Saturday, December 15, 2007

On Gleemax: Problems and Possible Solutions

Gleemax being in its alpha stage has a lot of problems, mostly dealing with navigation and user interface (UI). I'll be tackling what they are, suggestions how they can be improved, and what are "band-aids" or temporary solutions to them as of the present.

For the most part, Gleemax actually has a robust and unique programming behind it. Unfortunately, those two factors are insignificant if users can't navigate the site or utilize it to its full potential. The current Gleemax has two main sections: the forums and the blogs. The former is doing well as far as forums go. No breakthroughs in forum design but it's also perfectly servicable (and in fact is my preferred forum interface as far as tools are concerned). The blogs however is where everything collapses.


The biggest problem of Gleemax is navigation. They can be described by the following:

  1. Lack of aggregated posts aside from the front page. Honestly, aside from the main page where the general announcements are posted, how do I navigate the site or discover all the other blogs? It's not that Gleemax doesn't have good blogs but it has a problem of aggregating it.
  2. The Monday - Friday Syndrome. This is a term I'm inventing. Right now, while there is some method of filtering posts (i.e. sorting them by board game, card game, reviews, etc.), what it lacks is a way to look at older posts: there is no "Older Posts" or "Previous" button. So theoretically, if I post an entry on Monday, somebody who checks the board only every Friday will never see my post because Gleemax only shows the 6 most recent posts in any one category (the only exception to this are the personal pages) and chances are, there are enough posts during Tuesday through Thursday so that by the time the Friday visitor checks, all traces of Monday posts are gone unless they're one of the chosen posts on the front page.
  3. Lack of "Favorites List" support. Thankfully, Gleemax has a "Favorites List" to navigate and theoretically compile the blog entries that interests you. My main problem is that finding the "add to my favorites" button isn't readily apparent (and I can't seem to find it now) and finding my own favorites list is also quite a hassle (I just discovered I have to go to my own personal page to see it). (Edit: Found the Add Favorite button. Needs to be more visually apparent.)
  4. Too many clicks. In most other blogs, it takes me anywhere from two to three clicks to get where I want to. In Livejournal, I just click on my Friends Page and I get to read all the blogs that I want. In other services like Wordpress or Blogger, I usually have a link on my blog and I click that link (click 1). I'm where I want to be. In some cases, if it's linking to an aggregation site like SF Signal, that's the second click arises. In Gleemax, from the main site, I have to click to my Personal Page (click 1). From there, click on somebody from my Favorites List (click 2). From the profile of anyone on my Favorites Lists, I have to choose a post and go to "Read More" (click 3). If I want to view his other blog entries, I'll have to go back and more clicking ensues. Honestly, some people are turned off with this as it takes too much effort than it needs to be.
  5. Too many buttons in the wrong places. As I'm currently navigating through Gleemax, I'm finding that some of the solutions I want already exists in Gleemax. The problem is that the buttons that lead to those solutions are difficult to find and are scattered across different pages. A unified menu or navigation bar would be helpful, instead of finding a solution in page A, and then finding another solution in page B. Too many buttons also confuses users.

Current Solutions:

  1. Because of the current problem with navigation, one of the more popular blogs are those that aggregate information. Users like Crazy_Monkey1956, Solice, and KJW are trying to compile a list of interesting blogs through entires like Monkey Monday News, Friday Favorites, and Great Reads respectively. Also, Wizards of the Coast has its own aggregated list of designer blogs and RSS feeds of the latest forum post but it's not on the Gleemax site: Community. This solves issues #1 - #4 but who's going to put up such blogs to expand those not covered by the already existing bloggers?
  2. Stickied Table of Contents. It was Crazy_Monkey1956's idea to use this and it's a great idea. Make on sticky post on your blog and it links to all your other entries. This also solves the lack of readily apparent "Older Posts" on Gleemax. The bad news is that not every user will do this and worse, needs to be maintained (whenever you have a new post, you have to edit your sticky post). The truth of the matter is while this is a solution, this is more of damage control since dedicated blogging sites like Wordpress or Blogger does this automatically (they're called Archives, Tagging, etc.).

