Tuesday 22 April 2014

Why you should write for Squidoo (If you enjoy ulcers)

In my last, rather aggrieved, post about Squidoo, I said: "don't put content there if you care about".

I figured it was worth expanding on that. I don't mean don't put anything there, but:

1. Don't expect to earn decent income. Earnings have crashed hugely, and for many, many reasons, I do not expect it to turn around (certainly no sooner than any other article writing site might manage to climb up). It has long passed the window of opportunity and good will, and has removed or driven off or generally discouraged most of it's more serious writers. Those still on the site have generally pulled back, or are actively diversifying (as I was last year). 

Squidoo is also increasingly focussing on farming enthusiastic newbies, and denigrating the 'work for money' aspect. They were started out as a place where you could theoretically earn a living, and now utterly deny those roots. This is clearly not a supportive, or transparent, environment for earning money, and they have been actively negative and obstructive when the question of earnings comes up. They have been encouraging the idea that people are lucky to write for them - at this rate, they'll be encouraging writing for charity, or paying for exposure.

Actually, at least one of their recent initiatives (from last time I paid any attention), did not earn any money at all, something which was carefully omitted when hyping it up. 

2. Don't put anything up if you are invested in getting it published, as you will run into problems and spend far too many hours trying to get one thing published, only to see it automatically locked for an unknown reason. This will be exhausting, emotionally draining, and not financially worth it. I saw so many people get caught up in the hamster wheel of these, and resolved just not to bother when it was my turn (I did hit a fair few filters that I usually just waited out, because I knew my content was either good, or not worth the effort. They usually ended up being adjusted eventually. This has happened less and less, though, as the filters get more unreasonable - they were generally of the 'can't republish' kind, not the 'locked!!' kind).

The support team is great - IF you ever get a reply. But mostly you won't, and if you do, it is often so late that it is no longer applicable. The only way to actually get help is to contact a named and known HQ member directly (something you are not supposed to, and should not have to, do). That can randomly get you instant help. Locked lenses, the worst scenario of all, generate the worst response rate - probably because they are locking SO MANY, and don't want to acknowledge that most are wrong. They would rather you frantically rewrite and republish until you trick it into working from your end (or delete and create a new page, which will get locked for duplicate content - many of the flags can be caused by things outside of your control (e.g. someone copying your content), or are unable to magically 'know' or are appropriate on a variable basis and not a reliable indication of good or bad content (such as keyword density!).

3. Don't put serious content there (e.g. major money makers, articles you care a lot about, stuff you want to link to and build on), or expect it to be somewhere you can invest a chunk of time into and then move on.

- Squidoo is now focussed on 'lite' content, and rewards churning that out. Write a pretty piece with gushing and 'personalisation', then move on. 

- Squidoo is hugely unreliable as a host now. So if you want to rely on your work a) earning, or b) remaining accessible and fully readable (entire chunks of content and code can vanish forever when they "improve" things. They do not seem to believe in beta testing, or warning people in advance).

- Squidoo is weighted towards constant engagement and hugely penalises disengaged writers. If you don't stay 'active', you will fall behind and your account will be penalised in various ways. It will become extremely difficult to catch up and fix everything that happens. Among other things, you have to update lenses regularly to get a freshness boost, and they have started shifting a lot of activity to Facebook and social media. Featured work tends to be from people who interact with the specific staff that feature things. That's not even touching on the vast rate of changes in the rules for content and behaviour, and the technical side of things.

- they have frequent 'Squidoo surprises' (sudden new initiatives, overhauls or 'fixes' that are rarely, or never pre-announced, and tend to have a very major, often unforeseen and negative, effect on existing content). They also tend to favour new projects over old, yet proven, approaches, often at the expense of existing content. These projects are frequently abandoned, so most people learn not to throw too much effort into them. In fact, Squidoo prefers to just move on from problems in general, rather than analysing what went wrong and investing the time and resources needed to make it work.

