Writing circles preview

Web community spins Protagonize's yarns [Rod Filbrandt illustration]As you can probably tell from the amount of changes to the site in recent days, I’ve been pretty busy making updates and generally working on enhancements to the site over the last week or so. One thing that I promised was coming in early July is our new groups/micro-community feature, tentatively entitled “writing circles”, and I wanted to post a quick update about how that’s coming along.

New features this week

First off, you may have noticed that writing circles is not live yet. This is mainly because I’ve added and revamped a few other things around the site since last week, such as:

  • Overhauling the commenting system (new comment types, better comment paging and loading; some of this is still in progress)
  • Author guidance
  • Revamped site footer (oooh, shiny!… and more useful)
  • A smattering of bug fixes and performance enhancements

Protagonize in the press

Now, you may have not have seen this if you’re not a Vancouverite, but the Georgia Straight, a weekly Vancouver newspaper, published a great article about Protagonize today:

Web community spins Protagonize’s yarns

The article was dead on the money, though it did cover the groups feature, something that I had discussed with the author a month or so ago when we last spoke, and I was planning to have live on the site by today. I apologize for the delay, but I think the enhancements to the site in the last little bit are a good enough reason to justify the few days delay. I anticipate the groups feature will be ready at some point next week; it’s going well, but it’s just taking a little longer than I had estimated it would (isn’t that always the case with estimates…)

We also had some sidebar coverage yesterday in another local daily paper, 24hrs, which you can check out (transcribed) here:

24hrs Blogosphere Buzz: 07.02.08

The official writing circles preview

Anyhow, I thought I’d tide you all over with a teaser, and give you a good overview of some of the features writing circles will offer.

First off, the obvious question many of you have posed is “what exactly are writing circles? The quick summary would be:

Writing circles are fundamentally micro-communities, a concept similar how “groups” features function on other community sites and social networks that you may be familiar with, but where group moderators have a bit more control. The group moderator has full control over the type of writing that goes on inside their group and can invite Protagonize members, or other users by email address, host writing competitions, moderate discussions, run contests (and eventually polls) within their circles. Sponsored (commercial) groups will also be featured around the site, similar to our featured author or Editor’s Pick on the main Stories and Authors pages, and will have a few extra features. Sponsored groups will not be available immediately but will follow shortly after the main writing circles release.

Here are a few salient points that should help explain how it all works. I’ll just refer to writing circles as “groups” in shorthand fashion here. :)

  • Anyone can create and moderate a group
  • Groups can have multiple moderators
  • Moderators can edit all posts (optionally — this will be a switch when creating a new group) within their groups; this should really help groups that are made up of a couple of authors who are all moderators and want to collaborate on larger projects together
  • Moderators can remove stories from the group at their own discretion (note: this doesn’t delete the story, it only removes it from the group)
  • Groups can be public or private (at the discretion of the moderator)
  • Groups can be open (allowing people to join themselves), open with authorization (people can apply to join, and the moderator can accept or decline their application), or closed (only people invited by the moderator can join)
  • Groups are entirely free to create for individuals, community groups, or non-profit organizations, but not if you’re creating a group for a for-profit entity (i.e. a business of one form or another)
  • Sponsored groups can be created for businesses or individuals who want to sponsor specific types of activities, and will offer some branding opportunities
  • Sponsored groups will have a few options that regular groups don’t have, but that won’t limit the functionality of regular groups
  • Groups can have restrictions on content — some examples of this would be: whether or not they allow mature content; whether they allow members to invite other users or not; whether or not the profanity filter is enforced by default or not; if they have a maximum number of posts per user over a certain time span (e.g. only 1 post a day, etc.); or if they allow non-group members to write follow-up segments of stories that are in the group (this may take some tweaking to get right)
  • Groups can contain discussions (yes, full discussion threads!)
  • Users will be able to join multiple groups (though there may be a Facebook-style maximum number of groups you can belong to, to keep things within reason)
  • As it stands, a story can only belong to one group at a time (due to issues with trying to enforce rules between different groups, since a story can have multiple co-authors); however, you can always remove a story from one group and add it to another, assuming it falls within the ruleset for that group
  • Group members will be able to subscribe to RSS feeds and notifications of new content in their groups
  • Members may or may not (depending on the group’s settings) be able to invite friends to groups they belong to
  • Each group will have its own homepage, complete with hot stories, top rated stories, popular authors, and many of the other statistics you see on our high-level stories and authors pages
  • There will be some “system” groups that everyone can belong to, i.e. a central Protagonize group where users can provide feedback and suggestions, or just chat amongst themselves

