Monday, September 6, 2021

Are reddit self-promotion policies inadvertently hampering the creative RPG blog community?

[EDIT: I asked for discussion, and I got it! The conversation has helped me assess the points I made. I stand by my blogger's perspective-points (as have a number of you in commenting) but I can see too that our points are counter-balanced by equally valid concerns about spam that could have an even more negative effect on idea transmission. I'm noticing that many bloggers seem to be agreeing heartily whereas many primarily-redditors aren't. :-) There are places online in the hobby that I think are excessively restrictive for responsible bloggers, but at r/osr, the status quo is probably a workable balance/necessary evil between different pitfalls. So take my complaints with a grain of salt, but please also hear the bloggers' perspectives described here, too. Thanks, all, for weighing in, and thanks for supporting a healthy blogosphere, however you do.]

I seem to be snarky today. 

So, grain of salt, etc. All that follows is offered with constructive intent. I'm sort of on the fence about posting this at all. But...oops! 


One often hears that OSR blogging is not what it used to be (note a recent, popular r/osr thread listing numberous helpful blogs that have fallen silent or 'dead' over the years). Of course, many of us only started blogging in the few years since G+ went away...there might even be something of a blog resurgence going on in some quarters. That being said, I think most would agree blogs are important and useful for the health of the OSR community, and many would agree that blog culture isn't always easy to maintain, and could be stronger than it is today. 

In fact, blogs may be THE BEST place for long-form, sustained, deep consideration of creative ideas for our hobby (or, perhaps, tied or just behind published long-form games and resources in terms of their impact and usefulness). There is certainly an important place for short, snappy conversations about gaming questions on more fleeting social media, but blogs contribute something that shorter media just...won't. 

So, blogs matter, but many of us carry out much of our online rpg-community interaction these days on sites like Reddit or Discord (or MeWe or Discourse or...ahhh, gasp for air!!!!). Are those sites helping blogs stay creative and active, or not? Discord...look, I've had some great conversations there, but the thing is a total nightmare for asynchronous conversation. Someone might drop a really killer idea and then 7 hours later, when I wake up in my different time zone and idly check the boards, that idea has been submerged in an 87-comment string because someone else LOL'd on something else. Or if I picked that week to try to be a healthy person and not obsessively follow social media every four hours in Fear of Missing Out, it's essentially an entirely lost cause. 

So, Reddit...I may be wrong, but I believe that Reddit is the most active and rambunctious single site (off Discord) for advancing new OSR-related ideas. 

Now here's where I want to advance a contentious idea: 

I think r/osr's current self-promotion policies may be detrimental to blog culture, and therefore detrimental to the vitality of the entire OSR community. 

Before anyone takes my point as overly hostile, let me clarify that I don't think this reflects some failing among our r/osr moderators! In fact, the same issue affects other gaming subreddits, too. Frankly, this isn't an OSR issue at all; I think it's about the peculiar dynamics of subreddits in general. I also don't have any particular beef with the idea of regulating conversations or keeping microphone-hogging off the threads. But I do think there are some inadvertent, unintended negative consequences at work for the blogosphere.


WHAT AM I TALKING ABOUT? SUB-REDDIT POLICIES

Two years ago, r/osr got a top-pinned post containing rules for self-promotion. Interestingly, the top-level stated intent was "so we [moderators] don't get overwhelmed by 'this is spam' alerts for things that aren't really spam." In other words, as I read this, the mods were getting bombarded with unnecessary, unjustified complaints about legitimate posts, to the extent that they articulated clearly what was acceptable, so complainers would leave them alone (and, of course, it is obviously helpful to have clear expectations to prevent any of us from actually abusing the system, too). 

IIRC, however, this new guidance didn't shut down complaints. I vaguely remember reading a commenter pointing to this new guidance while again complaining about behavior that was perfectly fine according to the guidance. 