To anyone wondering: Right Click > Save As is the best way to save any webpage (sadly a lot of the modules don’t load, or are outright broken, so I don’t get that content, but I can’t be bothered rescuing it all).

A bit more ranting (a lot of it just covers the same points as above, but I've written it all so I WILL POST IT DAMNIT):
My ABOUT PAGE got locked too! That page, and my original ArtRage tutorial page, were my very first lenses on Squidoo, back in 2008. And both were locked in the last month. Meh. It’s just blatantly obvious that it’s completely automated and off the rails.
I’m also sad about the Amnesty posters page (free resources). And the Wear the Lilac (Alzheimer’s Disease/Pratchett day) lens, especially as that’s only a month away. I donated all the money from those and they were as far from spam or sales pages as you can get.
One of the most exasperating things is that it has no correlation at all to any of their many overly restrictive filters, warning systems and guides. I have been ignoring all those things for a year while people panic, because they DO NOT affect whether or not you will survive. And they won’t admit that and save everyone the stress, because then what is the point of all the rules and flags and warnings?
It is a completely 180 from the site ideal when I started: write stuff and we’ll leave you alone. Sure, they were inundated with spam (which was mostly dealt with by ignoring it, which didn’t work, but at least it wasn’t actively hurting the writers), but freedom to experiment, and the idea of your content being YOURS, was a major part of the site. And I did experiment, widely.
Now, everyone is being shoehorned into a very specific, rather vapid, feel good niche, based on either the preferences of the most active staff or a very rigid interpretation of their userbase/earnings stats. Plus a lot of blind panic over their Google status. Not only where there huge, mass, often badly decided, deletions (some were fair, but many were not, and most had little warning and no way of resolving issues) and a constantly changing churn of “fixed” modules, new rules, new filters, new “suggestions”, more new automated restrictions… 
...and no increase in support staff, and no acknowledgement that concerns were valid (let’s not even touch on closing the well used forums and banning people who asked questions on their blogs in anything they considered a ‘mean way’. Including me, and people who never even actually posted there. Anytime people start shutting out criticism that hard is a very, very clear sign that the ship is sinking. Or even if it isn’t, it will sooner or later, because the culture has become deeply unhealthy. Criticism doesn’t have to be LISTENED to, but trying to legislate and intimidate it away is a very, very, very bad sign). 
It can be literally impossible now to publish something without having to fight and research to figure out how to trick a filter (when I hit those, I just refused to publish something until the filter was relaxed). The site was becoming almost unusable. And unsurprisingly, earnings crashed. And along with that, the concept of ‘writing for money’ became increasingly vilified, encouraging endless content production for the sake of attention and temporary acknowledgement, and a steady stream of pointless awards and features. 
Another sign of bad design is the huge shift towards needing to be very active just to try and stay in place. There are too many broken things about the site to be able to leave it. And they decided to make that a ‘feature’, pushing for an involved fanbase (yes, fanbase. Not writers, or members. They want a fanbase).
…and I haven’t even looked at the site more than twice in the last four months, other than to visit a page I used to use as a bookmarks page. And it’s easy to see that it’s still doing all the same things.

Bah. I have a LOT of Stuff saved up. It may all come out as an analysis of What Went Wrong, along with the rant about Stuff In General (including the weird and unprofessional and incredibly rude message I got when I was banned from commenting there which I was too furious to write about at the time, and helped me decide to just walk away).

This is also why I haven't posted since mid-last year. Even when I was still around, I had too much to say and none of it good, so I didn't want to start. At least until I was sure. But now? Now all the stuff I was expecting has happened, and they haven't recovered and fixed things. NOW I CAN RANT.

On the plus side, I now work in tech support and social media, and Squidoo has given me all these awesome lessons on What Not To Do. I get to pull out these tech/customer service horror stories to entertain my coworkers and I have insight into how it felt on the other side.

