The Egoless Experiment - Post FAQto

_____ What was Egoless?

_____ Egoless, like the sister site that predeceased it, "The Lathe", was a venue for general poetry discussion and for critiquing specific poems written and posted by members.

_____ How did Egoless work?

_____ As a workshop, Egoless worked brilliantly. As a discussion forum, not so well.

_____ No, I mean what was Egoless like? How did it operate?

_____ Some of the more serious critical websites require members to use their real names, which are attached to every post. Most are pseudonymous, though; members use a monicker like "Bluesdog" or "MountainStream" to identify themselves in each post. Like the Lathe, Egoless was nymless. Contributors would be identified in each thread by their order of entry. That is, the thread starter would be "Poster #1" throughout that thread but, as the fifth entrant on some other thread, would be "Poster #5" for their original and all subsequent posts there.

_____ So a member's behavior on one thread wouldn't follow them to another?

_____ Exactly. However, all posts could be graded on a scale from 1 to 10 by other members. Thus, a contributor with a high score as a critic (on workshop threads) or commenter (on discussion threads) would be regarded as a more respected voice than someone with a very low rating. Poems and thread-starting articles were also evaluated numerically, so a member would have a Poet Rating, a Critic Rating, a Commenter Rating and a Thesis Rating. These would be marked as provisional until the new member had posted at least three poems, critiques, comments or theses, respectively.

_____ With so much anonymity, I'd expect there to be a lot of bickering--

_____ No. In fact, that was the most surprising thing about the environment. In its five years of operation Egoless expelled only two members, and those were notorious net psychoes who had come to Egoless after being banned from virtually everywhere else.

_____ So it was all sweetness and light?

_____ Pretty much, yes. It seems that people will defend a monicker almost as readily as they would defend their real name, good or bad. Remove the name/monicker and you remove much of the motivation for people to be anything but, well, egoless, both literally and figuratively. How can members carry grudges from one conversation to another when they don't know who is who? How can they descend to name-calling when there is no name to call, aside from the ever-morphing "Poster #3"? Given that such polemics would have no result other than lowering the combatants' ratings, why bother?

_____ Why and how did Egoless succeed for critique?

_____ By eliminating most of the impetus for negative behaviour--revenge critiques, for example--the critic's efforts tended to be more focused on helping the poet. Egoless was fortunate to have some of the best online critics around. In its time, Egoless was a new poet's best opportunity to attract the attention of knowledgeable critiquers--this despite the fact that the workshop was tiered.

_____ "Tiered"?

_____ Yes. If, at the time of posting a poem, one's Poet Rating were less than 5 out of 10 the poem would appear in the "Egolite" section. Otherwise it would show up in the main section. This, itself, gave neophytes an incentive to improve. Of course, this had less to do with the setup than with the presence of some great critics, including its top rated one, Hannah Craig.

_____ The names of its better performers were announced?

_____ Yes. A list of the top five or six critics and poets was always available at the click of a mouse.

_____ Didn't that make things rather competitive?

_____ For sure. We must bear in mind the Egoless motto, though: "If you don't think your writing is competing against the works of others you're probably right!" Publishers rank contributions in order. Why shouldn't critics?

_____ But the critics themselves were being judged at the same time, right?

_____ Exactly. The design of the experiment was to maximize both anonymity and competition--or competence, if you wish.

_____ So why didn't this approach work as well in its discussion forum?

_____ The impersonal touch that made the critical forum succeed was the very thing that worked against the discussion group. People seem to think that, while their artistic efforts are never really completed, their utterings, attitudes and conclusions never require modification. Indeed, members seemed so proud of their opinions that they didn't want to "waste" them in a nymless environment. We expected them to be more vain about their poetry.

_____ And were they? Vain about their poetry?

_____ Not nearly as much as we've seen on other venues. Indeed, many posted their poems on Egoless first. If the poem failed there the author could shitcan it without embarrassment. If the poem succeeded they'd often post it to another critical site. Egoless was well supported by members of PFFA, Gazebo, Eratosphere and

_____ Were there things the members didn't like?

_____ The aesthetics. Egoless was ugly, even by the standards of its day. Functional and quick, but as plain as this one, complete with big fonts. Some Egoless members had poor eyesight, so it used the Size 4 font you're reading now. During this time, the de facto internet standard was going from 3, like this down to 2, like this.

_____ One of the things many short-term members liked least was the very raison d'être of the Egoless workshop: honest, unbiased critique. After one or two negative responses about half the new members would leave. It may sound cynical but, even among those who have requested it, there are far fewer poets interested in a dispassionate evaluation of their work than we might assume.

_____ Some members complained about compulsory critiques--two per poem posted. When these were removed the number of critiques dropped to 12% of its previous monthly average. Then the members--including those who weren't posting any reviews--began to complain about the lack of responses to their poems. Amazingly, no member commented on a possible causal connection between the new policy and the status quo. I guess there's a big difference between "egoless" and "unselfish". LOL!

_____ What did its members like about Egoless?

_____ The little things and big things. Egoless invented the nichts and chimes (aka "Nixon Chimes") buttons we're starting to see elsewhere, as on the more recent versions of VBulletin. Instead of posting a vacuous "me-too" or an in-your-face "Get stuffed!", members could simply click on a "Yes" or "No" button to signal their complete approval or disapproval. This tally was displayed alongside the button. Thus, every post was, in a sense, a poll. Egoless was nowhere near the first to use killfiling but it may have originated "highlighting" to flag posts by one's favorite contributors. Most of these features are included in social networking sites today. The double-blind format is standard in professional critiquing models.

_____ The big thing that members liked was the surprisingly relaxed atmosphere. Yes, members took pride in their posts but they were never worried about flame wars erupting or about any inaccuracies coming back to haunt them years later. They also liked the fact that moderators were almost never seen--or needed, really.

_____ Could we draw any aesthetic conclusions from the Egoless experiment?

_____ Certainly. For one, consensus was much closer among the more knowledgeable, higher rated critics. To wit, evaluations in the upper forum rarely differed by more than 2 points (out of 10). In Egolite, the same poem's evaluations might range by 6 and, in one case, 7 points. A second conclusion was equally unsurprising: those with higher critical ratings were significantly better at predicting what visitors (roughly, the public) would like or not like. A third discovery was, by far, the most important: very few people are interested in an honest, objective assessment of their writing, even if it would not reflect on them personally.

_____ Will there be another Egoless?

_____ Maybe. For what it's worth, the format is quite common in other endeavors.




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