The guidelines cover a lot of things (Kickstarter and product announcements, for example), but the piece I'm thinking of here now is the rule that one should only post their own blog content once per week. R/osr also now offers a dedicated blogroll for collecting/boosting blog posts. In a section below, I'll address why this might be hurting as much as it's helping. 

Again, I want to make this painfully clear: I've no beef with our mods. 

Mods, thanks very much for the work you put into such a fun and often helpful resource. 

My beef is with ... the unintended consequences of choices we're making to manage chaos together. My argument today is that the unintended consequence  = blog culture is hampered under the current system. 

Two hot-takes follow, one from my own point of view, and one quoting voices from a completely different RPG sub-reddit.


IMPACT: FROM A BLOGGER'S POINT OF VIEW 

Whew...at risk of sounding like a whiner, I just want to say that blogging sometimes feels like a lot of work alone in an echo chamber. 

Whaa, poor me. In my own experience, Reddit is very useful for getting people to engage with blog ideas. To talk turkey, there is something of a familiar cycle...if I make a dedicated post on a couple of relevant Reddit boards about a new blog piece, traffic to that blog post increases significantly, and every now and then it just explodes. This tells me that people are, in fact, finding what I have to say relevant and worth reading. But if I just drop a new blog post and trust in the blogrolls to advertise for me, things generally stay pretty quiet. 

So there's an obvious incentive for me to advertise my blog posts on Reddit. Yet, in the past year, I believe I've only announced 5 of 24 blog posts in top-level r/osr posts (to be clear, I've also mentioned some in comments, when they seemed on-point for existing discussions). Some of that's because I used the blogroll (but, again, see below), and some of that's because the content didn't seem particularly suitable to r/osr in particular (as opposed to some other RPG sub-reddit). But some of them, too, have been because I had advertised another blog post recently, or because I just didn't feel like counting up the days since my last posting, worrying about whether I was complying with the self-promotion policies, or what have you. 

But the real kicker, for me, is this: there have been times (including this morning) when I thought:

Me: hey, self, I've got some time available to write for the blog! And check out these cool ideas I have for some new blog posts!

Self: ok, sure. But cool your jets, pal; you can only advertise one of them this week. Better postpone the others.

Me: oh, yeah, thanks. Which ones should I delay? Boy, that's kinda discouraging. Um...just never mind. 

Given that blogging already too often feels like an echo chamber, it's a drag to feel that the audience tailor-made for each new blog post prefers those who write for them to make blog posts less visible (but more frequent! Always more frequent!). So sometimes I just postpone writing at all, and we all know how procrastination is a friend to creative writing, right? 

For example: I'd like to write a blog post today about the wonderful campaign send-off we finished last night, in which we used a mashup of Matrix gaming and FKR 'rules' to play out the domain-level multi-season conclusion to a mid-level campaign, which ended with two characters ruling their own kingdoms and the political map of Mystara re-drawn. Sure, I'd like to write that, but I've also been sitting for ages on ideas for a long-form piece about why Merovingian Francia (as opposed to later feudal societies) might offer an outstanding alternate template for a 'vanilla' D&D sandbox, but then again maybe I should type out a micro-setting illustrating that concept, blending some real Oldhammer fun with real late antique history; or, alternately, I could tell you more about the fun co-op swashbuckling skirmish rules that I might co-publish this coming year. I could, sure, but what really got my goat today was thinking about blog culture in general (thanks a lot, DwhizKhalifa!). So I wrote this. And that means that I can either just publish it and consign it to ignominy in the blogrolls, or I can promote this post via reddit, and delay all that other cool stuff for some other day when my time and inclination to blog have aligned once more. 

I guess they'll have to wait. 


IT'S NOT JUST AN OSR ISSUE

Part of the reason this is on my mind is that I just read a discussion of similar issues on r/DungeonWorld. They've got a top-pinned, 6-month-old post discussing new community rules. They initially banned memes, and then took that back after protest. But they also implemented a rule that blogs should only be posted to their subreddit once every 30 days. 

