Youth shall be served

A recent comment on my Protagonize profile got me to thinking about our current membership.

Nick,
I have tried so hard, over and over again, to get re-engaged with this once fine site – but alas, most of us more mature writers have gone on to other places. It has become a chat room for middle schoolers.

Sad to see your hard work end up this way.

While I’m sorry to hear that some authors are no longer finding the site to their liking, I don’t see our current membership in quite the same negative light. As anyone who’s run a large, thriving community site knows, it’s an unavoidable fact that reputable, long-time members will come and go as your site evolves. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of growth, and one that I’m quite familiar with.

As a community manager, having poured your heart and soul into a project, it’s easy to become disheartened or frustrated when presented with comments like these. It’s easy to get rattled. It takes a lot more effort to keep the confidence you had when you launched your product and stick to your guns. But anything worth hanging onto is going to come at a cost.

With enough experience, however, you’ll understand that it’s all a part of the way things work. Without an influx of new members and a little displacement of existing members, a community’s population can easily stagnate. And a stagnant community is a dead community, which is why I try not to let this kind of sentiment get me down. It’s a by-product that anyone who runs a community will have to come to terms with eventually.

There’s another thing to keep in mind here: what was once a shiny new toy does lose its sheen after a while, no matter who you are. I’ve participated in many a community, whether it be in the social media arena or in the hobbyist or gaming worlds, where I’ve lost interest after being heavily involved for a lengthy duration of time. In any kind of closed system, particularly on free sites where no financial involvement is required, burn-out is not uncommon. Social network fatigue has been edging towards the forefront for at least the last couple of years.

To address the commenter’s point more directly, I’m quite aware that there’s been a definite trend towards a younger population here in the last year or so; I’ve given it plenty of thought. By younger, I’m referring to budding writers in the range of 13-to-18 years old. From my perspective, and from my experience at various technology and literary events throughout 2009, it’s a very telling statistic. It goes to show that there is an underserved market that needs to be addressed.

Although there might be a bit of clutter in our stories section right now, I’ll be introducing a number of ways to segregate and aggregate content into various areas so there’s a little less overlap between genres (especially roleplays.) The addition of dynamic content recommendations (particularly the subscription version) will also help to filter and personalize content to a level that individual authors are more comfortable with. And while it’s perfectly understandable that some of our existing membership may become a little disenchanted with this youthful trend, I think there’s a lot to be said for those who do stick around and help our younger members mature and grow into their writing ability.

As we all know, kids do grow up eventually (and I can say for one that I was once like them, not so long ago). I see offering them a creative outlet and being a positive influence in their writing as a valuable endeavour. And I’m going to keep doing it.

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33 Responses to Youth shall be served

  1. RomancingtheTurkey says:

    Great thoughts as always, Nick :)

    There may be scenery currently that slightly resembles MySpace – but the main purpose of these “kids” being here is to WRITE – is that not rewarding enough to know? There may be younger, less matured literary skills (think about it – with less than a decade of writing practice, how CAN there be the expectation to be award-winning work? Practice, practice and experience – and experience takes time, which takes, well, some time).

    To disgruntled elders, keep that in mind.

    And once again: quality is important, true – quality is the good stuff. But the purpose is what generates that eventually-fantastic piece of work, which is one thing all Protagonize members have in common, and what a normal middle school chat room doesn’t have – we are here as writers.

    I’m sure Nick will be able to work out the nitty-gritty bits when it comes to organizing different levels of work. But for now, it’s the thought that counts ;)

  2. Asheyna says:

    I can sympathize with the writer who left the comment completely. For a long time I was a very active member, and while I’m still around, it’s certainly less so.

    Thinking back I can most definitely trace the distancing from the site from having a collaborative story derailed by younger authors who did not respect their fellow writers.

    I’d love to be more involved, but I do find the site has a very different flavor than it did when I joined. The forums are cool, but I miss the days when the only way to communicate on the stories and profiles. When people wrote good stories instead of contests and challenges every time you turn around, ahhh rant over.