And finally... Damnit! This is why I was avoiding internet stuff! I knew I had all these thoughts and all this news to catch up on, and now I've started writing huge posts, and then I'll have to go catch up on other sites, and update content and see how many usernames I remember AND I WILL FALL INTO THE ETERNAL PIT OF DOOM.

Plus, my internet email is bursting. I'm a bad person >.>

Sunday 20 April 2014

Moving on from Squidoo

Apparently Squidoo has arbitrarily locked/deleted over a hundred of my articles, including most of my art 'gallery' pages, my art commissions page, pretty much all the LGBTQIA stuff, my zoo photography (one of which was once featured on their front page), my bird sketches article, most of my fandom pages (e.g. Mother Gothel - I had several lenses on her!), pretty much anything about a collectible, my lens rounding up Brony fandom songs, my Squidoo tutorials, my basic HTML tutorial, some of my how to costume lenses, pages on people like Dylan Moran, my huge page on Utena, my colouring page guides (to my own drawings), a cake recipe, some of my geeky gift guide stuff, and pretty much ALL my tutorials and pages about ArtRage. Some of them were dead pages, others got regular traffic and sales. And hey, I lose all the money from them! How nice!

I discovered some of this last time I logged in during Feb, sent them an email as per their instructions (after backing everything up!) and never received a reply. Looking at the dates, it appeared that someone came back a few days later and just kept locking stuff.

I don't have the energy to hunt through a hundred blog posts, comments and forum threads to piece together the exact latest glitch or filter or idealogy that caused me to lose my stuff. And to be honest, I shouldn't have to. 

Anyway, I assume that the stupid mess they made of things last year has FINALLY reached me (I think I was one of the only people with more than 50 pages who wasn't affected, so it's not as if I'm this crazy spammer who was writing outside the rules). I am SO GLAD I have been taking the last few months off to see if they sorted things out or not. Because obviously they haven't. They haven't fixed the automatic lockings based on unknown triggers (or else they locked my stuff on purpose?). They haven't fixed the system in which you try and get your stuff pardoned (no response. In over two months from that original email. I'm not even bothering this time - it's probably too late anyway). No solution for the fact it's impossible to "fix" 100+ pages in the week or two you are given (it doesn't always match the email warning either). And no clue whatsoever as to how to fix it other than the most generic things that I have not run into before in four plus years in the same old rote email.

I don't really care anymore. I'm actually glad my good writing isn't on their site, earning them money. The earnings from Squidoo have crashed and crashed and crashed, and writing for them and trusting them has gotten harder and harder, so I walked away emotionally a while a go. Now I just have to try and find time to repost stuff on my other sites (which are doing just fine, thank you, despite being mostly ignored as well. THEY don't have tantrums and randomly delete stuff to get my attention).

Anyway, if anyone out there is wondering why my pages have vanished or there is a message about how it got locked for something: Squidoo be inept and untrustworthy. Don't put content there if you care about it (expanded on here).

Most of my Squidoo stuff was being moved to the following sites anyway (all relatively neglected for a while, cause internet is not something I have had time for lately. Finishing off a qualification and starting my first full time job in the same week, then moving house, means I haven't really had a break for the last few months. And I still have carpal tunnel issues, so I'm avoiding any place I might end up accidentally typing giant essays. Like this post! Or have to edit lots of fiddly code, or go in and out of modules that I can't dictate at, like Squidoo was). 

Ahem. Anyway. Niche sites:

http://wearthelilac.blogspot.com/ (they deleted my Wear the Lilac Day lens! AARGH).

And with that, I finally move on to the next stage of internet life. In many ways, it was my student job. Now I have a real job, and I don't need somewhere to pour all my creativity and urge to research stuff, and I don't need the extra money. And my real job involves so many of the same skills that I don't feel like they're getting rusty anyway.

(to clarify: Over a hundred lenses is NOT my whole account. I had about 250 or so in total, I think. So I still have lenses up).

