Four years ago I wrote A Newsvine Primer because I thought it would be helpful to new members who were wary about jumping into the deep end of the social-news pool. Consider that in March of 2006 -- when my primer was published -- Facebook was still months away from opening the floodgates to the general public. Visiting a website to comment, socialize, and share content wasn't as common as it has since become.
Newsvine was a different beast in 2006, as well. It's now owned by MSNBC. Staff have come and gone. Rules have changed and then changed again. In a lot of ways, the Facebookification of the "social" aspect has overtaken the seriousness of the "news" aspect. My initial thought was to rewrite or replace my initial primer but a quick re-read didn't reveal anything that needed to be unsaid. Most of it still applies and I like to think it remains good advice.
In 2006, I think a lot of people were coming to Newsvine without knowing how to engage other people online and without knowing what content sharing was all about. The central questions were: "How do I do this? Where do I begin?" For the most part, there were people tasked with being there to answer those questions. Primer 1 still answers those questions.
In 2010, for better and for worse, I think most people come to Newsvine with Facebook experience. We're often left to our own devices while the Newsvine team works behind the scenes. (Try to imagine what it was like when the Newsvine Blog was updated with semi-regularity.) The new questions seem to be: "Why am I involved in all this drama? Why am I in trouble?" Read on.
It was one of the first things I advised in 2006, and it's the first thing I'll advise in 2010:
I didn't say this in 2006, but I'll say it today:
Or, don't. Skip both if you like. Just realize that you agree to abide by both the User Agreement and the Code of Honor when you sign up for an account on Newsvine. The policies that are laid out there are the policies that will 1) help you if you've been wronged or 2) hurt you if you've wronged someone else -- even if you've done so without knowing it. Ignorance concerning the rules doesn't mean you're not subject to them.
If you don't want to read the entire UA, at the very least skip to and carefully read the section headlined Conduct Policy. At some point, assuming you're here for any length of time, you'll see someone arguing that "this" or "that" is an unjust decision by Newsvine's moderators and you'll be able to smile as you think about this…
ANY VIOLATION OF THIS POLICY MAY RESULT IN THE SUSPENSION OR TERMINATION OF YOUR ACCESS TO THE SITE OR USE OF OUR SERVICE AND SUCH ACTION AS WE DEEM APPROPRIATE. INDIRECT OR ATTEMPTED VIOLATIONS OF THIS POLICY, AND ACTUAL OR ATTEMPTED VIOLATIONS BY A THIRD PARTY ON YOUR BEHALF, SHALL BE CONSIDERED VIOLATIONS OF THE POLICY BY YOU.
…which applies to everything that falls under the Conduct Policy heading.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention...
What's META? Well, for one thing, this article is META. Any article that is about Newsvine is META. That includes articles which contain suggestions on how to improve Newsvine, or bugs that you've noticed on Newsvine, or people who bug you on Newsvine, or concerns you have about Newsvine, or questions you have about Newsvine, or fights you're having with other members of Newsvine. ANYTHING AT ALL ABOUT NEWSVINE -- is META.
Chances are, if you're thinking to yourself "Is this a META article?" it probably is, and you should just treat it as such.
The rule, in short, is that META content should (must) be published to the category "not news". This ensures that META content will be kept off the front page, but will be published to selected groups as well as a dedicated category which is visible to everyone on Newsvine. (This is a step up from the old META policy in which META content would only show up in selected groups.)
Prior to this change in policy, I had written:
The rule, in short, is that META content should never be published to All of Newsvine. When writing an article, at the bottom of the text input box there is a PUBLISH TO (OPTIONAL): section and the default is "everybody". If your article is META, the rule is that you have to UNCHECK All of Newsvine. You can then publish it to any appropriate group you want (by joining groups and then checking the box for that group) because group posts do not go to the front page. If you don't choose a group, it will be restricted to your column only.
If you do not do this, someone will report your article, it will eventually be banished from the front page by a moderator and repeat offenses will result in warnings, then suspensions, then an outright ban. It's just much easier if you comply with the rule. Also, at some point, the excuse that you "forgot" to uncheck All of Newsvine won't fly, nor will the excuse that you didn't know about the META policy. You don't need to know why this is the rule, because it is, it has been for some time, and the explanation won't change anything about its application.
NOW THAT I THINK ABOUT IT...