    I’m going to stick around, finish my stories, start some new ones. I don’t know how to bring some of the old feel back to the site, but I love the place, even if I long for the good ol’ days :D

  3. Hannah says:

    It’s kind of sad to hear that the more mature writers in the community don’t like that there’re so many teens here, but to be honest is it not better that we’re here rather than setting fire to things and taking drugs and all the other things that people in my age group are apparently always doing?

    Yet here we are, trying to make something of ourselves, and there are complaints about it?

    To all the more mature writers and those with more experience, I certainly don’t want you to feel you have to leave; we’re all here to improve, and people like me, still developing skills and the like, need people like you for the feedback.

    Anyways, point is: don’t go. :D we love you all too much.

  4. D.F.M says:

    I am torn in the middle, I love writing on here but sometimes I get frustrated and do miss the old days. It is true that this experience is good for kids, but I sympathize with the person that left the comment.

  5. Lion says:

    I happen to be only 13, but I see and interact with a lot of writers from several different age groups. In fact, one of my collabs (which happens to be the #1 Hot story on Protagonize right now) has a frequently adding author who’s about 11, and another who’s in their forties. When I joined Protagonize I never imagined that I could get so many ratings, so much attention, and befriend so many different types of people from all over that share my passion for the printed word. I absolutely love Protagonize and can’t ever picture myself leaving.

  6. G-Squared says:

    While I’m at the upper end of the offending age demographic, I can sympathize a bit with the commenter. It’s unfortunate that there’s been more of a buildup of “noise”, but as RtT pointed out most of us “lil’uns” are just starting out. We need practice, and that means producing clean, well-polished bits, and beating out rough pieces as well. I understand the frustration the more mature folks might have, but we need their guidance and criticism if we have any hope of truly improving.

    We do grow up and mature eventually, but we need some help getting there, and we look to the writing vets for that help. Our hope, or at least my hope, is that they’ll be patient enough to assist those who want it.

  7. aryst0krat says:

    Oh, I sympathize, sure. I haven’t been actually active one the site in a loooong time, for a variety of reasons including this one. However, I think the reaction was a little extreme.

    Even sticking around until the groups feature went fully live could have helped solve some of the ‘problems’ mentioned.

  8. Phoenix.Wolf says:

    I personally being of the age 14 do fall into the younger age group. I understand what this maturer writer is on about. However I have, since being on this website, improved significantly due to many writers, older and younger. I believe that by being in a community such as this one we must help each other and feed of each other’s ideas and energies.

    All I can really say is that I wish we could all just get along and if you do feel like this writer has just stick it out for a while, I’m sure that things will iron out eventually.

  9. trevor says:

    I’m disappointed, personally, that you’d choose to specifically call out the commenter. It was a valid comment, it certainly wasn’t left in a negative or discourteous tone, and while it may have left some frustration on your part, jeez, as one of this site’s most prolific, talented writers, the commenter inspired many others in the process.

    I’m not entirely sure what to make of the trend towards chat and role playing rather than a focus on writing stories, but I can definitely see why the commenter was discouraged.

    And knowing this writer a little beyond a superficial, pseudonym, I’ve always had the feeling that he, like many here, was interested in encouraging the community to look beyond what it was in a very positive light.

    I’m not entirely clear what the vision is for Protagonize, but I do know, putting someone’s heartfelt comment in the middle of the town square in stocks is to me, a subtle reminder, as an older member, to shut the hell up.

  10. Rac7hel says:

    For what it’s worth, I’d prefer young immature writers with positive attitudes than negative-minded mature writers any day. The site is constantly improving, nothing has “ended up” any way. If you’re overrun by youngsters, talk to Nick about how to improve it, don’t just say depressing things like that. What good does that do anyone?

  11. Nick says:

    @Trevor I see your point, but I respectfully disagree.

    I’m not trying to tell anyone to keep quiet here (and I’d be the first to tell myself to shut up if that was the case), I’m just pointing out that a little dissent among the ranks is a common occurrence in communities of all shapes and sizes. I did leave the original commenter’s name out, for what it’s worth.

