Facts & Myths About Features and That Gold Suggest Button!
Features are kind of like the last scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her crew finally get to see the Wizard. There's a lot going on behind that AR Curtain of Feature Selection that baffles a lot of folks and perhaps leads to some misconceptions about how things do and don't work.
Now you may ask why we feel qualified to speak to the topic? No, we're not members of the Mt. Olympus of Million Pointers! But we ARE students of the Active Rain community and how we've observed things work. We're not the Czar and Czarina of Features and last we checked there hasn't been a general election for the position! We DO however feel somewhat qualified to talk to the topic because if you're familiar with Called Shots, we passed 500 months ago. We now play our own game in picking to increase the challenge level to Ultra! We'll explain that at the end of the post. :)
Based on comments and posts we've read, there's a fair & frequent amount of misunderstanding about those coveted Gold Star Features, so let's try to dispel a few of those myths and replace them with some facts and maybe a couple of our personal opinions, our apologies for the length!
- First, there IS no magic formula for getting Featured. The process is human driven and inherently subjective. No programmer in the world could write a competent program to analyze 2000 posts a day and pick out the best of the best. So we have to count on the AR Staff to know 'em when they see 'em!
- Now because the AR Staff is HUMAN (this is a theme folks, remember this part), mistakes will be made. Once in a blue moon a reblog, or someone's blatant plagarism just might get on the front page. NORMALLY, as soon as they're aware of the issue, it WILL be pulled. This ISN'T proof that the entire system is whacked, just human. And PLEASE, don't hang on to that ONE example you saw once as "proof" that the entire system is flawed. Put away the torches and pitchforks.
- It's NOT their only job. Picking Featured Posts isn't someone's sole responsibility. They've got "a day job". They're answering phones, handling tech problems, training people, stopping the fights in the Sandbox and trying to make Active Rain money so it stays a viable platform for us all to enjoy daily. So do you REALLY want them spending more time working on picking Features?
- You've got 5 Suggests per 24 hours, a fresh batch every midnight E.S.T. And frankly we look at Suggest usage like voting. If you don't vote, don't complain about the elected officials. Same for Features. The AR Staff gave us a tool to help last year. If you choose not to participate, put a sock in it....and we say that in the nicest possible way! :)
- The Suggest button is there to help the AR Staff do the picking, but it isn't a MANDATORY requirement for them to Feature something just because a lot of readers clicked Suggest. Want to know what they see? Here's a snapshot that a former staffer posted lasted year in a comment stream. It's a bar to show relative "hotness" of a post being suggested. Pressing the suggest button is equivalent of pressing a home's doorbell. It lets people know someone is there, but it doesn't mean the door has to be opened. (And just in case you were wondering, NEITHER of our posts on that picture got Featured...and we're always cool with that....some days its not our turn!).
- The Suggest console doesn't show WHO suggested as far as we can tell, so there's no reason to think that AR Staff has a bias FOR or AGAINST any reader who clicks suggest. The post stands on it's own merits.
- The number of comments also doesn't mean an automatic Feature, nor does the lack of them. We've seen Features with zero (you've got to love the posters timing!), and non-Features pushing 100 comments. However, it does seem sometimes Featured posts are Featured more for the comment stream than the actual post.
- If you're a general jackwagon (borrowed that from the commercial) in the Rain, you just might find it a bit more of a challenge to get Featured. Human nature again. If you're continually ranting about Active Rain and it's problems, and you can't keep it constructive and you're just a general PITA to the AR Staff and fellow members, do you REALLY think they should still Feature you? Honest answer please.
- Just because one time you and a half dozen of your buddies all suggested a post and it wasn't Featured doesn't mean the system doesn't work. There could be a lot of factors you didn't take into account. Maybe the Staff figured that writer had already been Featured enough recently, or the topic wasn't a positive for the community. Just because someone implodes on their post and people click Suggest because they think it's funny doesn't mean it should still go on the Front Page.
- Certain topics are almost certain to make sure you DON'T get on the front page. Politics and Religion are pretty much guaranteed to NOT get you there. A single picture with two sentences is like betting on the broken down nag at the racetrack. We suppose it COULD happen, but the odds are 100:1 or worse.
- What WILL increase the odds of you getting there? A good tutorial or general piece intended to HELP the community. And if you decide kicking the beehive with a controversial topic is what you're willing to do just to get a Gold Star, be prepared for the fallout because you just might be stung by some of the comments.
- What also MIGHT get there? Some Localism posts, but admittedly that's a long shot for the most part. In general, they're probably not there to generate conversation and comments, but most likely just to serve as an example of what a GOOD localism post looks like. Same thing for Market Reports. Both topics are things most of us don't read, but guess what? The consumers read them. What's more important, Gold Star or phone ringing?
- You're going to see some of the same faces on the Feature Board. And you know why? In most cases they've been practicing their craft for years. They know how to put together a smooth post, just the right amount of eye candy, and they've developed a good size following. None of this was gifted to them, they earned it through hard work. They blog OFTEN and WELL. And sometimes they might even be up on the board twice at the same time because they produced two gems back to back. It doesn't normally happen that way, but sometimes it does. Again, don't yap at the person getting featured, they don't have any say in it!
- Now we'll concede that not everyone is a gifted writer, but we do believe that every one of us is capable of improving if we WORK at it and it's important to you. You don't typically get there by blogging once or twice every couple of weeks. Pay attention to what the successful bloggers are doing and learn from them. And we see new bloggers featured routinely. Some are outstanding right out of the gate, others take time to develop.
- The board turns over roughly once every 24 hours. Note we said ROUGHLY. That's 18-20 Features a day most days. Sometimes more, sometimes less. And you know what? The world won't stop if the AR Staff is busy and doesn't post new Features for a few hours, or for that matter a few days. Remember, it's NOT their main job! Before you condemn someone for having "too many Gold Stars", you might want to consider the writer's history. One of the founders who helped start Active Rain and helped build this platform? They've had 5 years of blogging to accumulate those stars. Or someone who's done a lot of tutorials to help the community? You REALLY want to begrudge either group their rewards?
- Lastly, Gold Stars don't mean JACK if you can't get the consumers to call you. Great for the ego, but not so much for the pocket book. E.g., there is absolutely NOTHING about this post that will make the consumers call us. This is more about acting in our Ambassador role to help people better their Active Rain experience. And unless the consumer clicks to the FEATURE PAGE directly, they won't know any post is Featured. There's no marker, no gold star, no word Featured on the post itself that would tell them, assuming they even began to know the Active Rain lingo. (we've logged out and looked just to make sure!)
We said at the beginning we'd tell you how we increased the Difficulty to Ultra for our Called Shots, so here you go! We used to average over 2 called shots a day, so it didn't take long to hit a 100, then 2, 3, 4, & 500. We needed a challenge with our 5 Called Shots a day, so we changed the rules for ourselves. We don't click Suggest unless it's a blogger with a handful or less of Gold Stars, OR one of the BEST posts we've ever read. We read a LOT of posts on a weekly basis, and sometimes the search can be pretty tough. Other days, the bloggers are producing all kinds of gems!
Keep on Blogging AND clicking Suggest!
Liz and Bill aka BLiz