Saturday 15 June 2013

Squidoo Thoughts: Warning, Scary Criticism

I'm posting this as a response to this post on Squidoo, as my comment was deleted and I was banned* for it. As people wanted to read it, I am reposting (and thank you to all the comments and support, guys, it does mean a lot). I have not edited the following, not even for typos, though I would if it was "for" a blog post, rather than just as a record. 

Alright then. Let’s break this down. Because while this is acknowledgement, and that’s nice, there’s nothing here promising any kind of fix or solution. (Bonnie, we know you’re the spokesperson who gets all our flak, but I ultimately have no idea what decisions making power you have, and there’s nothing here that couldn’t have been written by someone with no power to change anything).

“Bugs happen. It’s the reality of working on a live site (we don’t have downtime) and even with testing (which we do) it’s not a perfect science. Our team does work very hard to communicate problems…”

Yes, bugs happen. We get that. But most of the problems aren’t bugs, they are major broken issues that simply don’t work on most lenses. That’s not a bug, that’s a *broken feature*. And considering the scale of the bugs that we have come to expect, that should probably indicate a serious deficiency when it comes to beta teasting.

And more practically, if it is known that new changes = vast numbers of bugs, it makes sense to communicate that there WILL BE problems (i.e. that there will be a change), not just that “we changed it already, and oops, there’s a problem”.

It doesn’t matter if you think you have the best developers in the world. The data on nearly every change ever indicates that they, or your testing process, are NOT the best they could be. So it makes sense to build a little room to move into the system.

“Q: I hate the new changes. Why don’t you listen to lensmsater suggestions about new features?
*lensmaster. ;P

“…we had a lot of requests for a Coffee theme which we implemented. We’re also reducing the size of the Amazon product when you have only one item in your Amazon Module based on your feedback. These changes should be live soon.”

How on earth is a coffee theme on the same level as removing the ability to write content as before in certain parts of your lens and BREAKING CONTENT? A better analogy would be arbitrarily removing popular themes. Actually, no, it’s more like adding a bunch of flashing banners and a garish moving border on the DEFAULT theme.

The suggestions that everyone is screaming about aren’t ‘make a few cosmetic changes to pretty the site up’ or ‘add a fun new thing’. They’re “why did you break this thing nobody anywhere ever who actually uses Squidoo wanted you to break?” They’re ANTI-suggestions. And “please stop breaking things and give us warning if you are going to remove a bunch of options and BREAK OUR CONTENT” is feedback that is only sporadically being acknowledged and is generally being poorly implemented if acted on.

“Q: Are you trying to push veterans off of Squidoo? I’ve had a lot of my old lenses locked.
A: Absolutely not. Squidoo is a big place and there’s room for everyone. We value veterans and newbies alike. ”

I doubt many people seriously think Squidoo wants to kick off people who’ve been on here a certain amount of time, so addressing it as if it’s a serious question is fallacious. The real question is “why is Squidoo acting like this? Does it not realise it is completely alienating everyone? I know it can’t be doing this on purpose, but how can it not realise?”

“Q: Why should I make new lenses?
This is an easy question. Because new fresh content matters.”

Let’s rephrase that: Q: Why should I keep making new *articles on Squidoo* as opposed to elsewhere?
A: Because fresh content is good for Squidoo. That was a complete non-answer.


Essentially, it’s not the ‘write better quality’ that most people are upset about. They’re upset about the functional stuff; the fact that the filters aren’t a good guide or easily fixed, the locks without warning, the content getting broken outright, the loss of perfectly handy options and arbitrary changes to lens structures and appearances at a time when they are already dealing with a bunch of other issues.

If Squidoo can’t cope with changing stuff, it shouldn’t be changing this much stuff. And who cares if larger spotlight images (which has been brought in and complained about ALREADY this year! Seriously, stop pushing the same thing and acting surprised at the getting the same reaction, and then ‘graciously’ undoing it again) bring 5% more clicks if it breaks 20% of lenses.

