Saturday, December 6, 2008

So About Story Comics

Hello again. 

Scott and I have been doing a lot of thinking about the role of story comics on the site. The story tab right now is admittedly not that great, and I just wanted to let everyone know that we're working on a solution.

Edit: I guess now we're more seriously considering changing the question for story comics to 'Is It Good Today?'
Originally: The idea that I think we're going to implement is a five-star system. That way, the question 'Is it funny?' doesn't apply, and some discretion is allowed when you're rating story arcs.

What do you guys think of this system? If you have any better ideas, we'd love to hear them in the comments or at team (at) isitfunnytoday.com.

P.S. What do you think of the expansion of the Top 10 to Top 20? Is it too much? We wanted to give some lesser known comics that might not have as many votes as the larger comics some exposure, so yeah that's why we did it if anyone was wondering.

P.P.S. We bought the domain i2ft.com, which should save you the trouble of typing in the longest URL ever.

- Zack

28 comments:

Mark said...

I think the 20 comics is great and the idea about story comics would help a lot. Most story comics can't afford to be funny every update and respect the storyline as the artist/author wants and the readers deserve.

Great work all around thus far. I love the site and cruise it daily.

Zim said...

Good stuff. That would be a great change. I totally agree with the what the guy stated above.. story comics generally can't afford to be funny every strip.

E said...

I'm conflicted. Because honestly, sometimes you just want to laugh, and with a 5-star rating you might see the top 20 get taken up by depressing comics or comics which need 40 pages of backstory to be understood.

Plus, I think that "Is it funny?" is a more simple question that's likely to get more honest answers. With 5-star ratings, you have no idea what's being rated; is it the technical aspects, the funniness, the "importantness"?

How about automatically making the question be "is it funny?", but upon request the user can click a "serious button" that's next to the rating. Once the "serious button" is pressed, the question changes from "is it funny?" to "is it good?" and if over 50% of the voters mark a comic as "serious", then it will go into a separate list from the funny comics.

That seems like it would be a simple and effective system that would create a space for serious comics while keeping the basic function intact. What do you think?

scottjg said...

@E So just to be clear, we're not changing the whole site. There is already a separate section for story comics. The 5-star system would only apply to comics which are already considered story comics.

Does that change your opinion? We didn't want the main page (regular comics section) to be clogged with story comics, so we separate them without any user intervention.

E said...

I see.

No... I don't think so. Because I think that the more important difference is between "funny" and "serious" comics. I'm not sure that the "story" distinction is really valid.

Many of the comics in the "regular" section are already "story" comics; they follow a progression of events (i.e. many comics have "story arcs" that take place over a week or more) and there are longstanding and evolving character relationships, though these are usually not essential to understanding the comic.

On the other hand, many of the "story" comics are structured not as real continuing stories, but as single panels within a larger story ark. As such, they can often be enjoyed even if you haven't followed the whole story, much like the "non-story" comics. It's a blurry distinction.

There are comparatively few webcomics which are structured like pages in a graphic novel; meant to be viewed all at once as a flowing story rather than in installments.

To explain the difference, I'm going to make an example of two of my favourite webcomics (which I don't think are on this site yet).

First, "The Abominable Charles Christopher"; it has an overall story arc, but it's very loose and often one of the entries will be quite unrelated to what's before and after. For example:
http://www.abominable.cc/2008/11/12/blunt-force-drama/

Second, Kukuburi; this one flows like a graphic novel. Despite being released weekly, it makes no concessions to being episodic:
http://www.kukuburi.com/2007/08/09/one/

My main point is that sometimes "story" comics have panels that can be very funny even to those that don't follow the story, just like "regular" comics. Maybe for story comics, people could also vote on how "accessible" a panel is to someone who hasn't been following the story?

Anyway, I trust you guys to make the right choices. I'm just writing some random thoughts and ideas.

Knute Snortum said...