That led to some discussion. Jeremy Strandberg, one of the really prominent creatives in the Dungeon World-adjacent community today, pointed out (see link above) that:

I'm obviously biased, but I feel like links to blog posts--at least ones that are directly relevant to Dungeon World--are a different beast than links to Kickstarters, Storefronts, DrvieThru RPG pages, etc. If I'm posting something on my blog and sharing it here, it's a invitation for discussion, or a resource for folks to use, rather than shilling product.

A mod sort-of agreed, but argued that many blogs aren't inviting discussion. Huh. 

So, there was talk of creating a recurring monthly thread for people to discuss what they're up to (but apparently distinct from blog content?). Comments on that idea included these criticisms:

Except monthly threads like that tend to just die and have a ton of unanswered top level comments. It's basically just reinventing reddit, on reddit.

... 

I hate single threads. I can’t tell what is in the thread without digging through and I don’t know if I want to dig through with knowing what’s in it. I would rather scroll past individual posts on the main page than war through a single thread. All the single thread does in create the appearance of organization by hiding everything in the closet of a single thread. 

Reinventing reddit, on reddit. Hmm. I think there's something to that. I also think there's some parallel here to our practice at r/osr. Blogs are generally funneled toward the blogroll, which will either limit discussion (who wants a 14-thread response to a single blog in the middle of the community blogroll?) or STILL divert traffic away from Reddit. I realize that reddit communities shouldn't be super-keen on existing merely as a springboard to other websites, so the optimal reddit placement for a blog post should welcome discussion right there on reddit. But wouldn't the best way to interact with a blog post on reddit be a dedicated thread on reddit, that disrupts nobody who chooses not to click into that thread, while allowing the motivated to engage at length in related conversation?


SO WHAT MIGHT WE DO INSTEAD? 


So on the one hand, I feel there is a constant drumbeat of pressure from the community to blog more often (which is great, but bloggers have a lot of other things to do too). On the other hand, one can sense a subtle recurring message that sharing creative ideas on social media specifically dedicated to the games we're working with is somehow self-indulgent and insulting to other readers if we came up with those ideas ourselves. So what are we visiting reddit for, if we don't want to encounter other people's creative ideas? Is the problem self-promotion, or is the problem frequent promotion of ideas that aren't really contributing anything new to the RPG community? 

But, by flagging self-promotion as the tag that defines content that should be limited, what have we ended up with instead?

There are many, MANY useful threads on reddit. I've seen some really thought-provoking ideas and inspirational comments, pieces of art, and discussion there. Please take what I'm saying with a grain of salt; I seem to be in a snarky mood today. 

On the other hand...the more the blogs get squeezed out of the limelight, the more an average week on r/osr starts to fill up with repeat cycles of the following:

Folks, I'm new here. Does 'little brown books' mean the same thing as 'rules cyclopedia?'

Look, I took a photograph of the hardcover game I'm running/reading/found at a yard sale! 

If U don't luv BX moar than BECMI UR STOOOPID, lol [ok, maybe this one's rarer, but it shows up]

I'm running a Lvl 1 session for newbies in 13 minutes. Recommend a dungeon? Oh, TotSK? Thanks! 

There is a rightful place for every one of these. I've contributed to conversations just like those, and might again soon. Not too many years ago, I was the one needing clarification on what differentiated weird terms like Holmes, BX, BECMI, ODD, 1e, 2e, 3.5 etc. (I cut my teeth long ago on BECMI and 2e, but didn't really carry around that language). 

But, I can't understand why the door is wide open to things that aren't adding new depth to our conversations, while we build a hedge around the medium that regularly produces new ideas - blogs. 

So, let me end this rant with a hopefully constructive list of questions.

+ Am I missing something here? Why are redditors pushing blogs to the (functional) margins? Is there something we bloggers need to do better at?

