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Sphinn to remove voting; thoughts from a power user!

Written by David Harry   
Wednesday, 01 September 2010 21:49

Sphinn is dead! Sphinn is dead!... oh wait, I mean ..... the Sky is falling!the Sky is falling! Or at least that seems to be the consensus if you watch the twitter-sphere and blog posts that are popping up all over.

To my fellow Sphinners, I figured I would take a brief moment to post my thoughts. I have invested 3 years and many, many hours over there. Enough to be in the top 10 for pretty much every category. When things went south (engagement died after 2.0 launch) I even suffered the slings and arrows of mates asking, “Why do you still bother with the place”. In short, it is one place that has had a major affect on my life from many angles.

Sphinn kills voting!


So, we have no more voting. Is it a knee-jerk reaction? Is it the right move? As with many I do see some problems with it and don't even know what to make of the resulting model. But it is true that engagement is down. They need to try something I am hard pressed to call it a forum, because that would imply we can start a thread. Instead of being force fed which topics we can choose to engage over. That being said, those admins I have talked to at Sphinn have hinted it may come back.

But that is neither here nor there. At the end of the day this is Sphinn's decision and they should have the right to do so. Yes, I know about all the festering venom that is going on today. Believe me, I have been inundated with it. But really, I don't want them or anyone else telling me how to do business, thus I shall support their decision to mandate their own business model(s).

Top SPhinn users


So just chill ok?

So, that is my official stance. I have talked to some Sphinn staff over the last few months and I know their hearts are in the right place. This isn't some shill for Search Engine Land. This isn't about the 'old boys club' crushing the little guy. This isn't about the editors pimping their friends and stamping out their enemies. This isn't a power grab....

This is a group of people making what THEY feel is the best decision moving forward with their site. Let it go. If I can let it be after the investment I have put in, so can you.

We shall see where it leads and reserve judgement until then... Ok?


Updates; some random notes along the way

Will they keep submitting? - one of the stated problems was a low number of votes and content quality/diversity. One commment i read that has me thinking was, "I don't know if my more recent submissions got lost in a server glitch or were moderated out, but that reduced my interest in making any more submissions.". This is a good point. If it turns out that a lot of folks are submitting things, that are deemed unworthy by Editors, they will stop using the site in short order. This will likely limit the core of submitters and potentially lose some of the new faces/content (not to mention potential engagement) Sphinn is seeking to find.

Social Voice - another idea that's been floated a fair bit it to have/leave Twitter/Facebook buttons. This one is interesting but can lead to the same problem already in place; voting advantages more established players bring. Yes, see how I didn't say 'voting gangs'? Why? Because it is about as nasty a term as 'link bait' (I prefer 'magnet' these days). I know there are posts (here and other popular sites) that are 'meh' to me that get a lot of Tweets etc..Thus I divert to the masses. But using this approach on Sphinn would likely just produce more of the same.

Who's the keeper of the flame? - and the above point brings us back to editorial diversity. As I said, I tend not to always know what will be of interest to the search space. I have authors that come to me and ask, "Do you think this post is good endouh (for the Trail)?". I generally tell them to throw it against the wall and see what happens (as long as it is reasonably thought out). I am constantly surprised that some of the posts go anywhere, but they do. This highlights the fact that we don't always know what is best and now Sphinn has left that in the hands of the few. We will have a more limited editorial slant towards things in all likelihood.

Hybrid approach - on the original Sphinn thread Icredibill had an interesting idea, "You could leave the Sphinn voting intact, just not make the voted items automatically move to the front page. Leave the voted items under "Getting Hot" and then make the front page an editorial decision. That way members can see what other members think is hot vs. what the editors hand pick and nobody loses." - that's not entirely bad but isn't too far off what we have now. Would it have the desired effect? To have members voting more. I doubt this would do much to increase that.

Engagement is down every where - and that's been a fact of life every blogger has seen since the rise of Twitter and Facebook (of note). And yes, comment spam is up, (damned SEOs!!). But does that mean I am shutting down my comments like some people have (note; I guess that makes me an attention whore). Voting was a socially engaging part of the site. I am saddened to see any removal of potential involvement. Even if an article was shilled to the front page, the surrounding engagement on why it sucked, was at least remarkable.

Swiming upstream - another concern a few folks had mentioned, and Andy and I touched on in the thread, is that comments would be fragmented. This has also been a problem. Do I comment on the post or the Sphinn thread? I generally do the former as I don't have the time to do both. I hope that we will see more from Salmon which would be GREAT for situations such as this (tie in the fragmented commentary on the web).