Patches to Hope for in the Future:

  1. Place a link to the Community page at the front of the Gleemax site for God's sake. I mean you already have a working solution, you just need to integrate and promote it.
  2. Add a "See Previous" button so that if I'm someone who checks the site only Fridays, I can actually find posts last Monday.
  3. Better aggregation methods such as a Favorites List that mimics RSS Feeds or Friend's List (from Livejournal). (Edit: I found a similar feature in the Control Panel but this button needs to be more visible, not hidden!)
  4. Ditch the "Read More" button in each member's profile page. Just show the posts in their entirety. Don't give us the trimmed-down version that forces us to hit the Read More button and takes us to a new page. Remember, the fewer clicks it takes to read something, the better.
  5. Add a more visible "Add to My Favorites" button. Make it a mainstay in the menu, please! Make it big or an icon! There's already too much text on the personal profile pages that the Add Favorite link is camouflaged.
  6. An RSS feed for the blogs. If people don't go to you, let your content go to them. Don't force them to go to your site and they'll naturally go to yours.

What They're Doing Right:

  1. Recent Posts is actually a good section and enables users to discover and find new blogs. However, it is hampered by the fact that it only shows the most recent entries (giving birth to the Monday-Friday syndrome) and could use a better filtering system.
  2. Sticky Posts are great since it gives at a glance the important entries a user wants to showcase.
  3. Blog coding is done correctly. I can easily copy/paste my Blogger blog entry into my Gleemax blog entry.

What I'm Hoping for in the Future:

  1. Better integration between the Forums and the Blogs (since they're still part of the Gleemax umbrella rather than a different section of the parent company). Having a Send Private Message button in one's Gleemax profile would be helpful for example instead of going to the forum and then clicking Private Messages. Also, finding the profile of a poster in the forums and finding the Add Favorite button to include them in my Favorites List for the blogs (remember, less clicks, better interface!).
  2. A way to copy/paste my blog posts into forum posts and vice versa while retaining the formatting (links, font style, etc.). Granted, this is a tall order (since many have attempted this and none yet to perfect success) but it's something to aim for considering Gleemax is both a blogging and forums site.
  3. Other blogging services such as the ability to upload photos, videos, sound clips, etc. without relying on external sites.

Blogging Content

In one of the message board threads, I mentioned one of the four possible blogs entries that will arise in Gleemax (if you have more to add, feel free to comment). I'll elaborate on them further here:

News/Aggregation Blogs:

These are blogs which typically links to other blogs/sites and reports on news. Examples of this are Monkey Monday News and my own Fiction/Writing and Tabletop RPG Podcasts. On one hand, "success" here is mentioned by how useful your news is, and how many people actually get to read it (mostly the former exists to draw in the latter). Feedback (i.e. comments) here isn't as readily important. I mean I really appreciate the "thank you for posting this" feedback but at the end of the day, that's probably the end of the discussion. People really won't debate why I am posting this or that or vehemently agree/disagree with my post. The most feedback one will probably get in such a site is why this news tidbit wasn't included or something. All News/Aggregation Blogs include some editorializing of some sort (in my case, the first paragraph of every post) but it is conceivable that some such blogs are hybrid blogs--that is they cover much editorial content. An example of this is a highly detailed tournament coverage blog. A strictly News/Aggregation Blog will just give you the score (i.e. Player X goes 2-1 against Player Y) but those that feature in-depth coverage usually throw in writing of their own and might generate feedback (i.e. "I don't think Player X should have done that..", etc.).

In the scale of popularity, News/Aggregation Blogs probably has the widest demographic as most people will have a use for it, even if they'll seldom comment on it. As far as interaction with the readers go, it's the least since it's not the type that generates debate (also the specific news/links it contains might generate debate). In Magic: The Gathering terms, News/Aggregation Blogs are like the Tutor cards or cards that retrieve cards from the Graveyard. In D&D terms, it's like the Limited Wish spell. They're not valuable in itself, but are valuable because of the subject matter they cover (rather than create). Without quality content from other sites, there is no point in having a News/Aggregation Blog because there is no such news to aggregate/cover.

Reviews Blog:

People usually tend to love reviews since it gives them a guideline as to whether to buy and support a product or not. What has changed with the Internet is that reviews aren't solely being written by people in the publishing industry but by anyone. Contrary to popular belief, I don't subscribe to the idea that there are inherently bad reviews and inherently good reviews (although I do believe in a well-written review and a not well-written review). There are simply reviews which are more similar or dissimilar to the tastes of the reader. So in many ways, the diversity of reviews works well. The problem will be finding a reviewer who has the closest approximation to your preferences and covers the particular product you're looking for (i.e. books, board games, card games, etc.). As far as demographic goes, in a perfect world, you'd have several reviewers each catering to a different niche in the market. For example, at ENWorld, we have John Cooper who gives "crunchy" bits in his RPG reviews, citing all the errors and unofficial errata he'd give to monster/NPC stats. Obviously, rules-intensive gamers will find such a review useful, while more streamlined or storytelling-orient ed gamers might prefer a different reviewer.

