Narrative: A Critical Look

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Yesterday, on Steemit, I gave a quick rundown of some initial thoughts on the Narrative beta launch. Today, I want to dive in more critically. Specifically, I want to address some critical UI issues, some annoyances, and reputation scoring.

Three User Experience Issues That Must Be Dealt With Quickly

User experience is the lifeblood of any social media website. If users show up, get confused, or can’t access certain aspects of the website in some way, it will discourage their further use of the site. Therefore, I find these three issues very critical to the long-term success of Narrative.

  1. Tagging – Let’s start with user tagging. I have had mixed results tagging individuals on Narrative in comments and in posts. It seems that if I begin a comment with the user name tag, the Narrative platform recognizes it more often, but if I add the tag in the middle of or end of a sentence, the system doesn’t recognize the tag. This makes it difficult to notify other users that a comment has been made in response to them. Tagging is essential in social media to get another user’s attention. On Narrative, it’s a hindrance. This needs to be fixed pronto.
  2. Comment nesting and notifications – Currently, if you want to respond to another user’s comment on a post, you can do so, but you can’t comment directly underneath their comment. So if you’re addressing a specific comment, you have to point that out in your comment rather than nest your comment under the other users’. This may not be a huge issue now, but as more users join the platform, it will become critical to maintaining engagement on posts. Plus, you add this factor to the tagging issue and it becomes even more critical. Regarding notifications, I have not received a single notification for comments on any of my posts or responses to my comments on others’ posts. That means I have to go back and check to see if I’ve been answered or responded to. There is no efficient way to keep up with all the comments to be able to do that. This issue also needs to be fixed right now.
  3. Age-appropriate content opt-in/out – It’s already been noticed. The default setting for age-appropriate content, the best I can tell, is opt-in. That means, if you don’t change this setting before you start looking for posts you want to engage with, you’ll see things you don’t want your family seeing. If you’re at work and your boss is looking over your shoulder, you could have issues. This setting should be opt-out with the ability to opt-in if you want to see such content.

My initial impression of Narrative’s beta launch is pretty good, but there are some issues that need to be addressed. I’m confident the team will address critical issues as they arise, but they can’t be slow about it. Some issues are going to be long-term inhibitors to growth and adoption. Those issues need to be tackled first. Other improvements can be added along the way.

A Few Annoyances

Annoyances are not critical issues. They’re simply things that might make me groan, or any user for that matter, but are not serious enough to drive us away. For instance, as I mentioned in my last post, the Narrative beta design could use some more color. The plain white background is a little bland. While there is a blue-scale gradient bar across the top of the page, I don’t think it’s enough. Sure, it’s a branding item, but to attract the Facebook and Twitter crowd, there needs to be color.

The network stats page is a bit underwhelming. There is a lot of information missing that could be there, but let’s take a look at the information that is there.

  • After a year of development, the Narrative team has managed to attract only 7,171 users. That’s not much of a beta launch. Of those, only 854 have been active in the last 30 days. Again, that’s a really insignificant number.
  • I’m not sure why Narrative is reporting its rewards pool balance. Its balance, as of today, is only 2,586,531.61. The price of NRVE at CoinMarketCap is $0.019037 a day after launch, which is less than it was the day before launch. That’s not very promising. I’d expect the beta launch to impact the price of NRVE in the positive much like a listing on Binance or Coinbase does. In this case, there is a reverse Binance effect. The price effectively means the value of the rewards pool right now is only 49,239.80225957. I realize this is just a start, but it’s a very meager start.
  • More annoying than either of the above is that there are only 831 active (i.e. purchased) niches out of 3,042 approved. Those 831 are owned by 322 Narrators. In my opinion, Narrative has done a poor job of managing the niche approval and ownership process. Out of the gate, they require niche owners to invest as little as $75 for a niche without adequately explaining the benefits of niche ownership. When their target audience is comprised largely of people not familiar with cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, they should expect a huge learning curve. They should have a fire sell on niches to encourage more investment in the platform early on. Otherwise, the “content economy” could take years to get off the ground.
  • Since yesterday, there have been an additional 140 posts published by users. Only one of those was published in the top five most popular niches. Oddly, the 10th most popular niche yesterday (Independent Music) had 34 published posts, but today, the 10th spot (Space & Astronomy) is occupied with only 30. What happened? Were five posts in the Independent Music niche unpublished? If so, why? Finally, an aggregate of 32 new posts have been published in the top 10 niches since yesterday.

Niches

I’d like to see more user statistics. For instance, who are the top posters? Which users own the most niches? Which ones have the most NRVE? Are Narrators primarily publishing in niches they own or is there a lot of cross-posting? How many users have been active on the platform in the last 24 hours? How many comments have been posted on published posts?

