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State Of The Squid Nation
I'm starting this lens at a turbulent time in Squidoo terms. Things are happening to lenses and lensmasters that are causing alarm, consternation, amusement and even glee. I don't think any of us would deny that there are problems in various areas: I'm going to try to explore some of these issues.
Equally, I would urge all to remember that there is much that is good and right about Squidoo. We have a wonderful, rich platform and we have tools that easily enable us to get our message out, whether that message be a sales pitch or a sad song. We also have a wonderful, rich community of people - and I include in that community lensmakers and HQ staff. Some of what I want to say will be construed as criticism - it's supposed to be, but I hope and intend to make it constructive criticism. At least, I hope it prompts some informed debate.
Most of what I say below isn't new or original (whoops) but I hope that putting the various issues together on one page will lead to some more coherent debate. Also, the nature of what I'm attempting means that this could read as a stream of negativity: it is not intended to be. If Squidoo weren't a great site, I wouldn't be here and I certainly wouldn't be spending time writing a lens like this.
I'll include some opportunities for comment at various points. I will be moderating those comments so keep it clean...
Stop Press: While I'm typing this, HQ are introducing various good ideas! Well done, them.
Intro image: credit to the enormously talented tagsforkids
Squidoo has gone ...
How upset are you at the end of Squidoo?
Squidoo: The Company
I've worked for two small companies that have both grown rapidly and I'm basing my opinion of Squidoo on my experience of how those companies changed. That does imply that I don't have much first hand knowledge of HQ - so be it - we do what we can.
The skills, needs and abilities to start and grow a company are quite particular. There's vision, courage, technical knowledge, chutzpah, ability to persuade, ability to overcome setbacks. Seeing your baby grow, being a part of something new and good, these are fine feelings and I'm glad I've experienced them.
Then the company gets bigger. Indeed, there comes a point where you realise that you are a Company, a Business. Innovations become less as legacy systems prevail. You have to talk with accountants and buy more office space. You're talking about anti-static carpet for the new staffroom, rather than being bright and blowing the socks off those who said you couldn't do it. New faces appear, and they're not the bright-eyed merry pranksters who conceived and gave birth to an idea, they're suits and lawyers and HR departments.
Image credit: tagsforkids
Squidoo: The Lensmasters
The lensmasters. Thousands of the buggers. By definition, most of us clever, opinionated, not afraid to try new things. There's a huge range of skills and experience amongst us, there's a willingness to think outside the blackbox, there's an unwillingness to do what we're told. We call it "pushing the boundaries" and we don't like it when someone tells us "no" or slaps our legs.
Then there's the undesirables. There's money to be made, so there are crooks and chancers sniffing around.
There's the needy and the desperate, those who need to compete to survive. There's the naïve and the less-skilled.
All have to be dealt with: the good need to be kept, the less good need to be encouraged and trained up, the bad need to have their dangly bits put in a vise ...
The Giant Programme
The Giant Programme: the reasonable view that people with a strong body of very good work should have some tangible reward and recognition.
I see several issues with the Giant programme:
The introduction of the 25 Lens Giant Why? I don't believe that many people with 25 lenses and pocket change are likely to have the skills to make very good lenses (I included myself in that when I only had about 30 lenses). Yes, there are exceptions but not many and most such people go on to make a lot more lenses anyway. (Though some Giants with many lenses churn out the most appalling garbage.)
Allied to the G25 notion, the standard of lenses required has dropped, Twenty-five okay lenses will get you the trophy now. Too often this means that people are given a false sense of their lensmaking prowess and plateau out. They may well go on to churn out more of the same but they're being confirmed in averageness rather than being encouraged to excel.
The Giants themselves Too often, I can tell how long someone has been on Squidoo by their attitudes to other people - patronising at best. Such Giants spoil things for the many fantastic people - the warm, clever, helpful people.
Some of the Giants are less than honest. Okay, some of the things that are now taboo were once acceptable but a few people are so used to doing what they like that they're almost sociopathic in their disregard for the rules. (Anything I say here is, of course, wasted on them, but reaching them isn't my intent.)
That said, there are many great people as Giants, including at G25. That really does need to be borne in mind.
Your Thoughts On The Giant Programme
What should happen to the Giants system?
The Angel Programme
Late news: the Angel programme has just been terminated (21/05/13). Hmm. I'll leave this module otherwise unchanged - I believe it's pertinent in more than one way.
Angels and Devils, the following day. "What?" you say.
Angel status was once a highly prized thing. The ability to Bless a lens and so encourage and reward a peer was a great thing. Angels had neighbourhoods - categories where they patrolled and helped lensmakers. They could quietly and privately encourage - perhaps make a few suggestions to someone, see those suggestions considered and used, They could also ding lenses - give a slight knock to a bad lens's rank.
