Archives for the month of: April, 2015

I’ve turned to Reddit as an alternative to Facebook, mainly due to concerns about the rampant privacy intrusion that essentially defines Facebook’s modus operandi and revenue model.

Reddit is a hybrid news-sharing site and discussion forum frequented by at least six percent of the Internet’s users.

That’s a decent number of people.

Members of Reddit create niche-based communities. In those communities, they post links to media created elsewhere. Redditors can also add shorter pieces written directly in “text posts” on the site. Other members can vote “up” (approval) or “down” (disapproval) on all posts, creating a dynamic flow of popularity-ranked material; the flow changes as frequently as users post new items and others vote on them.

It makes sense, then, that if you want feedback on a story or other creative work, you might benefit from posting it on Reddit with a request for comment. That’s exactly what I did while working on a variety of fiction-writing techniques over the past two years.

Follow The Upvotes? How Conformity of Opinion is Quietly Crowdsourced

Sitting here today while playing with ideas for a new story, I recognized a dimension of the hidden issue that pervades all communities: all communities subtly indocrinate their members into certain belief systems. That, in a sense, is what gives any group its feeling of being “us” rather than “them”.

On Reddit, you can see that phenomenon in the distinctive type of humour used there versus, for example, Reddit’s arch-enemy, 4chan (or really x-chan considering the number of variants online). Inevitable silliness of Internet-based tribal keyboard warfare aside, the two communities have a very different “feeling” to them, partly based on how they are designed. Facebook (enforced fake authenticity via “sharing”) and Tumblr (scrapbooking and socal bookmarking) have their own approaches to community as well.

Specifically on Reddit, there are a number of science fiction-related communities. Each community on Reddit is called a “subreddit”, or “sub”. The scifi subs range from large to small, and the largest has over 200,000 readers. Although the reader numbers are misleading as to how many people actively participate, there is still a sizeable group who are online at any given time.

At first, it can be difficult to detect the fact that subreddits have their own set of rarely articulated rules governing what’s generally liked and disliked. It may seem like a strange idea, given Reddit’s illusion of “direct democracy” via the voting system. Considering the herd instinct that largely dominates human nature, though, the social reality of groupthink seems to have merely insinuated itself into the digital medium.

Don’t Try To Build A World on Reddit

The example that came to mind while writing today is that of “world-building.” Fictionwriters know this principle. Any story that ventures beyond fan fiction will have to establish an imaginary world for the reader to enter — a world that is in some way more fascinating than their own. The fictional story world suspends the reader’s sense of time and space within its carefully constructed realms of enhanced possibility.

If you seek feedback on Reddit, though, beware of the group consensus that all forms of world-building are bad, and therefore are easy targets for criticism. You can sometimes find conversations in which random users try to (literally) score points by snarking that a novel “started slow, with a lot of ‘world-building’, but it got better as it started to pick up speed afterward.” Even though this is obviously the case in the majority of stories — especially ones that project the reader into a detailed universe — Redditors have made a trendy talking point out of symptomatizing world-building into some kind of writerly deficiency.

Also beware of Internet Attention-Deficit Disorder, which seems to be the norm on Reddit. Most of the written works posted there are fan fiction, even if the subreddit’s self-descrption claims otherwise. Visuals tend to be clickbait images and videos intended to incite a maximum number of upvotes. This means that the overall atmosphere is “click, look, skim, repeat”. Sufferers of Internet A.D.D. will rarely take the time required to critique or even comment meaningfully on a new fictional piece. The exceptions are pleasant, yet exceedingly rare.

Reddit can be useful as a means of gauging the average person’s kneejerk opinion of your work within a chosen niche. If you’re looking for feedback that goes beyond “I took a quick look and got the gist”, other avenues are necessary for eliciting worthwhile review and comment. In fact, I’m presently creating one such avenue based the experiences with Reddit and other social media platforms; there will be much more to say and show about that in the near future.

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As a high-concept introduction to this idea, you might imagine “Pitchfork + music streaming” as a move in the right direction.

The previous entry, Steal This Idea: Independent music streaming as a “fair-pay” Internet utility (click here), will fill you in further on details in case you want to be brought up to speed.

An “artists first” revenue model combined with aggregating reviews from multiple reputable sources may be an ideal starting point.

To my knowledge, advances in technology and culture most often come as the result of war between countries and/or deep-pocketed patrons (including governments) paying for passion projects. This is true from the painting of Mona Lisa to the invention of the Internet. Throughout history, the average person has usually been too trapped scrabbling for a few pesos to be able to worry or care about “art”. As we witness now on the Internet, the “common man” still has very little grasp of the value of time or creativity, and so we see a myriad of psuedo-moral rationalizations for what essentially amounts to stealing all forms of digitally creative work.

That’s the key question here, really: when given the opportunity, will people choose to do the right thing?

Tidal’s only apparent purpose is to use streaming as another brand marketing avenue for super-wealthy artists who already have tip-of-the-tongue, top-of-mind name recognition. Stratospherically successful artists (Jay-Z, Taylor Swift) need neither profit to fund their work, nor recognition of their skill, nor do they need fame from new fans to fuel interest and gain visibility. The stated purpose of Tidal is at variance with the multi-millionaires pretending to represent the “little guy”. We see cracks in the shimmering facade due to their reluctance/refusal to divulge details about their revenue model in regard to paying artists.

Jay-Z does say many of the right things, though. And so do politicians around election time. I don’t pretend to know his motives, but if you look at how the available facts fit, there is an incongruity that’s hard to ignore.

Another key difference here would be to attract truly “indie” artists who may not be tied up in artist management issues. This could remove the unnecessary mass of middlemen, as well as the intellectual property gouging artist throat-cutting that was par for the course in the pre-digital era. All of that becomes superfluous when the artist can connect directly with the consumer.

In order for artists (of all kinds) to truly become independent, they/we need to own the rights to our work.

A “fair-pay” approach like this one puts all terms and conditions upfront and in central view, no hype or shifty tactics required.

With the creation of a new music service that benefits artists who are already ridiculously rich, here’s an alternative idea:

Create a streaming service for independent music.

Here’s the idea:

– there is a massive number of sites that review indie music, right? So why not bring their reviews together and create a “metacritic”-type site that initially serves music based on the average review score.

As listeners have a chance to listen (or not), the number of plays on the site can take over as the main scoring mechanism.

– the creators of the service can start out by getting paid a decent salary, but nothing exorbitant. As the service picks up steam, the revenues go to the artists until all artists receive 80% (or whatever is agreed on) of revenues from their music. Beyond that, the site keeps the money as profit. This ensures that artists get paid _before_ the site makes any large amount of profit, rather than the site being based on pimping its artists and giving them left-overs.

I’m not sure if anyone has done anything like this, but if they have, I’d gladly support it. If not, I hope you steal this idea — or better yet, several people can steal it and create an alternative indie music industry on the Internet that actually pays musicians first.

The real question is: how do we eliminate middlemen and create a technology that is fair to the artist — in a way that is transparent to the extent that the artist also feels that their compensation is fair?

Neither Spotify nor the other streaming music services have done that to any satisfactory degree. That’s why this idea matters.