+ Am I out to lunch? Fellow bloggers, does any of this match your experience/perspective? Or have I made Mt. Doom out of a Level 1 5-room dungeon? 

+ Should we consider revising self-promotion guidelines? Might we better distinguish between "self-promotion" and "promotion of ideas you came up with yourself"? Should, perhaps, we have policies *encouraging* blog discussion on reddit, but requiring such posts to invite and facilitate discussion right there on reddit? (As a blogger, I'd have no problem including a comment on my own blog post page with a link to an ongoing discussion on reddit). 

Thanks for hearing me out, and best wishes to all. And, really, thanks again to the mods; I don't envy their task. 

Happy Gaming, and - sure! - happy redditing! 



13 comments:

  1. For any who'd like to follow conversation on r/osr (presuming such conversation will ensue), see:
    https://www.reddit.com/r/osr/comments/pj9i5u/blog_post_in_which_i_post_on_reddit_about/

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  2. Maybe bloggers need to start using the comment sections on each other's blogs and including each other on blogs I read lists :)

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    Replies
    1. Ha! That's a very fair point (and one I can do better at; I try to comment on other blogs, but I don't have my own 'roll above).

      But...that's still an issue of 'bloggers making the blogosphere more effective - internally.' It's important, but a separate issue from the ways blogs are perceived, advertised, dropped, or discussed outside the blogosphere itself.

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    2. Reciprocal linking? What is this, early 00s internet? (I'm joking)

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  3. I tried to make an OSRStream subreddit that took Ram's OSR OPML and ran it through Feedly (or maybe Inoreader) and used IFTTT to automatically post each blog post to a subreddit. The problem I ran into was that it kept breaking (ran out of feeds on the reader, then IFTTT broke and I couldn't figure out why initially) and I didn't have either the time or the desire to keep it running.

    At any point, I had the exact thought you did: the comment sections of blogs suck. Everyone is on reddit. Why not have a subreddit to facilitate discussion of the blog posts? If someone were willing to actually keep it running (not me) I think it could be a huge hit.

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  4. The "Weekly OSR Blogroll" topic helps! But it only stays on the main page for a couple of days, as far as I've noticed.

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    Replies
    1. Which is why I do a midweek boost for the blogroll on discord and twitter.

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    2. Yeah, and huge thanks for that, because usually that's where I notice it :D

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  5. Sigh... Posts like this make me really miss Livejournal. You had your blog and communities all in the same place, and could catch up on everything with a single feed.

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  6. 100% agree with this post. It always blew my mind, like, why would you want to limit / shame the people who are actually creating, who are actually adding something? Instead, you wind up with random image dumps, questions or "debates" that have been repeated ad nauseam, just endless empty calories and vitriol spewed by people who have nothing else to offer.

    This was one of the reasons, not the only or even necessarily the largest, but one of the reasons I got off of Reddit.

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  7. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    The "Weekly Blogroll Posts" don't really do anything to invite discussion. Just a worn-out resource for really bored people.

    I've been harassed for "not contributing" when putting up blogposts when those same posts on Reddit would get more hits than those typical posts you mentioned.

    I can only take so many "recommend me a game/dungeon" posts before I lose interest.

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  8. I find people comment on how uncool it is to post a link to my latest blog post on any old OSR idea I just wrote. The nerve I must have to want to share my blog post on something related to OSR gaming, for shame! WTF?

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  9. Reddit is probably a bad platform for it because of its structure. It's not like ye olde phpBB forums in which the author of the thread can sling it to the front page by posting a new content, for one. The best it could do would likely be to keep a megathread style page with a link for individual author's blogs.
    Regarding the echo chamber, it's not much better on Reddit. I won't repeat what has been already said by others in better words but the upvote/downvote system can cripple discussions.

    That said, I'm leaning to hear more about the wonders of the Merovingian Francia. You got us all teased there and just left us hanging.

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