I have not had any locked lenses, and very few of my lenses have hit the filters. One was greenlighted instantly, as it clearly didn’t deserve it, I haven’t even bothered touching the others. I actually liked the black bar discovery bar (don’t like the floating one, though). I know the payout was scarily low (my worst in three years) but that we’re still riding out the massive changes from a couple of months ago.

I’ve come out of this stuff better than the vast majority of people – and I’m STILL considering leaving Squidoo, moving out of my comfort zone, because Squidoo has stopped offering the things I came here for.

Because I can’t trust Squidoo not to stuff my content with ads if I forget to fill in the discovery module. Because I can’t trust my content not to get flagged, and for it to get fixed if I do (and I really, really, really hate using the “special email” options, because 1) I HATE EMAILING PEOPLE and 2) it’s hugely unfair on the many non-Giants and non-comfortable-with-harassing-staff people). Because I can no longer trust the Amazon modules not to get changed on me again. Because I can’t trust all my content not to get broken or hidden or deleted when a module is ‘improved’ by limiting its options (e.g. poll module, Amazon module, my lenses module, About Me module). Because I enjoy the flexibility I had here, and that is being curtailed at every turn. And because I don’t know when these changes will come out, or why.

Stuff that helps? Asking “is this changing actually necessary?” not “can we do this? yes? awesome!”
Asking the actual community about the minor stuff that isn’t about massive sitewide spam removal.
Acknowledging issues in advance; such as “there WILL be bugs” and “payout’s going to be painful, sorry, here’s what the data looks like for the following month” instead of pretending you don’t even pay us and letting all that discussion be unofficial. Making sure you aren’t BREAKING PEOPLE’S CONTENT. Not running all over the place panicking like hubpages did when they got slapped making random changes and nofollowing stuff and deleting and breaking things.

I really, REALLy hate being one of those people who piles onto announcements complaining. But if *I have had enough* (who has not lost any lenses, who is looking forward to better sales this month and next, who DOES NOT DEPEND on my online income but does it largely for fun, at least in comparison to many here, who have a lot of patience with changes, who has so many different kinds of lenses that most changes will hurt AND help me….); when I realised that my reaction to the removal of *existing formatting* was “hmm, okay, were can I move this article/put this other article…WAIT, Squidoo just stopped being my default?”. That’s a sign that I’ve been pushed too far, and I’m following a lot of other people who were affected far more than me and snapped far sooner.

*Initially banned from both the blog and the forums. I can now post comments on the blog, but am still banned from the forums. Don't ask me what's going on there! 

If you want to read everything, including other people's deleted replies, I reposted it all to the forum here. If you're looking for that time I was banned from the old forums, that would be here.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Critique Competition for Article Writers in the SquidU Forum

I am running a contest over in http://squidu.yuku.com/ for the most best and awesome critique-giving person.

I am bribing people with prizes.

Basically, I want you to go critique three or more articles/pages/lenses/leafs/hubs and/or post your own stuff up for other people to critique and/or nominate (via a private message on the forum to me) your top picks.

You can get an overview of the forum here on this lens I wrote about it, and you can follow the thread with the full rules and discussion here.

Whether or not you're interested in taking part, this is a great chance to get your stuff critiqued if you're looking for useful feedback. There are prizes for the top two critiquers, and a random draw prizes for somebody who sends in a nomination.

Prizes are funded entirely from my art commissions, so thank all those nice people that have commissioned me at some point.

Sunday 19 May 2013

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

 A dark and historical dash through Victorian London

Dodger is an alternate historical story set in Victorian London. Written by the ever amazing Terry Pratchett, it features international plots, a dashing working class hero, strong minded women and many of the amazing people that inspired some of his most memorable Discworld characters.

You can buy Dodger here or read my full synopsis and learn about some of the real people that show up!

Buy Dodger from...
If you've never read anything by Terry Pratchett, then this is a good one to start with (if the genre is to your taste).

 Otherwise, check out: