So I have a crush on Wattpad.
This is going to get long, and it’s some thoughts I’ve been having for a while about reviews, and how the whole old-school reviewing thing works, and alternatives like how Wattpad and JukePop manage this.
So here goes.
I think Goodreads is basically a negative place. Not saying that in an especially judgey way, just saying it, and also just using it as an example. And please hold on before the wrath, I’m going somewhere with this.
I mean negative like entropy and destruction as compared to creation. Not necessarily nasty-negative, although it could be nasty-negative too.
Goodreads is essentially negative because of the rating mechanism and because it’s driven by reviews. It’s about grading things, and ranking them, and putting your opinion on them. And this is all quite reasonable, if occasionally upsetting for authors.
Um, like me. Obviously.
The social media side of Goodreads also kind of encourages frequent updating. I mean, as well as the need to be entertaining or accurate or whatever if you want lots of people to read your reviews, you presumably also need to update often, so people don’t forget who you are. So this encourages the rating as many things as possible.
Not just rating the things you liked.
And this is not just Goodreads. Completely not. This is a really old model. It’s pretty much all criticism, all professional reviewing, all English Lit and Film Studies departments, everything like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes and iTunes and Amazon, and also all reviewing restaurants and holidays and hotels and cars and everything else in the whole fucking world. All of it.
So I say. And I think there’s a couple of reasons why.
First, like any content, criticism has an internal pressure to be interesting, because critics are competing with each other, and paying bills, and after page-views, and unfortunately in this situation interesting generally means negative. Because who wants to read sunshine and happiness all day, every day? I mean, other than me. I realize I’m in the minority on this.
Second, there’s this. Back in the day this pressure to be interesting was balanced, a bit, by the need to get free stuff. Critics had to maintain some kind of balance, and keep some people on side, or they ran out of free stuff to review. That probably used to work quite well. A kind of symbiosis between big media and big reviewing that kept everyone civil.
Well, that’s kind of fucking gone, hasn’t it? Now the professional reviewers get free stuff, but everyone else does too. So no more need for balance.
Third, there’s also the problem that criticism doesn’t actually have an independent existence from what it reviews. It needs a host. You can’t write your weekly newspaper book review on how lovely your lawn looks today in the sunshine. So if the reviewer has good stuff they enjoyed to talk about, then all is well. But if they don’t, and they hated everything this week, they still have to write a review. And over time, week after week, that means you eventually have to start saying things that are negative.
So put those together, and I think all of this exerts a mild downward pressure.
And mildly downward is all I’m saying, by the way. Not that people writing reviews are viperous something spawned from where-ever, or stupid, or wrong, or anything else.
Just to be clear.
I’m talking about the system, about the model of opinion-sharing that this style of reviewing fits into, not about the reviewers or the criticism or what anyone’s said about me.
But basically, in the end, criticism becomes about saying what you don’t like, as much as what you do.
And that’s fine, for what it is. And is really just how things have always been.
So it goes.
And then one day there was the internet, and basically old school snarky newspaper restaurant reviews grew up, and evolved, and now, with social media and the internet, everyone can join in.
And yay! Joining in is good.
Except when it gets so negative that people stop making content because it isn’t worth the grief.
But that’s getting ahead of myself.
So this way of reviewing is one way to do things, and it’s been around forever, and it’s pretty widespread. And its even mostly a pretty effective way to do things, if you don’t have any other way.
Except how now we do.
Because Wattpad, for instance. Wattpad isn’t this type of criticism. Wattpad more like listening when your grandma said that if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.
Wattpad runs on a system of upvotes, basically. So if you like something, you say that you liked it, and otherwise you don’t say a thing. JukePop seems to as well.
You don’t get to say how much you like something. You don’t have to compare it to other things you also liked, and work out complicated gradings. You don’t get to say if you only sort-of liked it.
It’s entirely mono-optional. A kind of yes-or-everything choice. And this would be me avoiding saying binary because that isn’t really correct here.
Anyways. All you do is say you liked a story. Otherwise, you don’t say a thing.
So yes, that’s cool, Wattpad is doing something different.
So back up a step.
Criticism and reviewing isn’t actually about making a space for the reviewer to be clever. I mean, yeah, obviously. But really it isn’t, we all just stopped noticing. It’s about providing an effective mechanism of content discovery. This is why Amazon pays for server space and bandwidth for people’s reviews, and why they bought Goodreads, and why all the rest exists.
Content-discovery is good. It’s worth paying for, in that you pay for it too, since you see ads when you look at Rotten Tomatoes. It’s also worth content sellers like Amazon organizing themselves, because if it works, then they sell more shit. Its even good for customers, because they find the shit they want to buy.