Now, dings have gone and so have neighbourhoods. The strong guidelines for Blessing have been weakened. Indeed, there are Angels who don't know that there used to be guidelines and standards.
Part of the problem is the fact that the coveted wings are now dished out like plastic toys in a cereal box. You don't have to even apply now - it's just another trophy that pops up. Along with G25 status, you get Angel wings. Thus, there are Angels who don't know what Angels are!
There's something worse: read on.
Stop Press: Angels abolished.
Your Thoughts On The Angel Programme
What should happen to Angels?
Lensrank And Payouts
The higher the rank, the bigger the payout. Fine, I agree. But (there has to be a "but"), there are issues here as well:
Note: people making good income through sales won't be as concerned about lensrank.
Number of lenses getting lensrank payout: Although the number of lenses on Squidoo has increased hugely, the number getting payouts hasn't.
Factors determining lensrank: I have to guess at some of the factors and I don't know the algorithm. What I can say with certainty is that there are lenses in Tier 1 getting little traffic and being unlikely to sell much. It is unclear what such lenses bring to the party that makes them worth a T1 payment every month.
Tier payment levels/breadth: 2,000 lenses get T1 payouts. 6,500 get T2. A bunch more get buttons from T3. Hundreds of thousands get nothing.
Let's consider what we could change. How about four tiers? Extend them beyond the 85,000 rank, How about lessening the top payment and broadening the lower levels? The pot is big enough to allow a lot more flexibility.
Would that cause T1 lens owners to leave? I don't believe so. Many big sellers aren't even in T1 and the content on several T1 lenses wouldn't get anywhere near that income on other platforms.
Let's reconsider the factors and the algorithm. Is traffic significant enough? Are social media aspects now hugely overvalued? Are sales undervalued? Could we perhaps reward sales through Squidoo's affiliations higher?
Your Thoughts On The Tier System
To change or not to change. Not the way rank is calculated, just the tier system and payouts.
Should the tier system change significantly?
No, or at least only tinkering
The things that I believe affect lensrank include traffic, clickouts, sales via HQ's modules, Likes, Blessings, time on page, social media approval.
Some things have a limited effect, some are compounded; hence the huge boost when a lens is launched and gets a lot of internal praise (and hence the hangover when it subsequently tanks). Some aspects have little effect - I believe sales come into this category.
Then there's the idea that updating confers a rank boost. Some take this to the extreme and update hundreds of lenses a day - and these have to be scripted. They're certainly not meaningful.
Some factors are clearly good - nobody could argue that traffic is not a good thing, especially anyone who negotiates with advertisers. However, there are low traffic/low sales lenses in T1 and there are high traffic/high sales lenses below T1. That surely is not what the site needs.
How does this happen? Possibly a flawed rank calculation algorithm. Possibly a lack of understanding of what HQ deems a worthwhile lens (nah). Possibly a lack of change in the algorithm to respond to changed needs of site and lensmakers.
Your Thoughts On Lensrank Factors
What should we do about lensrank?
It pains me to have to write this but there is a hell of a lot of cheating going on. I'm also worried that anything I say might trigger a light in a crook's brain - just have to risk it. I'm also limiting what I say lest some crooks realise why they're detected so easily.
Reciprocal Likes and its big brother, reciprocal Blessings. You Like mine, I'll Like yours. This can be formal or informal. And as I type, HQ announces New Liking Policy. I don't think I can claim any credit :) Edit and now we have a new Blessing policy - excellent news.
Liking Vultures A few older lensmasters seem to prey on newcomers, take them under their wing and ensure a stream of new blood to deliver Likes and grateful comments. Tacky in the extreme. These vultures tend to be Angels and throw Blessings around.
Social Media Mavens Similar to the previous, Facebook Likes, Pins etc. They'll boost any old crap as long as it results in reciprocal boosts to them. There''s a variation on this: chains of people pinning and repinning each other's lenses.
Fools I wanted to type a stronger word - the people who Like or even Bless garbage or lenses with stolen material. No thought that encouraging weakening of the gene pool means sick babies in the future.
Idea Thieves Find a good topic, research keywords, publish lens - five minutes later there's a lens with URL /widgets2 and it's déja vu.
Image thieves and the hotlinkers. Squidoo is rife with stolen images. Even worse, there are plenty of people who know it and bung on dummy attributions. Very tacky. More importantly, one day Disney or Getty's lawyers are going to come crawling around, writs in hand.
Auto Updaters The people who manage to update hundreds (literally) of lenses in a few minutes. Every day of the year. Getting a lensrank boost for buying a crappy little script from a certain dodgy forum.
There are other ways to cheat but I don't want to go into any more: the above are the main Squidoo-specific issues. And it does seem that several people are immune from sanction - that dull, thudding noise you hear is heads contacting a brick wall. I can think of personal reasons why this is so but not business or moral reasons.
