Chaos Reigns in World of Online Fiction

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I really hope that I'm over reacting, but where the heck is everybody?! I'm not just talking about the dearth of activity on the Blog Fiction Forums. I'm also talking about the lack of forum activity everywhere in the online fiction world. I had a different post planned for today, but I can't ignore something really eerie going on right now. It affects not just Blog Fiction, but all online fiction.

As you know, Pages Unbound closed... and then reopened. Even after reopening though, I haven't seen any new activity on their forums. I don't know if people have started reviewing again (no dates on reviews or any way to list reviews by date published). Over at the Web Fiction Guide forums the only activity for the last 5 days has been a thread for new people to introduce themselves. The editors are still editing, but the visible users seem to be gone. Over at the Novelr forums, the only activity there in 2 weeks has been the mention that Pages Unbound has reopened.

So, I come back to my original question. Where the heck is everybody? I had a couple theories. My first thought was that the holiday weekend distracted everyone(Labor day in U.S.). That theory didn't hold, not every writer is from the United States after all - I would still be seeing participants from the rest of the world. My next theory was that maybe the chaos of people and their kids going back to school was to blame. Again, this theory doesn't hold up. Every school in the world doesn't start their school year around the 1st of September. I then formed a third theory that scared me. "Omigod, did we lose critical mass?" - That hard to define, but easy to recognize property that allows online communities to thrive.

Here's how the theory goes. When pages unbound closed, Web Fiction Guide became the immediate beneficiary. It allowed community reviewing and rating in addition to editor reviews. They added a forum. All of it was easier to use than Pages Unbound too. Pages Unbound even gave a banner ad advertising Web Fiction Guide. With all the activity at Web Fiction Guide I noticed that my forum activity grinded to a halt (Presumably, going to the more active and just as easy to use Web Fiction Guide). As far as I can tell, the same thing might have happened to the NovLounge. Then, web fiction guide forums slowed down a little. Why, I don't know. Maybe it did slow down because of theories 1 and 2. Then, something strange happened. Pages Unbound came back. Now, people don't know where they want their home to be. Now people have to choose which great review site they want to participate in. Internet traffic being the finicky beast it is, chooses neither. Now, the longer both forums remain inactive, the more people that are going to give up and not participate in either. Where as "critical mass" describes a virtuous circle of people creating content, which attracts more users, who create more forum content, which attracts more users... etc. What I'm describing is a vicious circle. People who would be willing to participate are leaving due to inactivity, which leads to more inactivity...

Alexandra Erin used Pages Unbound to create a critical mass of online writers and readers. She created a hub for the 2 groups to connect to each other. I hope that my theory is wrong and there is another explanation for the disappearance of forum traffic - that the critical mass held together during the chaos of the last month. It would be a devastating blow to online fiction to have to try and rebuild that critical mass.

In the end, only time will tell. Maybe everyone went to a different site that I don't know about and is having a hell of a good time. That would be good. If not and the forum traffic doesn't come roaring back, and is instead sparse, then my "chaos reigns" theory would be proven correct, and all will mourn our loss...

11 comments:

JZ said...

Speaking only personally, I'd bet that it's a combination of a number of the things you mentioned.

1. Lots of the people (though not all) are in the US.
2. Lots of writers and readers of web fiction are college students. They're going back to school (at least in the US...)
3. Labor Day and it's associated weekend do slow things down...
4. I've got young kids. They're going back to school.
5. Forums have a burst of activity when they begin (WFG just began in many ways)and tend to go in cycles anyway...

At the moment, I'm guessing that most people don't realize that PU has come back...

Leif said...

Or is everyone overwhelmed by the quantity of online content? There are so many forums, social networks and blogs to read and contribute to that everyone's time is spread thinly across them all...

DustinM said...

Leif,
That is precisely what I'm afraid of. It wasn't a problem before because pages unbound was the only one. There was room for other sites as long as PU kept going. Once it stopped, people scattered and critical mass was lost.

JZ,
I hope that you're right. That I'm just over reacting and this is just a cyclical thing.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I never knew such a place existed and I've been posting fiction (a lot of fiction) on my blog for well over two years now.

DustinM said...

Susan,
Which blog do you post fiction too? Your profile only seems to list blogs about fiction, but none that actually contain it.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Go look again at the Meet and Greet, Dustin. Trevor's in rare form today.

DustinM said...

My bad Susan. I see it now. You should put your blog in my online fiction listing. It probably won't get you much traffic, but it'll at least get you a linkback.

Also, you should definitely submit your blog to the Web Fiction Guide. You'll get some attention from that site if you do.

Chris Poirier said...

I'm late to the show, but I'll point out that most of the people posting in the WFG forums are writers. There was a number of good long threads that involved a lot of people, so I think maybe a lull was to be expected.

Something I'm a little more happy about is that reader registrations are up (we have over 100 now) and those readers are starting to post reviews at WFG more often. I think that's a great sign.

In any event, just wanted to let you know that we've added a link to your site on our community links page.

DustinM said...

Chris,
Thanks for the thoughts. And Big Giant Thank you for the listing on your community page. As you may have noticed I've listed your forum's feed on my blog. Hopefully we'll each get some extra traffic and a larger community.

George Polley said...

Well, I guess I just don't like blog fiction. I've tried it (www.thestoryplace.blog.com), and have received feedback from readers that they find the format disjointed and frustrating in terms of readability. So I'm closing the site, and have shifted all but one story to my www.thestoryteller.synthasite.com, which presents each story complete on its own page, and makes makes reading it a LOT simpler. I've gotten some rave reviews on it, too.

George Polley
Sapporo, Japan

Eli said...

I'll be closing NovLounge once I return on the 4th - I agree with you that too many discussion sites won't do this community any good at the moment (it is, after all, still rather small). Also, I think the forums on WFG should be more than adequate, and it'll make far more sense to drive community participation to it, rather than to critical sites like Novelr.

PS: not supposed to be commenting, seeing as I've left even Novelr in the cold, but I saw your post in my feed reader and had to drop by. This is good coverage of the online fiction sphere, Dustin. Keep up the good work.

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