I'd think that each gamer will probably subscribe to one or two review blogs, but no one will really like read all the reviews that's published out there (although that is a possible idea for a News/Aggregation Blog). As far as interaction with readers go, it's flexible. I mean readers might ask questions to clarify certain opinions of the reviewer or flat-out praise him/her. On the other hand, if the reader has a different paradigm with the reviewer, he might complain about the review and antagonize the reviewer. (My advice there is that as a reader, find a reviewer that's more attuned to your tastes so that such debates don't occur! Or better yet, write your own review if you disagree so much.)

Game Report Blogs:

This is usually relegated to one's own personal experience, either a tournament they participated in or last Saturday's campaign session with your gaming group for the past 20 years. This is a precarious sort of blog because I think it's hard to get readers, at least as far as RPG sessions go. Have you ever heard of the statement that your campaign is interesting to you and your gaming group but not to other gaming groups? Well, that's true to a certain extent but that's not an absolute. Compelling writing or ideas might draw in other readers even if they're not part of your existing campaign (and might entice them to join yours). For example, I usually read Jeff's Gameblog and I think the guy carries the blog entries with his personality and unique preferences. Another time that Game Report Blogs might be popular is if you're covering a big event (i.e. D&D 4E Playtest, Pro Magic Tour, Gen Con, etc.) or if you're a celebrity (either a real celebrity, a game designer, or something interesting unique quality that keeps people hooked [The Wandering Men comes to mind]).

A segment of the gaming population that might be interested in such reading material are game designers who are interested in getting feedback with regards to playtesting about their games. Another hybrid might be Original Content that keeps the game report enticing. Examples of Original Content/Game Report hybrids are potential strategies one could have employed in D&D Miniatures. You're not only reporting about the tournament but giving feedback of your own on what should have been done or what could have been done. Aside from those factors, it's usually compelling writing, character, or some strange quality that will sustain your reading demographic. Otherwise, it's more of a private record for you and your gaming group.

Original Content Blogs:

This I think is why most people go to blogs--and generate much discussion (either positive or negative about them). Original Content I'll use very loosely. It can be anything from your own opinions on the industry (i.e. Ryan Dancey), musings on game design (or creating new "crunch" so to speak), or anything else in between (this very blog entry is an example). Honestly, the reason why I read blogs is for Original Content. And in many ways, most blogs incorporate Original Content in some way or the other--it's just that they're qualified by something. Reviews Blogs and Game Report Blogs are really narrow, focused Original Content Blogs with a particular theme or subject. I'd like to think however that the reason why people go to Gleemax is to find Original Content Blogs (and in fact many of the designer posts entries fall under this classification). This is also the most pivotal opportunity for blogger to interact with their readers. They can usually ask a question and receive feedback. Sometimes, they don't end with a question but readers will give them feedback either way, either agreeing/disagreein g with their point of view or point them to a related topic.

Gleemax has the potential to house gaming-related Original Content Blogs but the current problem that aside from the game designer blog entries, there's really no way of efficiently digging through the archives and finding the good original content blogs. It's not that I don't that they're not out there, but if one was ever written, it's damn difficult to sort them out from all the other posts.


Ashy said...


Thanks for the mention, the compliment and the shout-out! Much thanks, and keep on posting these great blog posts! :)


Charles said...

No problem. I also enjoyed the podcast you guys had with Grimm Studios a few weeks ago. =)

Ashy said...

Very glad to hear it, Charles! I'll be posting a link to another podcast this week; one that was done "on the spot" at Con on the Cob. This one gives a bit more detail about the novel, the novellas, and Plotstorming. :D

The Wandering Men are working on some podcasts of our own too!

Ashy, Wandering Man

Charles said...

Great to hear. Will link it to my Thursday gaming podcasts when it's up. Looking forward to your own podcasts as well!

Ashy said...

Groovy! Thanks for the link; let me know if you ever want to schedule an interview or something with us! :)

Ashy, Wandering Man