What follows are reflections on the Newsvine of 2010. I'm certainly not suggesting that anything written here is "the law" and there's nothing to say that you or anyone else has to follow this advice. I will say that I have a very serious interest in social-media and have been observing (either as a participant, or through lurking) the social dynamics on Newsvine for longer than almost anyone, save the founders. In the four years I was on Newsvine, I was never suspended or banned. I was given a press pass to attend CES in Las Vegas and my content was subsequently featured on MSNBC. I am one of fewer than 20 people to be recognized with Newsvine's Random Act of Vineness -- an award that hasn't been given out in over a year, now. I was accused, more than once, of getting away with more than I should because of close ties to the staff. Several of the people who felt that way have since been banned for serious violations of the UA and/or CoH.
In short: Keeping these rules in mind will probably make a difference for you because it did for me.
SOCIAL OR NEWS?
I left Newsvine in early 2010 to take a (still ongoing) break from…well, a lot of things. Part of that decision was a desire on my part to observe the social dynamic of Newsvine without actually participating in it. Why? Because there's a lot of bickering that comes along with participating in a social-news website, and I started to wonder how much of the in-fighting was driven by my presence. Turns out, there's going to be complaints and fights whether I'm here, whether you're here, or whether any other person stays or leaves. Fights happen and they've been happening a lot, lately.
On Newsvine, members make decisions about the sort of content they'll provide and they're encouraged to then provide an open forum for discussion surrounding that content. Some are (and always will be) better than others at fostering a healthy environment, but so long as it's people driving the content and the open forum, there's going to be a major social aspect to Newsvine. It is what it is.
With that said, consider two things:
- Newsvine's motto is "Get Smarter Here".
- Newsvine could have been sold to anyone, but was ultimately bought out by MSNBC, a mainstream news outlet.
WEIGHING THAT AGAINST YOUR PARTICIPATION
There have been fights amongst members of Newsvine's active community for as long as there has been an active community on Newsvine. Most of them are petty, and personal. People get banned or suspended. Their friends get mad and then they get banned or suspended. (Remember what I said about the Code of Honor and the UA earlier? Being mad and frustrated isn't an excuse to break the rules.)
All of that is based on the Facebookification I talked about and Newsvine in 2010 is so much bigger than Newsvine was in 2006 that the moderators (there weren't really any official moderators in 2006) simply don't have time to coddle the massive egos that fuel these fights. The fact of the matter is, a lot of problems are fueled by people who see this as a Facebook-like platform with a news twist.
Not only have the rules changed, but one of the things I've observed during my hiatus is that the moderators seem to be taking a fairly hands-off approach to these disputes, rather than placating those involved, as they have in the past. There are people who don't get along and never will. They're vocal, they're often popular, and they behave like little children. They lie and they scheme. They say that's what the other side is doing. They push as far as they can. They're on the left and they're on the right. One week they're complaining about being censored and the next week they're ridiculing someone for thinking that. They're running multiple accounts. Sometimes they're just people who don't understand that sharing a personal opinion about a heated topic on an open forum means defending that opinion. Whatever the case may be, it now seems as though those disputes will be left alone and ignored until they cross over into violations of the CoH or the UA.
At which point someone gets suspended or banned. One less child to worry about. I've even noticed that fights between "the usual crowd" seem to escalate farther than they used to before a moderator will intervene.
It wasn't like this in 2006 -- there was a point where moderators would put a lot of effort into mediating outbursts, spending days gathering evidence and weighing the he said / she said aspects of a dispute -- but there's no reason to expect that a member of the Newsvine team will coddle you through a personal dispute in 2010. Or even acknowledge the dispute. Especially if you're on the tenth iteration of said dispute.
PUT YOUR HEAD DOWN AND HELP PEOPLE GET SMARTER HERE
The staff are likely too busy with things that matter to care that your feelings have been hurt. Again. Or that you're allegedly being stalked by someone who's mad at you for being a snit.
You want their attention? Provide something unique. Provide something positive. Provide something rare by providing something newsworthy. Skip the obvious source for your seeds and provide an interesting insight from an original source. Be a unique author even if it comes at the expense of being a consistently popular author. Keep doing it even if it seems like you're not getting anywhere with it. I recently saw someone (or, a group of someones) bemoan the banning of a user who was allegedly a "major asset" to the Newsvine community, because she had posted an article that drew thousands of comments.
NEWSVINE IS OWNED BY MSNBC
Articles like that are fun. They may make people laugh. God knows they have their defenders. They're lighthearted and do no harm. None of that matters. The high number of internal page views they'll earn based on the same twenty people posting hundreds of comments each doesn't do much of anything for MSNBC and thus they probably don't mean a whole lot to the Newsvine team and it certainly doesn't make someone an asset to Newsvine. Instead, be the person who scoops a major story. Pay attention and post something that matters but that everyone else overlooked. Be first. Earn a link from a major news site or even a mention from an influential twitter account. Do that consistently. Once you're part of the team that starts to make Newsvine talked about as a game-changer in social-news, you'll be an considered a major asset.