    I’d argue that the original comment was made in a public forum and could just as easily have been sent to me in a private message. I don’t think there’s any harm in discussing it since it was obviously intended to be seen.

  12. Briony says:

    I must respectfully disagree with some of the above comments; I most certainly understand where the original commenter is coming from, as I remember a time not so long ago when the more prolific writers on Protagonize wrote and commented together. And I must add that it was one of the most intimidating things to write amongst them, afraid of their censure, afraid they would not deem me worthy as a younger writer trying to join, learn and evolve.

    I think my impression was all my own doing; I felt that way because I was nervous and self-conscious of displaying my own work. But I felt I couldn’t write with what has been termed the more ‘mature’ writers, because it was inaccessible to me. It felt more exclusive, that only those who deemed each other worthy of notice would be commented on or talked to. And I’m sure Nick, you would agree that it is not about exclusivity, it is about collaboration. Perhaps the density of some of the younger writer’s posts has cluttered the site, but it surely shows promise, strength and bravery of someone as young as 12 to post something they have created. As every writer knows, publishing a piece is always a nerve-wracking experience, it takes a lot of guts.

    I am not attacking either the person who made that comment or the somewhat over-zealous younger members who tend to post a great deal, but I am saying that this is a place where people of all ages can share their writing, inspire that flame of creativity and talk to other like-minded people, to learn from them. I do not feel that shooting down the young people on this site is going to stop progression and expansion. I love this site, I write when I can and when I want, and I feel comfortable here. One may argue that before, this site was more for ‘mature’ writers, at the moment, it may be dominated by younger writers; but there will be balance and fluxuation, always. I would like to thank Nick for what he’s created and say don’t be disheartened, this is an amazing place, and perhaps if people were less concerned about the ages of members and more about writing and collaboration, perhaps we would not be debating this issue.

  13. trevor says:

    As an aside, having viewed the comments and responses on this matter, I do have to offer that I think we would all be a little disingenuous if we were to claim, young or old, that we had never reacted negatively, or ranted in a manner that we were later aware could have been worded more carefully.

    Would the American Revolution have happened if Zoloft had been invented?

    Just sayin’

  14. redhat says:

    It would be stupid to say that only older, “serious” writers are allowed to join. I’m older, and I like the younger writers… you know, not in a pervy way… but they’re the ones that will grow this thing, and make it popular, and keep it around for a long time.

  15. Nick says:

    @Briony Right on the money. Well said.

    @redhat I just about fell out of my chair laughing there.

  16. As Rachel said above, it’s not about age, it’s about attitude. I don’t give a tinker’s damn how old a writer is as long as he or she plays nice. And that means following the rules of the site and following any rules a given author has posted in the Author Guidance for their collaborative story.

    I’ve had the experience of an author contributing to something I started and completely disregarding my Author Guidance. That annoyed me big time, and I made it known. I didn’t know or care at the time how old the author was. It was a simple matter of common courtesy and respect for others.

    I’ve been less active on the site for a few months now, but it has nothing to do with any trends the site might be experiencing, demographic or otherwise. It’s just life being its usual whirlwindy self. I will always come back to Protagonize and start or continue some silly nonsense or other for the pure joy of writing for writing’s sake.

    The age thing is the further issue from my mind. Bring your writing skills to the table, whoever you are, but please bring a decent attitude along with it.

    Thank you and good night.

    –Eric

  17. Cherrywrite says:

    Hi Nick! Being 12, I have lots of random ideas in my head and I am always really happy to write them down on this fantastic website before I forget it. I love how everyone can join in on the stories. I love the design of the website. I think you have done an absolutely great job. Although mature authors may be more typical for this website, I must say that there are alot of authors out of the age range.
    I think it does not matter how old you are, as long as you enjoy writing then nothing is to be worried about. There are authors here that are 10 that write amazingly. I couldn’t tell when I read a story once that it was written by such a young author! There are many new members coming in, and age shouldn’t be an obstacle! This website is spectacular, you have nothing to worry about. Happy New Year!! Cherries!