I think it's all been said. Story comics aren't gag-a-day and should be judged differently. A few comics, like PVP, can pull off a story line and a gag-a-day (most of the time) but that's the exception.

scottjg said...

@E We honestly appreciate the thoughts (We don't take it personally!). You've brought up an interesting point here.

I worry about complicating the UI. It seems like the majority of people vote on the frame rather than our homepage, and the voting frame is already a bit crowded. I wonder how we should represent the option to switch the question in such a small space. Also, if we're going to make distinctions, it would be cool if you could separate depressing comics from comics that need backstory, etc.

I was thinking we might have some default tags that you can add with an icon. Maybe you could click something to automatically add a tag of 'depressing'. I'm not sure what icons they would be though (sad face could just as well mean 'not funny'). Also, how does the user know to mark the comic as depressing before voting (so that the question will switch)? Not sure. Maybe just allow them to vote differently on the questions?

Where do these comics go? Do we just have separate sections for depressing comics, plot arcs, and novel-style stories? I wonder where comics like Achewood and Questionable Content fit in that (generally gag-a-day, but more enjoyable if you know the characters). Would people ever go to the depressing comics section? Plot-arcs section? If no one goes, then no one votes.

Also if you tagged something as 'needs backstory/plot-arc', I wonder what's a good way to link together the entire plot arc so you can easily read it. How do we know which comics belong? Maybe just take all comics in sequential order that are marked as plot-based without a separating non-plot comic? This assumes that people actually tag comics accurately. Also, assumes they aren't separate plot arcs that appear sequentially.

I think the story section is a good idea right now, because to some extent, there is value in having the front page show only comics that are generally supposed to be funny. Without a really first-class ui to help users moderate this (and without a lot of users), consolidating the regular and story comics together will flood the front page with comics that just aren't funny.

I hate making the regular/story distinction when we add comics but it encourages users to read the most recent because there is a high likelihood that the comic could be funny without context (vs just being plot based). This adds some value, I think.

Also, I think we really need personalized homepages to allow users to easily follow their favorite comics (this is planned!). I think that once we have this feature, users will be more apt to categorize the comics (as they'll be more likely to understand the context). Also, it means that some users will still see comics that are depressing (by choice), even though they never go to the depressing section. This might make having the categories more reasonable, given that we have a good UI for it.

To me, this is pretty exciting to think about. What sucks is that it's finals week and Zack and I are going to be stuck doing schoolwork. Once winter break starts, we'll have much more time to work on this. Either way, we still want to collect feedback now. Any more thoughts (E or anyone)?

Tom Dell'Aringa said...

You might consider having two web sites. Is it funny, and Is it good. I've seen sites like this but I can't think of it off hand right now. Basically you switch "mode" depending on what type of thing you want to see.

I know some comics may fit in both categories - so let them be in both. Mine is one example (Marooned). I'm in a part of my story now where the funny is taking a definite back seat - or a casual reader won't get the humor - they don't get the references.

You could have "crossover" links on each site - maybe both sites show the top 5 of each category or something. Certainly this would take some thought. But it might solve the problem of trying to design two ideas into one bag.

I appreciate you guys honestly seeing the problem. Us story guys can feel underappreciated sometimes. :)

Keep up the good work.

Tom

Smitty D said...

I completely LOVE the Top 20 idea, but I'm kind of on the fence about the 5 star system for story comics.

Maybe a combination of the yes/no and 5 star rating would do the trick. Or, maybe it would just muck up the good thing you guys have going right now.

Miles said...

I was going to suggest something similar to what Tom said. For comics that aren't generally meant to be funny necessarily, just make the question "is it good today?" and I think that'd solve a lot of problems.

scartoonist said...

Ranges like stars seem to generate a lot of boring bell curves.

Just reviewing the various alternatives without much planning... How about 4 categories, small/new, medium (traffic 5K-30K), large (31K - 85K) and jumbo. Within each category votes push the comic into on-screen prominence by enhancing (or deflating) the size of its banner or graphical icon. All sorts of entertaining GUI possibilities for the graphic designer in you.

