave it, and why they don’t leave it.
  • Discuss how the format of archives, with a focus on ao3, can encourage or discourage commenting, and how it could be changed or adapted to improve this.
  • Open a conversation about how existing features could address reader needs, and to what extent userscripts could fill the gaps.
  • Organize community initiatives related to feedback.
  • Provide a resource for other fanfiction sites to explore in terms of features related to feedback.

What we don’t want to do:

  • Flood ao3 with support tickets. As @naryrising​ said, that’s not going to aid progress.
So, if you’re reading through our blog and you see an idea that you really like, let us know so we can bring another voice into our discussions! Please do not send it to ao3 - while we do intend to send suggestions to ao3 based on what we talk about on LLF, we first need to make sure that a) it’s feasible, b) it’s not something ao3 has already nixed or has in progress, and c) it has wide support. Therefore, this process will be much more of a discussion than simply sending in a ticket.[11]

AO3 Feature Suggestion FAQ

On February 2, 2018, the longlivefeedback blog opened a survey with the aim of collecting common AO3 feature suggestions to collate into an FAQ. The goal was to help reduce the number of individual feature requests submitted to AO3, and answer common questions about the status of those features. The questions would then be passed on to AO3's Support Committee to be compiled into a formal FAQ. Submissions for the FAQ closed on March 14, 2018.[12]

Hello all,

We are collecting information about commonly suggested ao3 features. This information will be summarized and passed on to ao3 to help them create an FAQ.

  • this is not a way to suggest features to ao3
  • LLF is not affiliated with ao3
  • you can submit as many items as you wish by refreshing the form, but please only enter each feature once - entering it multiple times will not influence the likelihood of implementation.
  • while we personally are most interested in features regarding feedback, this survey pertains to all feature suggestions.
  • please enter suggestions even if you know that they have already been rejected or are in progress, as this is for an FAQ: if you’ve wondered about it, put it in!
  • You may submit items whether or not you have actually suggested them to ao3.

The survey will be open until March 14, 2018. After this point, open the survey and check the description for a link to future updates on this project, including voting on features to determine how frequently they are suggested.

No personal or identifying information is collected.[13]

Other Tools and Initiatives

The longlivefeedback project has since given rise to other initiatives aimed at encouraging feedback on fanfiction, including the LLF Comment Project and LLF Comment Builder. For more info, go to the longlivefeedback page.

Related Meta

References

  1. Tumblr post by longlivefeedback. Accessed January 1, 2018.
  2. Tumblr post by katieandkirby, Tumblr. Posted December 31, 2017 (Accessed January 1, 2018).
  3. Tumblr post by jmathieson-fic, Tumblr. Posted December 29, 2017 (Accessed January 1, 2018).
  4. Tumblr post by Kryptaria, Tumblr. Posted December 29, 2017 (Accessed January 1, 2018).
  5. Tumblr post by dawnfelagund, Tumblr. Posted December 29, 2017 (Accessed January 1, 2018).
  6. Feedback project doc, Google Docs. Accessed January 1, 2018
  7. AO3 and Feedback: general overview by longlivefeedback, Tumblr. Posted December 29 2017 (Accessed January 1, 2018).
  8. Updates and Progress by longlivefeedback, Tumblr. Posted December 30, 2017 (Accessed January 1, 2018).
  9. AO3 and Feedback: Yes, No, and Maybe by longlivefeedback via Tumblr. Posted January 1, 2018 (Accessed January 20, 2018).
  10. Suggestions for AO3 by naryrising via Tumblr. Posted January 29, 2018 (Accessed February 4, 2018).
  11. Suggestions for AO3 (reblog) by longlivefeedback via Tumblr. Posted January 31, 2018 (Accessed February 4, 2018).
  12. AO3 feature FAQ by longlivefeedback via Tumblr. Posted February 9, 2018 (Accessed May 8, 2018).
  13. AO3 Feature Suggestion FAQ by longlivefeedback via Tumblr. Posted February 2, 2018 (Accessed February 4, 2018).