  18. faith says:

    The only way that anyone can become a mature writer is through the development that comes with practice, feedback, and experience.

    That said, I beseech the older writers to remember the people who helped them become the talented individuals they are today. At one point, you were all young and inexperienced. You all needed a leg up from someone who knew what iambic pentameter was, or an independent clause, or a direct object. If you’re on here, and consider yourself experienced, no doubt your success can be attributed to more than one person.

    Maybe there are young Protagonizers who just need that little leg up. Maybe there are some young people here who would, if you give them the chance, remind you a bit of yourselves at that age. Maybe you will see some promise, albeit rough around the edges. Maybe you will be surprised by the depth of our insight, if not the organization of our thoughts.

    Please, don’t be frustrated with us young’uns. We’re trying to become good writers, and we need your help to do that. We might pleasantly surprise you, if you allow us to do so.

  19. Charlotte says:

    Well, its a shame that person felt that way, and even as a young writer I too have noticed the youngsters are kinda everywhere at the moment.

    Still, most of them are OK, not that I have much to do with them, and as far as I’m concerned, they are as much a part of the site and the community as I or any of those who have been here from the beginning.

    And, quite a lot of the younger writers, myself included, look up to the more ‘mature’ or experienced writers on the site. I know for a fact if Eric hadn’t read my story on a random day and then Trevor followed, I wouldn’t be half as good at this as I’ve gotten over the last 8 months or so.

    Um… I guess my point is something like, we all work together pretty well, and it would be kinda nice if it could stay that way. =]

  20. Jim McWhinnie says:

    I am glad that my emotional outburst has generated so much well-reasoned response, though I regret my original words themselves. I hope that my ill-tempered words helped focus the real concern.

    First, in the early months of Protagonize I was the champion of young writers on the site (I know, painfully ironic considering my words). I was also one of the most consistent “welcomers” to the site. So what changed in my soul?

    I believe my real frustration is not with young writers – for indeed, so many of our young writers are gifted and skilled. My frustration was with the use of the site with “myspace-like” chatter, so much of which had nothing to do with the collaborative writing process. My frustration was also so much mindless rating and critiquing of quality writing. Add to this I was frustrated by so much poor writing being “5”-ed and praised by mutual buddies. But again, this has nothing to do with being young or older.

    And so I apologize to our fine young writers – believe me, many of you are on the road to becoming remarkable “wordsmiths”. Many of you seem to me to be literary prodigies.

    What I should have said was that I want all our writers – no matter what age – to respect this writer’s workshop we call Protagonize. Take seriously the craft and the art – with good humor, of course.

    A lesson to be learned from all this – wise is the soul who takes the time to process one’s feelings through well-tempered words, yet – in our humanity – we all sometimes have the need to let the emotions be heard by people who understand the frailties of our human condition.

    So young writers, write on. Especially take the time to write collaboratively with some of our more experienced writers. I believe in the interlacing of young and old, we will all grow as writers.

    RiverTalker (Jim McWhinnie)

  21. Michael(butyoualreadyknewthat*wink*) says:

    What I have to say isn’t as long or sentimental as my other follow authors have said, I do have to agree with what the RiverTalker has said.

    I’ll admit I’m one of those young writer’s whos “myspaced” on protag a little bit. And I admit I’ve rated 5’s to some mutual friends of mine.

    That being said i’ve also tried to tone that down a bit, whether going on protag for writing’s sake more often like I use to, actually managing (well co-managing) the young writer’s group or trying to get my fellow young writer’s who seem to “myspace” alot to…well stop treating this place like a “myspace”

    I think we can change this, not radically mind my fellow writers but just a little bit. An example would be taking down one or more of the larger “random chatting” topics in the Young Writer’s group. I’ve asked members there if i can delete one or two but as of the moment only one person has actually given me feedback.

    Long story short, let’s tone that random talking about stuff down a little, well a lot. Like Rivertalker said the talk should be more focused around the writing, less about what you’re having for dinner tonight or how many times you’ve been hit with a brick by a monkey.