Alternately, one of five icons could indicate current excitement and live next to the comic's name.

Do keep the long form results separate from the short form.

Bengo

scartoonist said...

http://floatinglightbulb.blogspot.com/2008/12/is-it-funny-today.html

FYI

scottjg said...

@Tom In terms of crossover, what do you think of this:

By default we would put the comic on the story page without any intervention, but when the bot detects a new comic, it could email you a link that would let you choose to allow your comic to crossover to the regular page (while keeping it on the story page).

This would be only for story comic authors who choose to opt-in to the feature.

Michael said...

hey, great site! have you thought at all about a third section for voting based on a comic's art separate from it's humor or story?

i know you're probably cautious of splitting things into too many different categories, but i think humor, story and art are the three basic draws to a comic. and three categories doesn't seem too complicated.

great work so far though, this site has already become a regular stop for me.

Tom Dell'Aringa said...

@scottjg - that might be an idea worth exploring. I assume then the question changes from is it funny to is it good?

I think the key issue here is that you are really trying to cover two ideas (good and funny) with a site that is very focused on the one idea (funny, of course). I can appreciate that problem, being a UI designer myself in "real life".

That's why I suggested a companion site, but I realize working two sites is, well, twice the work.

Possibly there's a subtext line "or is it good?" under the main title. I guess somehow you have to get across the point to the general audience that funny isn't the only metric with story comics.

Will a user be confused when they click through to a strip and the question isn't is it funny? Maybe not - probably something that needs testing.

Maybe that works, and you send that question out, we answer 'good' or 'funny' and the question is set appropriately. Definitely something to try out, I think.

scottjg said...

@Tom Zack and I were talking about this last night, and we might do something like that. One idea was, if you click through to view the comic on the story page, it will ask "is it good?", but if you click through to view the comic on the regular comic page, it'll still ask, "is it funny?"

The votes for good and funny will be independent, and the story section section will rank based on it being good, whereas the regular section will rank based on it being funny.

I do like the idea of crossover though - hence the email allowing the author to choose. Does this sound equitable?

Tom Dell'Aringa said...

I think it's going to be confusing if one click gives me funny and the other gives me good. And it kind of defeats the purpose then, because you're still asking the wrong question too often.

I'd say start with your idea of giving us a choice for the update to choose funny or good. At least on a single comic level, it would be consistent.

I still think in a larger sense, it's confusing because the messaging of the site is 'funny'.

I wonder if story comics simply might always be asked 'is it good' - because a funny comic IS good.

This is definitely a tricky issue. But maybe starting with giving us that option is probably easiest to implement first and you could see how it works.

Rick said...

I just had an idea

Do it like Slashdot post ratings. You could have people rate it and say whether the found it funny, touching, dramatic, etc.

scartoonist said...

With long form (story) comics, the qualities that make them appealing and the qualities that make them successful are not the same.

Creating value in being appealing to users of your site at the expense of successful could be damaging.

To illustrate:

Factors that make a comic appealing:
- good story
- good art
- humor

Factors that are highly associated with success:
- frequent update schedule
- distinctiveness
- humor

There are others, of course.

You could get the "Buzz Comix Effect," in which the comic does things it would not naturally do (beg people to vote for it, make wallpaper and other "incentives," display badges for Buzz on their site) in hopes of acquiring publicity, prominence and traffic. But the investment only pays off for a small percentage of those who do it, and even for some securely in the top ten, the authors question whether it is worth it.

Breaking the vote into subsections like art, while initially appealing, are likely to hold fairly constant over time, revealing nothing.

Even asking people to react to the current storyline brings weirdness. You could offer an up arrow, down arrow and neutral for the current storyline's appeal, but some comics spend a year in one story while others spend a week. This means the time when the story is developing varies tremendously between comics, and may result in odd effects.