Or, you can write polls about farts.
The people who put their heads down and do the real work? You don't often see them getting banned or suspended. (You also don't often see them, period. Sad but true. Fart polls are so much more fun to comment on, you see.)
An example: I recently discovered that my wife's Facebook account had been shut down. She didn't know why. I did some quick research and quickly realized that 1) this was happening to thousands of people and 2) it was only happening to women. Within 20 minutes, I'd written out an article and fed the information to several popular tech blogs. Boy Genius Report eventually broke the news to a wider audience, with a byline to my article. Hours later, Facebook conceded that there was a bug -- and a fix -- but only after my scoop exploded across mainstream news outlets. Most of the content produced on that day is a direct reflection of what I wrote in my article. On that day, I like to say I fixed Facebook. What'd you do?
It would have been incredibly easy to sit and wait for someone else to discover the same news, to goof off and post something silly about my wife's account and leave it at that, but jumping on opportunities is the sort of thing I tried to bring to my Newsvine account while I was here, and I'm convinced that if the Newsvine team could choose between that sort of content, and goofy articles which do not reflect the stated goals of their site, they'd go with serious every time. They may never get rid of frivolous content, but I doubt it'll ever see much respect.
Every single attempt you make to do something unique that will cast a positive light on Newsvine as a serious purveyor of user generated content is more important than the vast majority of the content that is posted to Newsvine day in and day out. Even if you fail. Otherwise, you're just another person making MSNBC wonder if they were wise to spend so much money.
Anyone can post a poll and watch the comments roll in. You can do that as well. Go ahead. You'll be pretty popular amongst a certain (revolving) crowd. If you want recognition, though, if you want respect, if you want to be taken seriously by the staff -- strive for more.
If not, don't wonder why they don't seem to care that you're pestering them.
THAT'S NOT TO SAY THAT "FUN" IS FROWNED UPON
Have fun. Be silly. Don't take yourself too seriously. Throw in something lighthearted from time to time. Just realize that if those are the only things you bring to Newsvine, and especially if you couple that lack of seriousness with a lot of needless drama, you're probably at some point going to think the staff is out to get you. Probably after you've been suspended for something. Or banned.
On the flip-side, almost every single instance of a person reportedly receiving "favorable" treatment -- take a look at that person's history. What have they provided that others haven't? Most people who are in that position won't self-reflect in an honest way, but there's almost always a reason. Why are some people being invited to participate in events, while others are not? Why do some people have better luck when communicating with the staff?
WRITE ABOUT THINGS YOU LIKE
I'm an Apple fan. Others would say I'm an Apple fanboy. I could seed hundreds of articles a day about why Android phones are inferior to the iPhone, because doing so would make me feel superior and because I know it would draw a crowd. Instead, I write about Apple because 1) I know more about Apple than most people and certainly more than I know about other products and 2) it's easier and more fun to write about things I'm interested in than things that I don't like. It's also easier to defend things I care about when someone inevitably doesn't share my appreciation than it is to defend my reasons for not liking something. At the same time, try to have a unique perspective about the things you're into. Bring something to the table that no one else will think to bring.
FINE. WRITE ABOUT THINGS YOU DON'T LIKE, BUT EXPECT SOME HEAT IF YOU DO
Newsvine is an open forum. The whole point is to provide a forum for discussion. If you're constantly writing about something you hate, or disagree with, or are fundamentally opposed to, someone else is going to love that thing or believe in it with strongly held convictions. And they're going to take your bait. Don't be that person who doesn't think he should have to defend a strongly held or stated negative opinion. Argue fairly. Argue strongly. Expect to be backed up against the wall. Expect to have you motivations questioned if you're a tireless advocate against something. Expect to defend your sources. Expect your sources to be attacked. That's the way it works. Here there be dragons. Step up to the plate or go home.
EITHER WAY, WRITE ABOUT THINGS THAT YOU CARE ABOUT
If you're in it for the money, don't waste our time. Or yours. If you're in it to provoke or bully people because you think that's fun, go away. If you're not passionate about the things you write about, why are you here?
IT'S YOUR PARTY. DON'T BE AN ABSENTEE HOST
Don't abandon your own content. Don't let other people run the comment threads on your articles. Don't seed provocative content and then leave it to trolls and the bickering masses. People do that all the time. Some of those people even make good money by focusing on quantity and controversy. Those people suck. Don't be those people. There's not enough money to be made here to make it worth your while and chances are you'll eventually get banned or suspended for prioritizing profit over a sincere interest in helping people get smarter because people like that always do. And then they complain about it. And their complaints fall on deaf ears because of the absolute pointlessness that was their presence on Newsvine. And a week later they are forgotten.