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Quality or quantity?

Should Simonseeks be insisting on a quality threshold, or should the site be made more open so that anyone can publish their guides?

One of the challenging aspects of developing a site like this, which breaks new ground in its attempts to combine traditional journalism with contributions by non-professional writers, is how we define the role of our editors.

Professional writers know the benefits of a second eye on both the detail of their copy, and the way in which it is presented, and are used to their words being subbed, clarified and trimmed. On the internet in particular, it is vital that headlines and standfirsts are optimised so that the guides come as high in the results of a Google search as possible.

So, in what has been a major investment in the quality of the site, all guides loaded up so far have been professionally edited to the standard that you might expect in print journalism. Our editors have also exerted a process of quality control on what we select for publication - sending back about 65 per cent of guides submitted since launch, with suggestions on how their copy might be improved. Many writers have appreciated this feedback. A few have, frankly, been offended that we haven’t automatically accepted their work.

Of course, putting aside a few basics such as correct grammar, all such judgments are subjective – and it's open to debate whether a guide should be excluded solely on the judgment of the editors. One of our aims must be to provide travel writing of the highest quality – but another is to create a community that shares information and advice, encouraging open discussion among users. Where should we draw the line on which contributions we accept?

Perhaps you feel we should leave such judgments to the reviewers who actually use the guides? After all, it gives the users more guides to choose from. Or perhaps you think it would be a bad thing for the site and those who use it and write for it, if we didn’t insist on the highest standards of  journalism - however arbitrary they may be?

I’d be really interested in your views on whether we should stick with our current system, or look for ways to make the site more open to a wider range of contributors. Please do comment, whether you are a writer or a user.

Community comments (20)

I have wrote on this issue before, albeit not on this blog. But I would like other peoples opinions on the subject. Once again I read a review (published today) with no less than 2600 words. I enjoy reading this authors reviews, but they are always within the 2000/3000 word range.
I feel that if the majority of us are told to re write because of word usage abuse, then all should abide by the same rule....regardless. Some of my reviews tend to be a personal reinactment, and being asked by an editor to condense, is like asking Shakespeare to remove two acts from Romeo and Juliet.

I agree with the many contributors voting for quality over quantity. But I'm also influenced by the scalability point (raised by Simon), and the long delay between submitting a guide and having it edited.

Could established writers be subjected to less thorough checks to ease the congestion? Does the work of a regular writer, who has already written several appropriate and popular guides and proved to be reliable grammatically, need the same level of vetting as a first-time contributor? Perhaps occasional, random checks to ensure that quality levels are being sustained would suffice.

Hi Simon

Interesting what you proposing, especially as the system at the moment does not always come up with reasons for rejection/adaption.

The new proposed way of working will, as you say, get more input from the users, that is very web 2.0.

I do have a few observations/questions to do with the philosophy/mission of the site.

The primary one is around just how positive and upbeat we have to make these articles.

Using your own analogy (or was it Nick Trend's) about being a guide passing on information learned personally, it is a fact of the traveller's life that the exchange of information when you meet people on the road is as much about potential hazards as the attractions/bargains/unknown quantities that lie ahead.

The risk is that the commission system from recommendations and bookings for hotels will result in very bland and lop sided evaluations whereas the great strength of people like Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor is their more unvarnished truth and variety of informants in their reports/evaluations.

I might add that having worked as a promotional writer for developments such as Pacific Harbour Fiji with all expenses paid to visit the resorts and write them up I have no great axe to grind here about commissions.

Your proposal about changing how guides are uploaded in the future already seems to be working on a more open approach in any case.

My last thought, again not completely worked through, is providing databanks of general information about various countries, situations (such as health), best way to book airlines
and services, where you have again made a start. Just how you monetize and distribute commissions on this more general info is not something I have worked through.

But these will help to make the site more of a one stop destination and give it authority.

Apart from that, great site and great idea.

Whilst I agree that quality is important and standards should be maintained, I believe that the editing process shouldn't be so strict that it waters down different styles. I'm an amateur, aspiring writer at the earliest stages of learning the craft, and like to mix a bit of humour in with my writing; this is a style issue, not a content one, and providing that the review is factually and grammatically correct then I think it should be allowed. Not all readers like the same writing style.

Quality is the hallmark of trust, and you read a travel guide for information, not just for kicks. Thus to be able to trust a source is essential. The minute the information is left to be submitted by anyone, those with glowing gold pounds will be writing headlines to attract hits, thus increase cashflow, when their article may be utter rubbish once you have actually chosen to open it. However, I would agree that the site must be careful not to discriminate against a 'style' of writing purely on a personal basis if the actual content is helpful, accurate and good journalism. Perhaps the articles need to be viewed by more than one editor? Two brains are better than one.