I call bullshit - I was also reading some rather meaningless 'great move, I look forward to commenting!'. I looked at the folks saying that and they weren't commenting/engaging on the site much lately.. it came off as some industry ass kissing. Give me a break ok? I wasn't sitting around there just subbing and voting. I have more than 600+ comments, more than most. I don't see this change bringing back those that already weren't egnaging. Unless of course the rock star ass kissing is the motivation. BAH!

Building a better mousetrap - and what about evolving the model further? I'd like to see broader categorization like we used to have like Search having sub-categories such as; Link Building, Content Strategy, On-site, In-house, Technical and so forth. Then, we could also have more intuitive tracking tools that I could subscribe to only certain sections. If we have everything lumped under 'SEO' it makes it harder for me to really tailor the content to my liking. If the interactions are chopped in half (commenting being the only avenue now) I would like to see some more enhancements to make Sphinn more useful to me.

Editor diversity - oh man... I may be subjective here, but PLEASE get a real geek on there folks, ok? Since the drama started last week I have kept saying that when I submit something of Bill's (or someone subs a patent post from here), they go nowhere on Sphinn. Oh yea, put twitter in the title, go on a rant about so-and-so, and WHAM it's gold. But the actual geeky stuff SEOs can actually learn/evolve from? Nada. So, Matt/Michele/Danny, please get some diversity of editors. This does present to oportunity for more diverse content on Sphinn. But representation from all sectors needs to be present in the editorial staff or diversity will only contract IMO.

Mass submission - there is an oportunity here for another improvement. In the past I would have to go back to the site over and over because we weren't encouraged to submit 4-5 stories in a row. But for me, because of my RSS activities for the newsletter, I would like to drop by a few times a day and submit a handful of stories. I was certainly guilty of not submitting each interesting post I found each day. That is because I would have to do it 4-5x each day and time is paramount in my busy world. So I hooked my Google Reader 'shares' to Facebook/Twiter and I am done.. sharing is much easier that way.

Things are a changin' - and yes folks, it really isn't a social site anymore. It is a new model and Danny put it simply with, "Yes, and it marks the departure of Sphinn from being a social media / social sharing site. It's becoming an editorial site." - so you might as well get that into ya and get on with life. Google makes an algo change, we adapt and move on. We search peeps should be good at that.

Not all is as it seems? - Another interesting comment was (by BrianL), "...part of the issue has to do with the software itself. There are times where for no apparent reason, we can't log in. I've seen widgets on stories that I wanted to vote on that gave an error when clicking to vote." - I know this to be a fact and I'd appreciate any comments on the point. After Sphinn 2,0 launch I know A LOT of people stopped using Sphinn because of the problems logging in etc... This surely has played into it.

You still have a vote - for those that are concerned about the editorial nepotism and OBC (old boys club) I submit to you that indeed you can still vote. Just stop using the site. At the end of the day traffic/visitors is a vote. Not happy? Then use yours... stay away.


And so my friends, I will at least give it a chance. What have I got to lose? Nothing really. As for those worried about their content getting less visibility, well you really shouldn't be counting on any one source for your traffic. Never and I mean NEVER let Google be your clients core traffic source... and don't let Sphinn be. Here on the Trail we're always seeking new ways to get more visibility and this won't be much of a problem. Just work on creating interesting/remarkable/informative content and the rest will sort itself out.




+1 # Gerald Weber 2010-09-01 22:22
Of course it's their site and they are entitled to do as they please with it.

But does that make it a good idea? I say no.

In my opinion they will be taking out a large part of the community with this move.
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0 # Dave 2010-09-01 22:29
@Gerald - oh I can agree with it. I am sure a LOT of people have their own views of whether this is a good/bad move. I personally think it is a bit of a transition from a 'social' media site, but time will tell. I just thought it was worth noting that other may have vested interests in poo poo'ing the move.

I say we wait a month or so and then review the position again. As mom would say, 'How do you know you don't like it if you've never tried it?'
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0 # Ken Jones 2010-09-01 23:32
Well said Dave. A balanced and rational response to the announcement is just what we need right now instead of the panic stricken complaints coming from so many other voices in our industry today.
I can understand why Sphinn has made the decision to move away from the voting model. I think I've visited the site and voted on articles perhaps twice on the last six months and I've no doubt the same is true of many other former regulars.
Unfortunately the decreasing pool of active users meant that Sphinn was in danger of becoming the incestuous little echo chamber that its detractors had long accused it of being.
Hopefully now that everything that goes through the site will be vetted by the small number of mods they will be able to refrain from the temptation to pimp their friends and "sponsors" and avoid the "boys club" mentality that many are fearing will arise.

