From the Editors

More hack, more yack: new features for Arcade bloggers

There's a slogan that's popular among digital humanists, "More Hack, Less Yack." And while it's definitely an amusing slogan, it's always kind of rubbed me the wrong way: it seems to imply that talking (or writing) is the opposite of doing. (The historian and philosopher of science Ian Hacking influentially framed the opposition as "representing and intervening." More Hacking, less yacking?*) As an Arcade editor, I often end up wading into the hack end of things, but as a literary critic, I'm all about yack. And I don't concede that talking is less than doing, either—or even that the two are always distinct. Indeed, what does more to undermine the distinction than programming?

really excited-looking guy
Who doesn't get excited about new Arcade features?

In any case, the other editors and I have been working furiously on Arcade lately, and now it's time for me to yack about it.

My first impulse was to make this a mass email to the Arcade bloggers, or maybe a private ArcadeWorks seminar. After all, most of our recent changes apply only to Arcade bloggers.

But upon consideration, I decided that it can do no harm, and may do some good or be of some interest, to go on the record with some of our internal workings and the reasoning behind it. As I write this, I'm aware that I'm addressing two audiences—the Arcade bloggers, who need a practical explanation of the new features that they've seen crop up in the last week, and non-blogger readers who are curious about how Arcade works. I'll try to do my best by both groups!

As always, Arcade is a work in progress, and we hope to see some productive discussion around these attempts to refine the site's structure.


So without further ado!

screen shot of Natalia's sidebar
    • The change: bloggers now have easier access to stats about readership
    • How it works:
      We've made the number of hits on each post visible to bloggers at the bottom of the post. We've also put two links in the bloggers' sidebar, "My Top Posts" and "Most Read Blog Posts."
    • Why we did it:
      One of the great pleasures of blogging is instant gratification--seeing how people react. We still have a cautious commentariat at Arcade, though, so often blog posts don't get as many comments as we'd like, or at least not at first.

      We do, however, have a positively enormous amount of readers, and the number of reads a post gets is some reader reaction information, however imperfect. So while we didn't want to reduce Arcade reactions to bean-counting, we wanted bloggers to be able to see how many people are reading their work (often posts with just a few or no comments have been read by hundreds or even thousands of people!).

      We also wanted bloggers to be able to put those numbers in perspective by comparing them to their own other posts, ranked by descending number of hits in "My Top Posts," and to all other Arcade blog posts, ranked by descending number of hits in "Most Read Blogs."

      This is, in a sense, a stopgap, in that we (or at least, I!) believe very strongly that hit counts are not a good substitute for qualitative feedback in the form of comments. There's something about tracking analytics that smacks of gamification, which I, for one, do not love. Still, we think our bloggers should get as much information about their reception as possible.
    • The change: The blogs queue is now visible to bloggers (not the public).
    • How it works:
      When she joined as Conversations editor, Meredith instituted a queue for blog posts, to give all posts time at the top of the front page more or less proportional to the average rate of posting on Arcade (instead of having certain posts get pushed down quickly if several people happened to post in one day). Previously the queue was visible only to the editors. We've made it visible to bloggers (but not the general public) at the bottom of the Conversations page.
    • Why we did it:
      Remember that instant gratification? Some of it dissipates if you hit "publish" and your post enters a limbo over which you have no control. Making the blogs queue visible to bloggers renders that limbo transparent, so that at least one knows where one's post stands. This was one of the issues raised in a previous discussion of the Arcade blogs, so we're eager to see where this change takes us.
    • The change: "Ask an editor for feedback" function
    • How it works:
      When drafting a blog post, bloggers can scroll down to the "publishing options" and select "Ask an editor for feedback." Hitting "submit" sends us (well, Meredith) an email asking us to take a look at the post and give some feedback. Meredith or another editor will send the blogger an email with some notes, generally of a light variety. Arcade will also save your work, so it's safe to leave the page. (If you just want to save your work, without asking for feedback, select "Draft" instead.)
    • Why we did it:
      I have to admit that this idea actually grew out of my April post on academic blogging. We wanted to recognize that some academic bloggers simply won't feel comfortable posting without some form of review, and that they have good reasons for feeling that way. While we've always been happy to give feedback on the blogs (we're editors; it's our job!), we wanted to lower the threshold for asking for that feedback. We want to make it clear that asking for feedback is entirely optional! But for anyone who wants it, we want the process of getting it to be easy. (We implore you to remember that we editors are human—the response may not be immediate.)

These are subtle but, we hope, meaningful changes to the Arcade blogging process. Bloggers, how do you find that these features work for you? How straightforward are they to use? Are they helpful? Do they make you inclined to blog more, less, the same? And non-blogger readers, did this post bore you out of your skull? Or... not?

As always, Roland, Meredith, Marissa, and I welcome your comments!

UPDATE: We've also added a blogs commenting policy for your delectation. Many thanks to Meredith for writing that up.

*I apologize for that pun. It is not beneath me, but it should be.

[Image: Really excited guy. bwillis, 2007. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.]

Lecturer in English and American Literature, University of Sussex.