    Anyways that’s my opinion on this thing.

  22. trevor says:

    I remember talking to a protag friend off site once, a while back, lamenting that the quality of writing had gone down. And we wondered if that was due to the demographic change, specifically age wise.

    I don’t think that’s it at all. I know young writers that write well beyond their years. I’ll be candid, and it’s just a prediction, but for this site to succeed, it has to keep meeting the need it is so good at meeting.

    And that is, people learn to write and write to learn — leaving a majority of the work here they do as stories they are proud of. I’ll maintain that writing chapter after chapter in quick sequence without thinking about characters or plot, or really whether anyone reads it isn’t writing but a gimmicky internet game that will fizzle out faster than it started.

    Everyone here is a self proclaimed writer and we all have a chance to become better ones. Why waste it? Because you could be writing this:

    http://www.winningwriters.com/contests/tomstory/2009/ts09_blandy.php

  23. This is probably the most heavily commented blog entry I have ever read. Oh, and I think I’m going to have pizza for dinner tonight.

  24. Bluejay says:

    I think any artistic interest should be fostered instead on snuffed out. I never wrote regularly when I was younger because no one ever encouraged me to keep going at it. I was never a natural talent and I didn’t want to spend a large amount of time doing something that would never bare fruit. I got back to it only for the fact that I couldn’t seem to stop myself from doing it.

  25. Asheyna says:

    I think there’s a real different between fostering the talent of young authors and catering to a crowd who desires only to socialize.

    If you want to chat, there are MANY places you can do so. I find the trend towards chatting over writing is not an age specific issue. And I have nothing against chatting. Once upon a time I spent close to a month at the top of the commenter’s list, but I was writing almost as much and the stories I was collaborating in were frequently seen in the Top 5. These were NOT the 1-2 paragraph stories but rather what drew me to the site in the first place… actual collaborations.

    I myself find that if I’m inclined to develop a friendship with a fellow author on the site I offer up my email and/or gTalk info so that we can actually chat, leaving the site for pure writing. :)

  26. Kuma says:

    Nick, I must say I can understand where the commentor is coming from, but I, being 16 myself, sympathize with the other younger members, especially cherrywhite. I write all the time, trying to improve my work, as well as just getting things out of my head. Protagonize is a great outlet for my thoughts and ideas, especially since most of my work is based on events that happened to me. We’re not trying to turn Protagonize into the next Facebook or Myspace, we need a good place to unleash our inner writer and get feedback from our fellow writers, and I for one want to thank you for giving it to us. :)

  27. e.honey says:

    I’m 13, one of the younger group, but I am not upset by the comment. In the last while or so, I’ve noticed a growing trend of young people writing and being published, and I think it’s great such things are happening in what I once considered to be an adult world. The comment truly inspired me a bit, as one day I wish to be a published author, even if it takes me awhile and the roads are rough. The comment, I believe, can actually help prepare both young and old who wish to be published, or even those who just want to write, for the reality is that it’s not easy being a writer as you won’t always be supported. You’re going to run into something negative, but you don’t have to let it get you down, just learn from it and move on. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  28. kevin says:

    being between the two world at the age of fifteen i would having the very young middle schoolers could potentiialy be an anyoayance to adults who would like to read something more mature maybe that there can be a slight seperation like anyone under 15 must put in the age group intended.

  29. Eleanor says:

    I’m sad to hear that the original members here want to leave because of younger writers joining. But as many of my fellow protragonists have pointed out it is a good creative outlet. I am 14 years of age but matured mentally by my life experiences. I haven’t had enough time to explore myself yet and therefore my writing lacks something, the spark of intuition. I love to write and this community has allowed me to express myself in a way other sites have not. One day when I’ve discovered and experienced a multitude of things I hope to take my place in history among the highest ranking writers who ever lived. My imagination fuels my ambition, the daydreamer becomes the writer. And so, I am glad to have discovered this site. I owe my thanks to the maker, and I hope writers of all ages can bond through our writing skills the way others have tried for centuries. You can do anything, just believe. Thankyou.