From my point of view there are two things that Sphinn could do to minimise these risks:
1- They should require that mods write a brief editorial introduction explaining why they felt a particular article was worth featuring on the front page. No more copy & pasting the opening paragraph of the post.
2- They need to expand the number of mods who review submissions. Perhaps by inviting some of the "Old Sphinn's" top contributors, such as yourself Dave, to become moderators. As you mentioned, you've put about of time and effort into Sphinn over the last 3 years. If they asked would you be opposed to the idea of becoming a Sphinn Curator?
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0 # Whitney Segura 2010-09-02 02:49
Well, I honestly think this is a overall bad move for the site, simply because the sheer amount of users will drop significantly.

I do however see their point being that they want the truly best stories to be at the top, and this could be a way to do that, but only if their moderator group is truly experienced and skilled. I could still see it being somewhat biased towards the little guys.
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0 # andymurd 2010-09-02 06:46
Hopefully they'll take the site in a new direction now that the mods aren't spending all their time fighting spam.

If you really want to vote on SEO posts:
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-1 # Barry Adams 2010-09-02 10:42
Bottom line: I don't trust the Sphinn editors to make the right decisions. They've been very fickle in the past, promoting stuff to the frontpage that was of rather low quality, and save for a few good ones I think most Sphinn mods are too up themselves.

It IS a clique, an old-boys club, and by removing the voting function for Sphinn they're just reinforcing these incestuous social ties.

I think this'll be the end of Sphinn as the SEO community site, but hey, I'll be gladly proven wrong.
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+2 # Ruud Hein 2010-09-02 12:39
There's no sky falling. Nor are there panic stricken complaints. I'm just not a spin doctor and call it as I see it.

Voting was removed from a site that featured "news stories submitted to Sphinn and discussions within the site that have been voted the most active recently by the Sphinn community".
Now some can run with this and say "something better was done!" or "wellll, who knows....". Me? I say, "ah crap, this was the only site we had for this ..."

"Others" have Digg, Reddit, Fark and then some. We had Sphinn, the essential part of which was user submitted and user voted content.

Sphinn made a splash in 2007. Would it have been a "oh look!!!" if they had opened with "Sphinn is a place where we grant you the privilege to submit stories which an editorial team will then deem worthy or not"? Nah.

Want the best stories highlighted? Start a traditional, old school weblog. Open a Tumblr account. Use Twitter.

Panic? Sky falling? Upset? No: opinionated. I came to Sphinn to Sphinn; that's gone, so the site is gone -- for me.

Balance? Sure: at the end of this day I step out of the office and go have a walk with my daughter. My wife and I will watch an episode of "Castle" tonight, then sit in the living room and read. This? ... This isn't important in comparison. Then again, so is SEO...
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0 # Nick LeRoy 2010-09-02 13:11
Even though im not a big fan of the change I think your last paragraph sums it up perfectly. If you don't like the change simply don't use their service. If enough people didn't use it then the Sphinn staff will have to reconsider the move.

I for one will give it a shot and try my best to hold my judgment till after the new roll out.
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0 # emory @ clickfire 2010-09-02 16:00
"Just stop using the site"

"stay away"

Abruptly forcing a loyal customer to make a decision to stop using a service that he's invested years in building up for you is not a good message to send.
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0 # Dana Lookadoo 2010-09-02 20:20
I shall chill, reserve judgment and see where it leads as you suggest!
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0 # Steven Bradley 2010-09-03 04:34
I really haven't particpated at all since the 2.0 update. I found the site not working for me more than it worked. I gave it about a month, and then stopped visiting.

Even before that I was ready to leave. It struck me too much as an old boy's network. It seeed that for a submission to become popular it either needed to be on a popular site or submitted by someone with a large network.

There were times I would come across what I thought was a great post and was about to submit it. Then I realized my submitting probably meant it would only get a few votes, since I wasn't so connected, and no one would see the post. I felt that by submitting the post I was essentially burying it from the community.

As for them removing voting now it doesn't affect me at all. I haven't been to Sphinn for awhile and wasn't planning on returning. This post and Ruud's post are the first time I've thought about Sphinn in a long time.

It's their right to do what they want with their site and I do think this was a decision they made in what they think is the best interest of the site.

Hard to see how this change will help though. I guess time will tell.
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