Just until now, we really only had one way to do content discovery. The New York Review of Fancy Books model. Basically.
A reviewer said things were good, and over time you came to trust that their taste was similar enough to yours that you’d buy what they said. Or at least look at it.
And this approach ended up everywhere, and all through our culture, and deeply embedded in fucking everything. So much so that seeing alternatives is quite hard, because of that everywhere-ness.
It’s almost like inventing a legal system out of thin air. Say, one that doesn’t rely on adversarial competition and character assassination and ongoing conflict, and just tries to find out the truth of a situation and then redress injustice. Sounds good? Imagine how hard that would be to just invent, from within an existing system. Almost impossible.
Oh wait, except someone did.
It’s called the inquisitorial system, and it’s what they do in Europe, and it’s how it is because it predates the time when our English-speaking-world ancestors were whacking each other with sharp things to settle legal disputes.
Fixing things from inside them is really fucking hard. It just is.
And this is the really fucking clever thing about Wattpad.
Instead of trying to make a better way to manage reviews, Wattpad has seen through to the actual problem, which is content-discovery, not the sharing of opinions.
Wattpad does content-discovery through likes and follows, and by doing it this way it’s consciously, intentionally, a place for audiences to find creative work, not for audiences to judge creative work.
This is important.
It means that because Wattpad is about discovery, it just doesn’t need all the mechanisms for critiquing content. Those are redundant. So everything on the site becomes about telling other people what you liked.
Not about cleverly telling people what you didn’t.
There are plenty of other places where people can express their opinions. And by detaching those from content-discovery, the discovery can be streamlined, the whole process simplified into what it really ought to be. Instead of letting it bog down in reviewing. And then that getting negative.
So hopefully all of this post so far is starting to fit together now. Yay.
Where I’m going is this. For me, the Wattpad way of doing things is a whole lot better.
And yes, this is totally about me. If you like rough and tumble and shit, and want to know you got to the top in the most competitive environment there is, then fuck, of course you should be out there kicking sand at other kids and climbing mountains.
But I’m not like that, and I don’t want to be. Call me a scaredy little fucking wimp, but I’d rather be around upvotes and follows, than around snark.
I’m a bit fucked up and insecure, and obsess a bit much about other people’s opinions, and try a bit hard to please people, and all that shit, and that’s why all of this.
Because yes, obviously, I want to know if someone likes what I wrote. I’m also needy. We all got that. I’d also like to know if someone doesn’t like something, and actually has something helpful to say. Something I can use to make another thing better. I’m not so fucked up, or so full of myself, that I don’t want helpful criticism.
Helpful being the thing.
But most criticism isn’t. Most of it is just snark and cleverness and tearing other people down. Or just someone telling their friends they didn’t like something. Which is fine, obviously. Or not even their friends, just everyone. Or it’s about giving yourself an identity as set against something else, like something popular, say, that you want people to know you didn’t like. It’s about any and all of that.
And also, I’m not saying people shouldn’t review anything how and where they want to. Just before I get a ton of shit about being all fucking precious. This isn’t about you, and how you rate things, it’s about me and how I respond. And of course, I’m utterly fucking grateful to everyone who says nice things, and is encouraging, and leaves good ratings, I really am. And I’m not changing anything, or leaving particular sites, or whatever.
I’m just saying that I think that way of reviewing can get a bit destructive, and a bit horrible for the person on the receiving end, and I think Wattpad might be onto a better way. So while we all find out, I’ll go over there too and join in.
Because the thing I said earlier about reviewing having a trend to negativity? I think Wattpad avoids this downward trend. Because none of those things really apply to it.
On Wattpad, if someone doesn’t like my writing, I never hear about it. They just move on, and read something else, and probably they like that instead. And what’s really important here is I move on too, and write something else instead, and some other people do like that. Hopefully.
And I think this is a far, far better model to manage content discovery and feedback, because it filters out the haters.
And even if other ways of doing things are fine for other people, the Wattpad way is far, far better for me.
I like Wattpad I like the internal workings, and I’d rather be around a place that only says if you did good, rather than tells you if you did bad.
And also, I fucking love that there’s all these people just on there fucking writing. And reading each others’ writing. In the millions.
Like in the actual fucking literal millions.
This is just why I like Wattpad better. Nothing else.
But yes, of course, feel free to take shots about this. I mean, I must be a totally shitty writer because only a shitty writer would think all this and not be able to stand up for herself and get upset by people being mean and everything.