Earlier today, Dean posted his thoughts on the current flow of feature traffic under the poetry and prose tags. I had previously discussed this with a number of the new editors, but following Dean’s post, I thought it prudent to publicly disclose my thoughts on this — especially considering the fact that Dean is not the first amongst us who I’ve seen express similar concerns.
To some extent, this situation falls under the old adage “be careful what you wish for: you just might get it.” For months, I saw writers lament that there were not enough posts being featured, and that many strong writers never had the opportunity to be featured.
What occurred was a two-fold example of the principle of scarcity. On the one hand, there were relatively few active editors looking for pieces — and those few had only a limited number of pieces they could promote under each tag in a given 24-hour period. Ten features may sound like a lot, but if you’ve ever sat on prose/everything or poetry/everything — let alone any of the related and community-created tags such as #fiction, #spilled ink, #rejectscorner, etc. — you know that there are at least 10 new posts appearing under those tags every half hour. The feature page is intended to represent the best the tag has to offer, but when one editor can find 10 pieces worthy of promotion by reading through things posted within an hour or two, what happens to everything posted for the other 22 hours?
The other side of scarcity was reflected by the attention those pieces that were featured received. When the principle of scarcity was firmly entrenched, visitors to the feature page could easily read an entire day’s featured posts in one sitting. As a result, a piece that was featured got more notes, on average, during that time than is the case now. I have previously used a bakery analogy for this. Suppose you have one bakery that sells 3 flavors of cookies: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and peanut butter. Now, suppose there is another bakery across the street that sells 50 different flavors of cookies (which I won’t burden you with listing). Assume all other factors are equal: both bakeries receive the same number of customers in a day, they sell their cookies for the same price, the cookies are of equal quality, etc. At the end of the day, Bakery #1 has sold 200 chocolate chip cookies. Bakery #2, in contrast, has only sold 24 chocolate chip cookies — and it’s easy to see why this is so. Bakery #1 sold so many chocolate chip cookies because there was a scarcity of flavor options available. Bakery #2, on the other hand, has a plethora of flavors available, and as a result, a particular flavor, no matter how popular or tasty it is, won’t sell as much. The feature pages of the writing tags were previously Bakery #1; now they are Bakery #2 — and there’s nothing wrong with this. You still have the same number of customers (maybe even more, actually), but having more flavors of cookies available translates to a broader distribution of sales.
Leaving the bakery analogy, the fault for the perceived diminishing value of the feature (presuming the number of notes received is the standard we’re using to valuate features) doesn’t lie with the editors who are selecting so many delicious pieces to feature; rather, it lies with the consumer. Assume you normally spend 10 minutes each day perusing the feature page. Before all the “new” editors, you could read through everything featured that day (for the most part) in that 10-minute time frame. Now, you’ll be lucky to get through even a third of what’s been featured in the last 24 hours. Since obviously you start reading at the top of the page, it stands to reason that those pieces at the top of the page get your attention first — but when your 10 minutes is up, you’ve moved on, leaving plenty of other newly featured pieces still to be digested. It also stands to reason, as Dean eloquently pointed out, that what piece sits at the top of the page changes frequently, and no one piece remains there for long. What this means is that each featured piece ultimately receives fewer notes as a direct result of being featured, not because the quality is any lower than it was before, but because the content is rotating so quickly that pieces rapidly lose prime position at the top of the page.
The tag editors are all individual Tumblr users with their own lives and responsibilities, living all over the world. To attempt some sort of coordinated effort to “slow down” the tag so that readers can keep up would be impossible and fool-hardy. The movement on the featured page now comes closer to approximating the actual traffic on the writing tags as a whole. This is what the community has been begging for. Now that you have it, it’s time to dig deep and adjust your pace to account for it.