  30. aneville says:

    Sound like grumpy old people when younger folks move upstairs if you ask me.
    I find it somewhat disheartening to hear comments like these, while I agree there must be some sort of moderation , the onus falls on the site admin to segregate the site, however it does not call for a mass exodus of more experienced and thoughtful authors.
    As quoted from a 13 year old
    “The comment truly inspired me a bit, as one day I wish to be a published author, even if it takes me awhile and the roads are rough. The comment, I believe, can actually help prepare both young and old who wish to be published, or even those who just want to write, for the reality is that it’s not easy being a writer as you won’t always be supported”

    Dont know about you but thats a great post and vvery thoughful, hmmmm.
    Life is change, always a shifting of the old with the new, this is inevtible, we can adjust to the force of change, find our place and morph with it, or whither into a dry husk of a human..
    Any way my 2 cents

  31. Kevin says:

    I’d like to say that I agree with Asheyna. What makes this site so different to many social sites is that it works by user generated creativity…

    And I think it important to weigh how each feature is utilized, and whether it brings users closer to, or farther from, creation of inspired media. I think this is what will help bring and keep more people on the long run.

    As to the ages, myself being 20 and being of moderate-ish skill puts me in the middle of both age groups. And I feel that it is a richness to have knowing and experienced authors contribute to helping budding authors blossom into great “word smiths”.

    In fact I once came across an author, whom I believe was a teacher… On his profile picture was a well made badge (as if made by the site), and on his profile he said in many words, but which the basic message being that he was there to help anyone who needed a hand from someone who really knew his stuff. And when I saw that I thought “this is such an awesome idea!” Now, this might be a new feature of the site, and I’ve simply been too busy to notice it’s appearance. But I’d very much like to see more of it. It would certainly foster greater bonds between the young starting artists, and the experienced age-wizened. How it would work, I don’t know, but perhaps those who feel they are made of the right stuff could submit themselves and their credentials, for a badge of knowledge or something similar with which we could more easily recognize them? :)

    As we’re on the subject of Protagonize’s changes, I imagine a problem which I think YouTube might also have… The way I understand how things basically work, is that the very popular stuff is show first and often, which is natural, and the more exposure it gets, the more it becomes popular, and so on and so forth until something new attracts our attention and we move on to that… Yet along the way some smaller stories, though perhaps well rated and well written didn’t have the same exposure because people didn’t jump to them, maybe because lots of people started stories at the same time, or due to time or day, or a random event outside the site… made that these stories pass through with little notice… eventually accumulating at the bottom, waiting that people search a genre or tag. This I think would take up a lot of space, and would leave the authors disappointed. I also know that Nick has done a lot of work to get more people in contact with more stories, like showing related stories to the ones we read, or search, and the like. But perhaps we could use a lonely section, where old yet well-rated stories might get an other shot at fame, or those which passed through unnoticed could see the light of day once again… It’s just a thought, and perhaps a bit of a selfish one. :)

    Well it is very late by all standards of time, so please forgive me if things aren’t too clear at places… But I just had to tap it all down while the inspiration was still fresh. And… Thanks for taking the time to read my lengthy ranting. ;)

    And though we may criticize at times, and make his life hard at others, we gotta hand it to Nick for staying in touch with his people… If only more sites were like that!

    Kevin

  32. RainDance says:

    I would just like to say GO NICK!

    This is a very powerful post. No tip-toeing around the issue.

  33. Ian says:

    I’m putting my hand up to support Asheyna’s statement. It’s just a natural progression. Then again I often find myself feeling a little ‘old school’. I don’t use facebook, I certainly don’t use twitter. In fact I feel Twitter should be followed with a WTF !?! “Twitter WTF !?!”. So maybe this kind of wierd social gossip network doesn’t do it for me. I just want to write, which is what I do, so the site works for me. it’s just definitely moving towards a different user base than what was originally attracted here.

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