- Make it fun. (Again.) One of Newsvine’s earliest concepts was the ability to earn branches on your vine via a series of 6 achievements. They were either absurdly easy to get (the first five) or (as with the last branch) absurdly difficult. As a result, they don’t signify anything at all. Instead, Newsvine should offer an expanded list of hundreds of achievements. The list could be endless really, but I’m thinking tiered achievements for milestones in seeding content and for writing original content. Achievements for votes. For earning followers. For losing followers. For time spent as a member. For pulling in a large number of page views. For being linked by mainstream outlets. And, of course, badges should be awarded (light heartedly) for things like having content flagged for removal. (Or for being maliciously targeted for removal.) Someone has been a member for a year without ever seeding or writing content? There’s an achievement for that. Then, design a bunch of badges, collect them on a page, and let me show them off. They should be fun, lighthearted and above all else, they should encourage useful participation and exploration. More than anything, this idea would require the Newsvine staff to sit around a table and brainstorm some fun achievements in an effort to spur community involvement on Newsvine. Maybe I’m wrong, but it feels (to me) like part of why Newsvine needs fixing is because that hasn’t happened in too long.
- Zero tolerance. The Internet is full of angry, hateful people. Many of them congregate on Newsvine and are boorish assholes who should have been banned ages ago. People get too many chances and this is (I guess) largely because even assholes have vocal followers who will throw a fit when their friends are reprimanded, which becomes work for the staff. (Amazingly, the fact that their friend is an awful person is never a factor in why a punishment was handed down. It’s always “Newsvine has an obvious liberal bias.” Except for those times when “Newsvine has an obvious conservative bias.”) I’m no longer there because Newsvine’s Code of Honor doesn’t distinguish between calling someone out for being an asshole and, well, being an asshole. That got old and I wasn’t interested in getting banned for calling assholes assholes. All those people who whine and complain and threaten to leave because they can’t get away with their bullshit? If they haven’t left yet, there’s not enough zero tolerance going on. UPDATE: Over on Newsvine, I’m seeing some blowback about the idea of zero tolerance. This whole thing is about assholes. People who would call someone else a “cunt”. Or who would threaten someone else. Or who would expose someone’s private information. I didn’t expect anyone to object to a zero tolerance stance about that but, apparently, some people do. I’m not talking about policy disagreements or heated debate. I’m talking about people who cannot respect other people without becoming abusive in some way or another. I have never, and will never defend someone—whether I agree with their opinions or not—for doing something like that, but there are a lot of people (many of them who are arguing against my “zero tolerance” idea) who do defend that sort of behavior.
- Reward effort. Quantity is rewarded on Newsvine and it always has been. Newsvine’s most visible (but completely worthless) gauge of success is the leaderboard and several of the (all-time) “top” viners are people who haven’t been there in years. They rank highly because they seeded thousands of articles in a relatively short period of time. (Presumably. I don’t know the exact algorithm but can’t think of any other way to explain, say, Aine MacDermot’s #4 position.) Seeding outside links is easy. Way easier than writing original content of any length. Part of rewarding effort should involve picking people who write quality content and featuring them on the front page and, yes, paying them to contribute. Everyone earns advertising revenue by participating on Newsvine. Sadly, it’s the assholes and seeders who earn the most under this arrangement. Paid original content from those who earn the distinction should be a new tier. Effort also involves being interesting. I’ve already read that New York Times article. Someone else already seeded that stupid thing Glenn Beck did. Abortion has been analyzed to death. Newsvine should reward people who try harder. UPDATE: It’s been suggested that I left NOT because of anything I’ve written here, but because I wasn’t popular enough on Newsvine. Yeah. It really sucked to get a paid trip to go cover technology at CES in Las Vegas in 2010. Or when Roger Ebert posted one of my early articles on his website. Or being linked by Daring Fireball. Exposure was never a problem for me. Having a large following was never a problem for me. It’s an easy claim for someone to make who isn’t interested in looking at this with an open mind and would rather make stupid, baseless claims because they’re bitter and angry, but it’s just as easily proven false.
- Discourage loitering. Newsvine is turning into a breeding ground for bored, social-chatters who like to flirt and goof off. That sort of time-wasting material should be stamped out and taken off the front page. People who insist that Newsvine is another Myspace shouldn’t thrive. Middle-aged women and dirty-old men flirting with each other and getting their feelings hurt because they don’t understand how the social internet works (most of these people don’t have what it takes to share and defend their opinions on a public forum) are going to be the death of Newsvine. These people are parasites and they should be treated as such. UPDATE: This one REALLY pisses people off. Why? Because they know they do it. I have nothing against middle aged women. Or dirty old men. Or their desire to act like flirty teenagers because the anonymity of the internet makes them feel all warm and tingly and…brave. Newsvine isn’t the place for it, though. And, unfortunately, those who engage in that sort of frivolous behavior are also always the people who are most easily hurt, or crushed, or dismayed about some really stupid petty personal shit when things “get too real” or whatever. It’s drama that isn’t even tied to opinion making or news or anything. It’s created by those who think there’s “newsvine” and then there’s “comments”. I think they’re both a vital component of a serious social-news concept. The person who is upset about this doesn’t think I’m the “go to” person to fix Newsvine. Maybe not. But I sure as hell know a lot more about social-media trends than most people and COMMON SENSE would tell anyone who can look past their own personal feelings that there’s something broken with Newsvine. I find it amusing that there are so many people on the Newsvine seed of this article who are whining and acting like the moderator is treating them poorly because she’s doing her job. She’s not even to the level of “zero tolerance” and they can’t stop complaining about how they’re being unfairly treated, or not taken seriously. It’s bullshit like that which stretches Tyler thin and prevents him from doing his job more effectively.
- Restructure. This one won’t be easy, but Newsvine is badly in need of a version 3.0: Newsvine’s groups concept didn’t scale. They’re absolutely worthless. The front page is in dire need of an overhaul and customizable user columns have been in beta since before I left. Too many features are promised and not delivered.
- Discourage anonymity. Why feature people on the front page who are members of the community but can’t be bothered to upload an unique avatar? My experience with social-media is that those least likely to customize their column/accounts are also the least likely to stick around and contribute positively. Forcing people to use their real names may not be feasible but promoting or incentivizing “verified accounts” (perhaps via credit-card authentication) would be a huge step in limiting anonymous douchebaggery.
- Hire a community liaison. Replace Calvin Tang, now that he has left. Almost every social/fun experience I can recall on Newsvine was headed up by Calvin. He eventually lost the ability to do this while wearing all his other hats and Newsvine has never really replicated his influence on the community. This is somewhat tied into the idea of making Newsvine fun again, but it’s important enough, I think, to dedicate a paid position to. This isn’t the same thing as Tyler, Newsvine’s moderator, whose job isn’t tied to establishing relationships and promoting participation. He’s there to enforce zero tolerance. This person’s role is to make Newsvine a place where zero tolerance doesn’t have to be enforced all that often.