Still, a review of finished stories for various decades suggests that the rating question, "How's the latest episode?" would fit your needs, and a response range from two arrows up to one up to none to one down and two down would give voters some wiggle room. This has the advantage of being pretty specific (the latest episode), thereby fitting your needs; and pretty general, in terms of not creating weird effects. No serious author participating in your site is going to attempt to change habits except to make each episode as compelling as possible. Any that diminish risk of low score by becoming formulaic get what they deserve.

Now, how do you determine whether a voter has read the story from the beginning, and is qualified to vote on it? Perhaps this doesn't matter to you; that would seem to reduce the value of results. Monitoring compliance seems like a nightmare; perhaps people could check off whether they were joining mid-story and be weighted slightly differently. This would raise transparency issues if undisclosed and gaming issues if disclosed.

Ultimately, you must make the best of a challenging situation -- voting on story installments -- and if you are determined to pursue it, set it up in a simple, clean way; well idiot-proofed, and see what happens. You can always change it later.

BTW, I am hearing rumblings from some people who say you put their sites up without their permission. If history holds true, you may lose additional marquis names. Since there are obviously people excited about your site, I'd suggest you ask them to check their analytics traffic results for traffic originating here, but you're not sending them any traffic, are you? You are just transferring their archives to your own?

That's a much stickier issue, I suspect. You might query users and ask if they are viewing strips from your site as a new base station, if so, you are peeling away traffic from comics. Perhaps you can address this and the permission issue.

Hope my comments are useful in some way. It's all interesting.

Zack Divozzo said...

@scartoonist: Hey, thanks a lot for your input, we'll definitely keep it in mind. It's a pretty complicated problem.

But just to be clear, we do not hotlink or host comic content. All that we do is link to them and put up a frame on the top of their page, which brings traffic to their site as well as ours. In the archives, we only store links to the pages with their old comics on them.

scartoonist said...

@Zack

Thanks for clarifying. Now I'll be better informed. I appreciate it.

Explosm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Explosm said...

Hey I'm one of the guys from Cyanide & Happiness.

I think this site needs some work, but I really like the idea.

A few thoughts:
-Don't let people upvote/downvote from the main page without reading the comic first. If this site takes off that will be the first thing abused to hell by competitive fans

-As far as including serious comics, I don't you should. I know the impulse is to stick to an all-inclusive WE LOVE WEBCOMICS philosophy but think about it. What you've got works (ideally) for QUICK FUNNY comics. Instead of bending over backwards for absolutely every webcomic, you'd be better off just specifying what this place is and what it isn't. What you've got here is a tool for people looking for a quick laugh, if you start trying to incorporate every webcomic you're going to dilute the appeal and contradict your name.

So in summary, I think you guys need to better emphasize this as a ranking for quick laugh comics and just keep it like that. I really don't think including every type webcomic will help since there are so many other sites, forums etc you can go to if you want to be recommended a certain type of comic.

What you've got here is a fun little gadget and you should stick to your guns, if not fine tune it a little. Overreaching ain't always a good thing.

Explosm said...

Oh and also, don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-story comic or anything.

I love story comics and read a bunch of them, but they were all recommended either by friends or from online webcomic communities. I cannot imagine being introduced to a story comic through an automated ranking list. The question "Is It Good Today?" doesn't really tell you what the comic is about or why it might interest you. Stuff like genre, art style, interesting characters. That's all stuff you TALK about when you're recommending a good comic to invest your time reading. So if you want to include story comics, you may as well make it a forum. That's the best means of finding a great story-based comic in my opinion.

puppethead said...

I'm with explosm. Keep it simple, a simple up/down vote. If you give me a half dozen categories to vote within for each strip, I'll just tell ya now, I'm not going to vote. If you insist on doing something for story comics (and that's a noble cause), don't try to do it under the same format.

