Category Archives: Writing

50WS: Likes vs. Ratings

This week I made a pretty noticeable change to 50WS: I removed the ability to rate stories and replaced it with “Like” buttons. Why? Well, here’s my thought process on the subject.

Over the past few months, there was a clear trend on 50WS towards low star ratings. The best stories used to get 4.5 averages, but now most stories were sitting at 2.5 to 3.0,  with a few occasionally approaching 3.8 or 3.9. There were cases where a story that was doing quite well suddenly received a large number of low votes, driving its average way down for no apparent reason. So not only was there a lot of unexplained negativity, but there seemed to be some abuse of the system, too.

This got me thinking.

With star ratings, readers had three ways to express their opinions about a story. They could rate it, they could leave a comment, or they could share it using the Share buttons. Of the three, rating was the easiest and least personal, commenting was the most personal, and sharing was the most one-directional: you usually only share a story if you really like it.

I asked myself: what would we lose if we got rid of star ratings? Well, directional feedback on stories (saying it’s “good” vs. saying it’s “bad”) might take more effort, meaning some feedback would disappear. We would also lose a way of “comparing” stories to see which one the readers liked more.

How valuable are these things, and what differences does a Like button introduce?

Directional feedback can be useful. It’s good for a reader to be able to say when they liked a story, and it can be helpful to the author to get feedback on elements of a story that didn’t work so well. The positive side can be captured by a “Like” button, although we can’t distinguish between a 4 and a 5 anymore. As for the negative feedback, it’s much more useful to get an explanatory comment than a throwaway 1-star or 2-star rating: a comment benefits the author more.

As for comparing stories, I don’t publish any stories I personally consider 1-star or 2-star, and I don’t often look back at a story and feel it was a 3-star. I already filter out the less effective stories when I review the submissions. So all the stories on the site meet a certain standard. A poor star rating from the readers doesn’t really mean the story is bad, because I don’t believe I publish bad stories. As I said previously, we are losing the ability to compare 4s and 5s, but the best stories tend to earn positive comments, too, and those are a better measure of resonating with readers than a high rating is. We also have the Top Stories program to reward the really good stories (though I choose the winners myself, so ratings/likes don’t really determine that).

In the balance of things, I felt that moving to Likes instead of ratings had a lot more pros than cons. We now have a better measure of “popularity” and a system that’s less susceptible to abuse (it still allows for “positive abuse” if someone Likes a story several times from different IP addresses, but there isn’t as much harm in that as low-rating a story multiple times). Our positive feedback is maintained, and our negative feedback is improved.

I haven’t deleted the old star ratings from the site yet, and I will probably archive them for future reference, just in case, but I’m pretty happy with this change.

I’m willing to hear feedback from 50WS readers, though, so if you haven’t already chimed in on the announcement post on the site, let me know what you think.

I Thought it Was a Date

“Hold on. You think this is a date!?”

“Well… Isn’t it?” The evidence had seemed pretty clear to me up until about 10 seconds ago.

She huffed. “What gave you that impression?”

“I don’t know, it just kind of seemed like one. There were… signs.”

“You’re impossible.” She stood, snatched up her purse, and stormed off.

I sank into my chair and bemoaned my misfortune. Where had I gone wrong?

Reaching across the table, I took one of the offending objects and held it up to the approaching waiter. “What would you say this is?” I asked.

“That?” The waiter lifted an eyebrow quizzically. “That, sir, is an exceptionally large raisin.”

And that was how I parted ways with my fourth and final fruit tutor.

Ads on 50WS: What Does the Future of Look Like?

It has now been about three weeks since I first put up some Google ads on I know ads can be a bit of a touchy subject, so I want to explain my reasoning behind trying them out and share how things are going so far.


First, some context. I’ve been running 50WS since February 2009, and the site has grown quite a bit over that time. In July 2010, 50WS got 1,822 pageviews from 590 different visitors. In July 2013, site traffic was several times higher, with 11,934 pageviews from 5,066 different visitors!

What about annual traffic? Well, in all of 2011, 24,874 different people visited the site. In 2013 so far, with one full month left to go, the number of unique visitors has grown to more than 54,250, and could top 60,000 by the end of the year.

Outside of site traffic numbers, in the past four and a half years I’ve also released two 50-word story collections (with the third in production for release in January) and held several contests with a variety of prizes.

The Future

So 50WS is growing, and that’s great. Of all the writing projects I’ve taken on over the past several years, 50WS has been by far the most unique and the most successful.

My goal from here is to keep that success rolling. The question I’ve been asking myself is: what might the continued growth of 50WS look like? Here are some ideas:

  • Monthly themed contests (with prizes)
  • Two stories a day year-round
  • Published anthologies of submitted stories
  • More opportunities for writers and readers to interact and share feedback

To make any or all of these ideas a reality, I need four things: 1) readers, 2) writers, 3) time, and 4) money.

Readership is growing. Submissions are pouring in. I can make time for 50WS when I have to (though not always as much as I’d like.)

The fourth one, though, is often the most complicated. Contest prizes aren’t free. Neither is producing and publishing a book. The site also has some overhead in the form of hosting and store software.

Now, I don’t really need to make a profit on 50WS, but if I want the site to move forward I do need it to be self-sustaining.


That’s where the ads come in. I decided that if I was going to try site ads, they had to earn enough to pay for the cost of hosting the website. For the past 4+ years, I’ve been paying the hosting costs out of pocket. That’s fine; as a hobby, 50WS is a lot cheaper than most other things I could be doing. But expenses are expenses…

My plan has been to set up advertising, let it run for a month or two, and see what happens. If the ads earn their keep, they’ll stay, and I’ll reinvest the money into other areas that will help the site grow. If they don’t make enough to at least cover hosting expenses, I’ll get rid of them and make other plans.

So how are the ads doing? As of today, the ads have been up on 50WS for 18 days, or just over half a month. During that time, they have earned enough for about a month and a half of hosting expenses. Projected over 30 days—which is a bit risky with this little data—they’ll earn about three times as much as I need to pay for hosting each month.

Verdict: the ads will stay until something happens to make them go away.

Of course, I’m very interested in hearing feedback from anyone who has found that the ads have affected their 50WS experience, because that’s an important factor here. So far I haven’t had any negative feedback about the ads, and I haven’t seen any annoying popups or audio ads. Let me know if you’ve seen anything obnoxious!

Next Steps

Having a (small) revenue stream for the site could mean some very exciting things moving forward. Continued site growth means continued revenue growth, which means even more exciting ways to make 50WS grow, which is a pretty exciting concept.

I hope you’ll join me in seeing what comes next!