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A Fascinating New Measure of Story Appeal 9 January 2011

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Uncategorized.
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There are a variety of ways we can gauge how much any given story appeals to Every Day Fiction readership.

First of all, anyone who reads EDF knows about the star rating system. Underneath the story there are five clickable little stars; it’s the old scale-of-one-to-five, and while it isn’t a perfect system, it does overall give a general idea of how each story is received by our readers, especially when taken in the context of how many votes the story has received. For example, our all-time highest-rated story, “Snowman” by Shaun Simon, is currently at 4.5 stars with a total of 553 votes to date, and a newcomer to the top stories list, “Seventeen” by Virgie Townsend, is already at 4.3 stars and 78 votes less than a week after publication. By contrast, an average story is rated in the mid-3s with a vote count in the 40s.

Since we also allow reader comments on our stories, those are another measure of how a story is received by our readership. In some ways it gives a more accurate picture of a story’s appeal (or lack thereof) since the opinions and discussion tell us more than a simple star rating can, but at the same time, less people take the time to comment, and sometimes the comments and star ratings can present two different pictures — a mid-3s rating with lavish praise and “best story in a long time” type comments, or  a higher rating but comments full of nitpicks and debate. For us as editors, and for readers who follow the story comments regularly, there’s also a difference between from familiar commenters (our regular commenters who offer their opinions about many or most stories, and whose  preferences and pet peeves have become apparent over time) and unfamiliar commenters (who could be random newcomers to the site, friends of the author, or longtime readers who generally read without commenting). There are some downsides to allowing comments on the stories, but that’s a subject for another day, and in any case, many of our authors cite the reader feedback as one of the best things about EDF.

In addition to the star rating and comments, we can also track the number of reads a story gets. This is what you might call an invisible measure of the story’s appeal, tracked behind the scenes. It also isn’t an obvious measure of a story’s appeal or lack thereof, since the fact that someone navigates to the story’s page and stays there for more than a few seconds doesn’t necessarily mean the reader liked the story, but when a story’s reads spike up, that tells us that the story is spreading — and some of them really spread: “Darren Is Updating His Facebook Status” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley has been read over 24k times, “The Only Difference Between Men and Boys” by Nicholas Ozment has been read over 57k times, and “Photographic Memory” by Nadia Jacobson has been read over 84K times. Readers blog, stumble and tweet about stories that catch their interest, so when a story starts to reach wide numbers of people, that’s a pretty strong measure of its appeal.

These three things are, to me anyway, old news. We’ve been following the comments and noting the number of reads for our stories since the beginning, and the star rating system was introduced shortly thereafter, early in our first year of publication. So it was particularly interesting for me to see a new measure of story appeal emerge.

Hello, Facebook. Yes, you can now “like” EDF’s stories on Facebook. At the bottom of each story, just below the star rating, there’s that little pale-blue thumbs-up “Like” button with the tiny darker blue Facebook “f” beside it — when the story is first published it exhorts you to “Be the first of your friends to like this” — and as time goes on it gives the number of “likes”.

I didn’t pay too much attention to it at first. “5 people like this.” “3 people like this.” “7 people like this.” Big deal, right? Occasionally a story gets no love and only has that lonely “Be the first of your friends…” message hanging on next to the button. And then I started noticing some slightly higher numbers. 16 people here. 42 people there. But it really hit home to me that this has value as a measure of the story’s appeal when I saw that “Seventeen” by Virgie Townsend had an unprecedented 75 “likes”. Yes, 75 people had told all of their Facebook friends and family and co-workers and ex-classmates and vague acquaintances and random strangers who friended them to play Farmville or Sorority Life that they liked this one little gem of a story.

And that is why it’s significant.

Because star voting is totally anonymous, and even leaving a comment on a story can be done with a pseudonym and in any case is only seen by readers who’ve already arrived at Every Day Fiction — it doesn’t infringe on any other part of the commenter’s world, and commenters can, if they wish, craft an online persona for the EDF community that is quite separate from anything else they do.

Social media, on the other hand, is your real life — when you click that “Like” button, you are telling your people, mostly (hopefully) actual friends whose good opinions you (presumably) cherish, that you’ve found a story worth reading. It’s not anonymous, it’s not about creating a persona, it’s not restricted only to people who are already up to their elbows in reading and writing.

So I’m watching those Facebook “Like” numbers. It’s fascinating to see which stories people are actually willing to tell their friends about.

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Comments»

1. Walt Giersbach - 9 January 2011

Sounds like you have the system screwed on right. Admirable. I wish more zines allowed comments, which makes the greatest use of electronic publishing.

2. Virgie Townsend - 9 January 2011

I, too, was surprised when the Facebook “liking” numbers began to climb on “Seventeen.” At first, I thought it was just a dozen or so of my friends and family. But as of this morning when I signed onto Facebook, only 15 of those who “liked” it were people with whom I’m Facebook friends, leaving 60 whom I don’t know. That doesn’t include the people I know who posted/”shared” the story on their own Facebook profiles, but who didn’t use the actual “like” button.

It might be interesting to try posting the new stories every day on Facebook through the EDF fan page, as many other fan pages do on Facebook. It would make it easier for readers to post stories to their own pages by clicking “share” on their newsfeeds.

Ultimately, I’m just grateful that readers mostly seem to have enjoyed “Seventeen.” I was quite nervous about how it would fare in the star system and the comments section. Publishing in EDF was a wonderful experience.

3. J.C. Towler, Jr. - 13 January 2011

One of the first things that attracted me to the idea of submitting to Every Day Fiction was the opportunity to get feedback from total strangers on my stories. The readers commenting have no stake in stoking your ego; some are even a “challenge” to please. So to hear the unvarnished good, bad, and indifferent was helpful.

I’m glad EDF offers multiple ways for readers to express their interest and appreciation for stories. It’s probably one of those little things that keeps them coming back for more.


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