Whew! And that’s not all of it. Still, I hope that gives you all a clearer understanding of how writing circles will work. My quick disclaimer: not all of this functionality may be implemented at the initial launch (for instance, the sponsorship option will probably come a bit later), but this is what I intend to have up and running in the next little bit. I also have a good list of other features I’d love to add to groups down the road, but some of those may be a while coming. :)

I’d love to hear feedback from our authors, too. If you have suggestions for things you’d like to see, or problems you foresee with the features I’ve described above, please comment here or on the help center and let me know!

[Rod Filbrandt illustration]
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9 Responses to Writing circles preview

  1. Tricia says:

    Wow – that all sounds so exciting, Nick. It looks as if it will be well worth waiting for.

  2. jait says:

    Wow. That seems like a hell of a workload to bring to fruition. I can see how developing this whole other-side to Protagonize could bring all sorts of benefits throughout the site.

    I’m really happy with the new additions in recent weeks, but I can’t help wonder how the addition of groups will change the flow on-site.

    I can see a lot more potential for encouraging off-site collaboration (“hey, let’s try to write a book together!”) by creating genre and “feel”-based groups. Also, the group approach will really step up the possibility of workshops, where writers can submit a chapter and ask for more in-depth criticism than would normally be offered.

    You’re a busy man, aren’t you?

  3. nick says:

    I’m looking forward to it as much as you all are. The only hold-up so far is my limited time to finish it. I’m doing my best but it’s a big undertaking. :)

    As I mentioned over on James’s profile yesterday, I’m really hoping this does change the usage flow on-site. I fully expect circles to crop up where small multi-author collaborations on larger stories or projects can happen. I’ll be adding other, related new features to help this happen, like dead-ends, methods to export your work to standard file formats, and ways to mark-up or edit someone else’s posts. I think this will really help people in terms of collaborating between a couple of authors on a novel, for instance.

    Moderators will be able to edit posts within their groups, too, which should make for some interesting changes to how the system works.

    The other aspect to writing circles is to try and break up some of the clique-y stuff going on currently. I think it may be scaring off new users a bit, aside from the bold and brazen. We’ll still have some system groups (i.e. official Protagonize groups) where the core members who are on here all the time can keep chatting together, but I really want to encourage growth and limit the watered-down effect I’m seeing right now on the site as we grow without much structure.

    Again, any thoughts or suggestions are welcome. And yes, I’m painfully busy. :/

  4. Rac7hel says:

    Will we be able to take an existing story and add it to a group? And, if so, will it still exist outside the group as well, where everyone can write on it?

  5. nick says:

    A story will be able to belong to one group at a time. And yes, you can add an existing story to a group.

    Regarding your second point: if the story is not part of a group, it can be added to by anyone, just like now.

    If it’s part of a group, it has to respect the rules of that group:

    – If the group is open to anyone and public, then yes, anyone can see it and add to it.

    – If it’s a private group, the story won’t be visible to the public anymore and only group members can add to it.

    – If it’s an public but invite-only group, it’ll be visible to the public, so anyone can read it, but only group members can add it to it.

    – A story can be removed from a group at any time, but it needs to conform to the group’s rules if you try to add it back again. The site will let you know whether you can add the story to the group or not.

    I realize it’s a bit complex from my description, but that’s the only way to do this so that it’ll work properly. If I loosened up the way it works, I’d have to remove most of the possible rules moderators can add to their groups, and in that case everyone loses. This way, if the group wants public, open-to-all stories, they can configure themselves that way, and the stories within then will still be open to everyone as they are now.

    As an aside, you won’t be able to change group rules unless the group is empty of stories. Just to reassure people that the rules won’t change after the fact.

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