The above does not mean that normal social intercourse and networking are bad or should be penalised. The people who should be worried are those who have been Liking 100 lenses a day, every day, for months and years.. Those who do that and more are the ones who are spoiling Squidoo for everyone.
Stop Press March 6th 2013: After a nasty glitch, lenses have been reranked. It seems some major cheaters have actually benefited. Very poor.
General Quality Of Content
A topic that's very much in the news, as HQ has just swooped on several major players. Thin content (streams of product links with no real attempt to add value with considered commentary). Spun lenses, fake reviews, plagiarised text.
Now, there are new filters being introduced and the squeals of the damned should have been heard by all. More power to HQ's elbow on this.
The one thing I don't agree with: the immediate ban on transferring lenses. I can see the reasoning in that the worst of the crooks are doing this, often to evade detection and punishment, but I'd have liked to see a system for licensing content/lens sellers in place immediately.
That said, the more lenses I see locked, the better,
One other aspect: you. How many times have you liked and commented on a friend's lens when you know that it's not very good? How many times have you visited and approved just because someone has visited you? When does supporting a friend become wrong?
Product Review Lenses
A term I coined a while ago - far better than "sales lenses" as pretty much every lens is selling something. Pronounce it "pearls" and it sounds good.
These form a huge part of Squidoo's inventory and people who produce good PRLs should be as proud of them as someone who writes a personal memoir or whatever. There's room on Squidoo for all types of lens: it's quality that matters.
To repeat, HQ are acting on the bad product lenses, at least the thin content ones. It's a good start.
Why am I so concerned? Well, apart from the likelihood that Google has threatened to put the boot in (Google Shops), Squidoo is getting a reputation in many quarters for crap content. When someone has nearly 200 lenses, all promising unique shower curtains and pretending to have handpicked items, no wonder we get sneered at. That person has been kicked out - good.
A difficult one: I believe HQ made a great error in closing SquidU and putting in an inferior platform with inadequate moderation. There's been a move to unofficial forums and the exodus to Facebook has accelerated.
Your Thoughts On Forums
What should be done about forums?
A bugbear: changes that are badly timed and inadequately tested. Changes made without warning.
Some while ago, HQ used experienced lensmasters as beta testers. That was dropped for some reason. Now we have a small HQ team making significant changes to a complex system. I've been there and done that as a software engineer and I know the value of dedicated testers. It's painful to test your own stuff - it's boring and you're knackered anyway after a pressured development.
Lensmasters as testers bring a different mindset: we know what we want to do and we know how we want to do it - quickly, simply, without extra steps being added to the process. And we'll spot the little mistakes as well.
As to timing and notice of changes - that really is an area where I think HQ could improve significantly, and it's a low cost gain.
Stop Press March 12th 2013 new Discovery Bar introduced to universal howls of anguish, mine among them. Exactly the sort of development that shows why we, the content providers. should be involved to some degree.
Update: After many changes and a huge amount of uncertainty and, yes, fear, have the changes stopped? No, they're still coming thick and fast. What is acceptable one day may be rejected the next, often for no discernible reason.
There have been issues with several lenses prominently endorsed by HQ. We've seen lenses featured on the homepage, even LOTDs, with major issues. Such endorsements are a kick in the teeth for many of us - if I spend hours sourcing images and contacting owners for permission to use, seeing a LOTD with a stolen intro image is very annoying.
I believe this, as with other issues, is down to a need for more staff and a revised management structure. I think there are some enormously talented people at HQ who are doing things they don't really want to be doing or that are a waste of their talents - bring in some grunts, give them a line manager with a defined remit.
One Month On
So, we've had a month of flagging and a bunch of cheats kicked out. I don't think that all the cheats have gone, by a long chalk, and neither do they, judging by some of the crowing seen on various platforms. HQ's trying to encourage new lenses through scattering Purple Stars with bonus lensrank boost - which to my mind debases the system and slaps previous winners in the face. We're also seeing enough quests to daunt a drunken Gimli.
I see lots of discussion on how to get past the filters. Some are obviously managing it, judging by the persisting lenses that embarrass the site and frustrate all good lensmasters. Some acknowledge that they grew lax and careless and are improving lenses in ways that will contribute hugely to Squidoo. Some appear not to have noticed - mediocre but adequate continues to be churned out daily. And my pet hate: stolen images with naff or fake attributions continue to be used widely,
Gloomy? Pessimistic? Harsh? Well, I'm summarising what I see and read, I'm adding a patina of what I feel. Too soon to say? Filters not yet tuned enough?
Your Rating Of The Site Today - From one (hopeless, pass the whisky) to ten (brilliant, pass the cupcakes).
Rate the site after a month of change
Have I missed any major issues?
By the way, please don't just tell me I'm being negative - the point of this lens is to identify issues and look for solutions to make a great platform better. And I wouldn't have spent all this time on this lens if I didn't think it could be of positive benefit.