OK. No one can say that I didn't go above and beyond in promoting Suite to writers. If anything I was one of their strongest advocates before I quit Suite101 earlier this month. I can't even count how many writers I brought into the network whether directly in my role as editor, or indirectly bringing writers into other sections, who I had met through this or other blogs, online communities, etc. I still get emails from writers shocked that I'd leave after promoting them so heavily, not to mention plenty of emails about other things.
Those "other things" are the interesting bits actually. While I'm obviously unable to give specifics on how the site is run and such, I'm going to share a few very general observations that any writer considering joining Suite should be aware of, in light of some of the emails I've been getting (and am still getting from various writers even today).
It's no secret that I despise nearly everything about About.com. That's why working with Suite was such a breath of fresh air last year. Management, especially the editor-in-chief, actually listened to what the editors and writers were saying, and very often acted on it. After changes in the editorial / writer roles earlier this year, that started to change. Despite claims from management that they "listened" to us, the facts generally proved otherwise, with the same things having to be repeatedly brought up just to have us asked what we were even talking about down the road (just as one example of the quality of "listening" going on). Frustrating didn't begin to describe it.
Later on, the atmosphere became more tense, and the general attitude of some in management became more "unbearable" to put it mildly. On one hand it's a matter of sweet-talking everyone to keep things civil and get people to shut up, and on the other hand there were a lot of insulting private comments and accusations (including to myself, as well as quite a few insulting remarks towards writers that I've had forwarded to me over the last few weeks). If it weren't a matter of protecting their confidentiality, I'd post a few examples. It's definitely not a one-time problem over there. And since I was vocal in promoting them previously when they were getting things right, I'm going to also be vocal about keeping writers in my networks informed of general problems, so they can make the best decisions as to whether or not to join this or other content networks.
So here are my thoughts in a general sense. While I hate to say this, if you want to write for a network, go apply at About first if there's an open topic in your area of expertise. They'll treat you like shit if you don't kiss their asses 24-7, but at least they'll pay you for your trouble, and frankly having the NY Times Co. on your resume is more valuable in getting future gigs anyway for most writers. As much as I support content networks in general as a way for writers to network and gain added perks, under no circumstances should any of you have to put up with the kind of drama some of these companies dish out. It's really a shame though. Suite had (and probably still has) a lot of potential. But they need to get their heads out of their collective asses first, and hire some people who actually have some competency when it comes to running a Web publishing company.
Now given, I'm not bashing every member of Suite management. But here are a few tips / thoughts for them:
1. Stop thinking that a strong background in the print publishing world gives anyone any sense of quality Web publishing. If you can't understand that they're two entirely different animals, that really doesn't bode well for the company's future.
2. Pissing off any kind of significant group of writers when you run a content network just isn't a smart idea. Face it... those writers are your biggest asset. Lose them, and you lose your company... unless of course you simply believe that everyone's replaceable, so you honestly don't care... who knows? If that ends up the case eventually, don't count on getting quality writers, b/c despite the lack of general Web knowledge by some in management, writers are amazingly well-networked online. Upset just a few, and the whole Web writing community can hear about it amazingly quickly.
3. Don't act like you know exactly what readers want in all of your 400+ topics and subtopics. You can't. That's why you have expert writers and specialized editors who actually know what the hell they're doing in a niche. Listen to them. Value them. Don't take that knowledge for granted.
4. Stop acting like being online for 10 years is enough to justify blowing off other issues. It doesn't mean you're a success. It means that your biggest competitor is a year or two younger than you, getting enormously more traffic than you, working with much better advertisers than you while you continue to be predominantly Google slaves, and says that after 10 years, you still have a lot to learn about Web publishing. You don't have to "be About." But you do need to have enough sense to learn from their past mistakes instead of making them all over again, and to understand that just because About does something doesn't mean it should be avoided. Believe it or not, as much as I hate to admit it, About occasionally does do something right. Knowing what real blogs and forums are, knowing how to keep a reasonably logical navigational structure, etc. isn't an "About thing." It's Web common sense.
5. While this list could go on and on, I'm going to cut to my most important piece of advice that no one's going to give a damn about.... Before spending more money hiring more programmers to throw at problems, instead hire a Web consultant to help you work through your basic issues, especially regarding usability. It's pretty pathetic from a visitor standpoint still, as far as any real interactive qualities go. While I have no doubt that the intentions are good, there's going to be a steep learning curve ahead to really improve your most basic problems (which despite "look" changes really haven't changed much at all). You're at the point where you really need an independent third party to do a thorough evaluation to help you improve, b/c it's just not happening despite all of those good intentions.
And that's enough for now. I've been asked quite a bit about what my "real" feelings are about leaving Suite, and so there you go... you can get the gist of my frustration and anger. At this point I'd urge writers to steer clear until they get their act together. I hope in the future they'll finally get it together to a point where I can enthusiastically recommend them again.... now just isn't that time.
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