The network stats page is only barely useful since so much is being left out. If you analyze the number of new posts and realize that some of those are undoubtedly by Narrative staff, and probably most by early adopters, it looks like the beta launch was a dud. On the bright side, new users are bidding on niches. That’s going to mean more options for publishers.

Some Thoughts on Reputation

65 rep scoreNarrative’s reputation scoring system leaves a lot to be desired, and I say that as being a huge beneficiary of it. Since yesterday, my reputation has increased by 5 whole points. The only time my Steemit reputation increased by that much was as a Plankton, when my reputation was in the 20s. It has grown considerably slower since then. I’d suspect that to also be the case at Narrative, but I’m not so sure that it will be. That’s because 60% of Narrative’s reputation score is based on the quality of content one publishes. But since I have one of the highest reputation scores on Narrative, I’d think the bar would be higher.

One controversial aspect of the Narrative reputation scoring system is the certification process. One Narrator has addressed this issue quite well, and I agree with many of his points.

What is not clear to me is whether or not certification impacts the quality score on content. It’s one thing to include certification as 30% of one’s total reputation score, but what if Narrative uses one’s certification status to buff the quality score of one’s content? I have no idea if they’re doing that, but if they are, then I’d certainly get a better quality score on my content than the author of the above article who has not gone through the certification process. But the real issue is that it costs users $15 to get certified, a steep price if you come from the third world or you earn minimum wage in the U.S.

Certification started out as 10% of the reputation score. I’d like to see it go back to that. There’s no reason to judge users’ total reputation on whether or not they shell out $15 to prove they’re human. I get that Narrative wants to discourage bidbots and automated processes, but there’s got to be a better way.

Instead of basing 60% of reputation on the quality of content, how about also basing it on how active a user is on the platform? Someone who publishes high-quality content sporadically may not deserve as high a reputation as someone who is active every day but whose content is only average or slightly above average. There is something to be said for consistency and reliability.

It’s difficult to create a fair algorithm for judging a platform user’s reputation. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one. It seems the Narrative staff places a high premium on two user metrics – the quality of content and whether or not they are actually human. I certainly think those are important, but content quality is a many-a-splendored thing. It’s not easy to judge because we all have different tastes. And even among people with similar tastes, one could highly approve of a piece while another doesn’t. Hopefully, as users engage with each others’ content and judges it on the basis of merit, the final outcome will be some sense of quality by a reasonable standard.

Some Features I’d Like to See on Narrative

We’ve got to realize Narrative is still early beta. A lot could change between now and full public launch. My hope is that the Narrative team will continue to improve upon the platform and give a lot of thought to user experience. One thing it has going for it is the NEO blockchain itself. NEO has smart contracts capability and digital identity features built into the chain. These will certainly prove to be assets for the type of platform Narrative wants to build, but that’s a post for another time.

As Narrative builds out its wallet features, I hope they consider the possibility of internal messaging. I would love to see direct messaging with user controls on the receiving end. For instance, if I want to charge 5 NRVE, or 100 NRVE, to receive messages from other users, I should be able to determine that. If I want to whitelist certain users who do not have to pay my message fee, I can do that. Adding this feature would allow users to control spam and receive messages on their own terms.

I’d also like to see more robust publishing options. Currently, the publishing UI is quite primitive. There should be abilities to center text, format images with text align features, resize and crop photos, and even work with HTML or markdown.

Another feature that would add value to Narrative is the ability to pull posts in from another domain or URL. Medium does this quite well. It should be easily doable. Also, the ability to timestamp posts for future publishing.

What would be really cool is right-clicking on a piece of text on another Narrator’s personal journal and automatically pasting that text into a new post. Sometimes, when I read, someone else sparks an idea for a post. I should be able to take a sentence or a paragraph and use it as a jumping off point for a post of my own. This needs to be controlled for copyright infringement, of course, but with fair use and the encouragement of additional engagement in mind, this feature could be added to give proper attribution for text used this way with an automatic link back to the post from which the text was borrowed. If a user abuses this privilege, it should count against their reputation score.

Finally, I’d like the option of revising my personalized content stream in real time. For instance, if a single user is over-represented, I’d like a one-click option to make a post disappear. If one topic of interest is under-represented, it would be nice to send a signal letting the Narrative system know I’d like to see more of that type of content. An artificial intelligence algorithm could be used to accomplish this task easily.

I am totally looking forward to Publications, which will likely roll out later this year. I also think that some of these issues mentioned will likely see solutions sooner rather than later. I’ve seen the Narrative team respond to alpha users’ requests and make changes based on feedback. It is critical that they continue to do so throughout beta.

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Allen Taylor
Allen Taylor
Allen Taylor is a freelance writer, content strategist, and award-winning journalist. He is the author of "E-book Publishing: Create Your Own Brand of Digital Books," available in the Kindle, ePub, iBooks, and PDF formats.

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