A couple other observations: I'd change the "today" list to be "most recent", since it's not always today, and some that are published every day appear 2 or 3 times on the list. If you make it "most recent", I'd add another list for "this week", since I don't have the luxury of reading 20 webcomics every day, no matter how much I'd like that.

Christopher Stetson Wilson said...

I see nothing wrong with segregating the story comics. I agree with Explosm that generally people are just looking for one-and-done jokes, but there's no reason not to include the story comics somewhere on the site for those who are interested. And it's really to the advantage of the authors of these strips to put themselves in that category so the more casual users of the site won't automatically dismiss them as unfunny.

I disagree with the idea to have personalized pages for users to follow their own selections of comics. I think the spirit of the site is to throw away familiarity, and just ask the simple question "is it funny or not?" If users can create their own pages, you're going to get a huge chunk of people who just use the site as a comics browser, never explore the lesser-known strips, the new entries, etc, and the purpose of the site is defeated, not to mention that these users will create fewer hits for the site. Familiarity is the enemy. Just my opinion.

A few suggestions I'd like to make:

...a special set up for both comics authors and power users, say those readers who have rated an absurd number of strips, like 10,000. Perhaps these groups could gain access to an expanded rating system, so you could also have buttons for "Originality", "Art", "Seriousness" or "Gravity", things of that nature. I would love to be able to rate Garfield Without Garfield "Unoriginal" even if I rate it "Funny" and rate Truck Bearing Kibble "Original" even if I don't rate it "Funny". This would lead to more interesting rankings down the line, so you might have the "Funniest" comic different from the "Best Overall" comic. But I agree with puppethead that you probably should give all that functionality to everybody.

I notice that my comic is rated far fewer times than, say, Dinosaur Comics, which is understandable since my strip is the lesser-known, but having an incentive to get to 10,000 ratings (or whatever) would encourage readers to read more than just their one favorite daily, and would also create more hits for the site.

The comics authors and power users could also be handy in voting in (or out) comics that make the site, so it's more democratic. Although maybe being a dictatorship is more fun for you guys.

And secondly, there should be a section of Best Individual Comics. So the highest-rated individual comic of the day, of the week, of the month, of the year, and all-time. I know for myself that would create a huge incentive to really produce something spectacular, to get a strip on one of those lists, which would be handy for people who don't visit the site every day.

Tom Dell'Aringa said...

There's a couple good ideas there. I think that providing some incentive for a user to rate many *different* comics (not just rate PvP 10,000 times) would benefit both the site and the comics listed. You get users interacting more with the site and you get more page views for a wider range of strips.

The extra metrics isn't a bad idea either, although if you go there I wouldn't restrict it based on user type, IMO. Although you need to balance that with the ease of use issue.

I think any idea you guys can use that exposes the user to a wider range of comics other than the big dogs, who sooner or later will dominate the front page, is good for everyone.

So you might have a couple of lists that rotate based on time or something. Todays highly rated furries - today's highly rated sci-fi, etc. Breaking things down into genre automatically filters the numbers down quite a bit.

You could let the comic authors choose the genre or category, and probably allow multiples. A furry comic could be sci-fi too for example.

Also, what about custom lists? Let me as a user configure my own list that I want to see. Maybe I want to exclude furry comics because I don't read them.

People inherently dig lists. I don't see a problem with having a few more well thought out lists, some of which rotate and maybe one of which is configurable by the user on the home page.

More to explore and better for everyone.

Author said...

I agree with explosm. Don't dilute your USP by trying to be all things to all people. You deal in funny. Leave it to someone else to set up

IsItDepressingToday.com
IsTheArtGoodToday.com
DoesItMakeaLogicallyValidArgumentToday.com

etc etc etc

If a story comic doesn't often make it to the top ten, so what? It's a story comic, not a gag strip. But if it happens to be funny that day, it'll get voted up. What more can a story comic creator expect from a site called Is It Funny Today?