Sunday, 17 March 2013

Lists and blog hops and promo - oh my!

A couple of weeks ago, I started looking into list makers for blog hops, since Tash and I are embarking on organising some regular community-building fun stuff for Fantasy Boys XXX. So I thought I'd share my conclusions so far.

First, I went to take a look at the most popular linked list tool, Linky Tools. Looks like an excellent product, only problem for me, it costs $2 a month. Not much, I know, but for a cash-strapped writer, that's at least 3 sales and since I'm at the start of community building, I couldn't justify the expense (yet).

So, I went looking for free tools.

Last week, Tash and I launched our first Drabble Cascade on Fantasy Boys XXX - a bit of fun challenging folks to write drabbles (100 word pieces) inspired by a word of the week supplied by one of our readers. Naturally, since we want folks to join in, we needed a tool to collate all the drabble posts and we decided to use Simply Linked. It's, as its name suggests, a very simple tool, allows you to create a user, create lists with that user and then gives you javascript to paste into your site so folks can join the list. Great! It did exactly what it said on the tin!

However, after using it for one week, I began to see a few problems for extensive use of this tool:

  1. The only embed option is javascript, and several of our entries were from LiveJournal, which strips out scripts, so they couldn't show the linked list. This would also be true of WordPress, I believe. Blogger, however, is fine with javascript.
  2. The list owner cannot reorder items in the list - this became a problem, because I decided, as an after thought, that having a link to the main drabble information post would be useful in the list, and I could not put that entry at the top of the list unless I deleted the other entries.
  3. There is no notification when folks join the list, so I had to keep going back and checking the list manually so I could go and comment on people's entries. This is okay with just one list to check, but, since we'll be running one Drabble Cascade a week, this would soon get out of hand.
So, I went searching again, and for week 2, we're going to be trying out Listly. This is a social media site which allows anyone to create lists on any subject they like and have folks add items to the list. It has notifications, ability to change the order of list items, and it has multiple embed options, including an iframe for places that don't allow javascript. Brilliant! It fixed all the Simply Linked issues.

However, there are 3 drawbacks I've come across while setting up our first lists. 

  1. Unlike Simply Linked, a list cannot be set to non-editable, so if you have a fixed term event, like a blog hop that happens on a single day, you cannot prevent anyone from adding more items to the list after the fact. This is not a problem for the Drabble Cascades, because we want folks to carry on adding as long as they want to.
  2. This is a major drawback. Listly has a free and a premium version, and in the free version, any list that is created is instantly live, anyone can see it and interact with it. This is a problem for those of us scheduling posts on our blogs in advance that we want to go live as the day ticks into being while we're asleep in bed. Not even the premium version offers scheduling of lists going live (I don't think, although finding the help on Listly is somewhat problematic). What this means in practice is, I can create my list for a Drabble Cascade in advance, but what would have been invisible unless I embedded the list in a post for Simply Linked, is instantly public on Listly. My solution: create the skeleton of the list and embed it in the scheduled drabble post, but leave out the pertinent piece of information, the inspirational 'word of the week'. That will appear in the blog post and, later on, when I get out of bed on the day of the drabble cascade, I'll update the list with the word of the week.
  3. When you add an item to the list, because of the reading of the page being added, you cannot add a blog post that is in 'scheduled' mode, because, of course, it does not exist at that moment in time (this is something you can do with Simply Linked, because it does not use any more than the url). This means that, as a list owner, I can't pre-add the FB3X blog entries for the cascade to the list until they go live, which would be useful, but is not a show stopper.
  4. [EDIT] Another drawback with Listly that wasn't immediately obvious, because I was already logged in on my browser (doh!) is that you have to have a Listly user to add to a list - this is not very different from giving your email addy to the other list services, but you do have to have either Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn accounts. We've asked folks to feedback on this requirement to see if they're happy to create a Listly user to be able to join in the Drabble Cascades. [EDIT END]
So, in short, neither solution is perfect, and we have yet to try out the Listly list in practice, but, for free services, both of them are pretty good. I'll follow up and report on how well we get on with Listly.

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