Quality every time for me.
I have no problem being told my work is badly structured, fails to inspire or just plain rubbish - constructive criticism can only help.
However, I do wonder how the editorial team will manage as site traffic increases and as a result more reviews come in.
I love the present concept of the site and feel as if I partly own it as my small contributions are given a wider audience.
What I would like to see is a better means of communication between the editorial team and writers submitting reviews.

Hi Kevin, we're working on ways to improve communication. We've just issued the second edition of the writer's newsletter - which we will keep trying to improve every issue - and we are considering adding a forum to the site. All ideas welcome...

This does raise an interesting point about individual writing style. As someone who writes for a living I found the comment on a rejected piece to be fair enough and it is essential that spelling and gramatical errors be erased, but is there a danger of writers being regimented into a standard format which could stifle and more to the point discourage new users.

If the aim of the site is to create a community though perhaps writers should be allowed to upload with only minimal editorial control. And as the site becomes more popular will the present strict editorial control be viable

Yes, some editing/feedback is essential - quality is very important although I agree it must be a massive task. I was surprised to have my Pescara piece rejected and then a message later saying it had been edited and now accepted - I was expecting to have to rewrite it myself but as I had no idea why it was rejected it would have been a difficult task. I think I might end up withdrawing from writing for the site if it is not a balance of good writing and interesting travel info. At the moment I feel it is good at both.

Sorry. There was a technical glitch in our system recently which sent out a batch of incorrect emails, and I think that is why you got conflicting messages about your Pescara piece.

I can see the merit to both sides of the argument. However we need to remember what the overall objective and vision of Simonseeks is all about – providing quality, accurate and concise travel guides.
People will always form their own individual opinion anyway, and opinions will always differ, but if there is a valuable source of trusted and quality traveller reviews such as Simonseeks offers,
this will go a long way towards providing inspiration and guidance to a great many in their travels. I can also see that making some minor adjustments such as publishing editor feedback and a suggested rating with each guide would create more interest and reaction, but would not be in favour of dramatically changing the current editorial process.

Being new to creative writing, I personally appreciate the crucial role of the editors, and very much welcome all feedback and advice, and always try to take it on board.

There are a number of arguments for changing the editorial process;

1. Is it in the spirit of a community site to editorially dictate which guides are published and which are rejected? What is deemed useless by an editor maybe of use to some within the community, it’s very subjective. Why not present the community with the opportunity to rate and comment on all guides. The community then dictates what’s good and what’s not. The Simonseeks rating system should push lower quality guides down the rankings and the cream should rise. Youtube doesn’t editorially dictate which videos are published on its site. The community chooses which videos sit at the top of the results by the rating they apply.

2. I think the editorial feedback on writer guides is genuinely useful and most writers do seem to value this. We are therefore proposing that all guides go live following a guide rating and comment by our editor(s). The fact that the first comment for any guide is editorial will spark more debate. A poor guide is likely to attract more comments than a good one. This is good for community chatter; it is also useful feedback for the writer. The writer then has the option to improve their guide based on the comment. Writers will also soon have the ability to reply to a comment on their guide.

3. It is proving very costly and time consuming to edit guides. We have on average a 10 day backlog from when a guide is uploaded to when it is viewed by an editor. We intend to significantly increase the number of guides uploaded in the future. Our current editorial process isn’t scalable or cost effective.

As our partners, it’s really important that we involve you the writers in this important debate. Please join the discussion; we want to know what you think……

See previous email.

There's a really good debate starting here... I can't help but join in!
Some excellent points regarding quality, the highest quality guides will undoubtedly be the most inspirational and ultimately successful. But what makes a good quality guide? Is letting more guides on actually relaxing the rules, or is it just allowing the community to judge for themselves what quality is? (as June suggests) People have the ability to rate and comment on the good, the bad and the ugly - I'm sure lots of you would love the opportunity to do this! As Martin says, it's a difficult balance.

I can't agree with the other comments. The site is very elitist. I understand you may get some real rubbish but your rejection figure is very very high. It would be good to be able to see some of the "border line" articles that have been thrown out so the ordinary person could judge for themselves. At present the site seems to me to be paragraphs of a professional travel guide from a magazine or newspaper.

I agree with your point about showing the border line articles. The challenge we have is where to draw that border line... is it a guide that is informative but full of spelling mistakes and typos? What about a guide that's really well written but doesn't give you any information on how to get there, where to stay or what to do?

As I was reading this blog - 'Trip Advisor' was going through my mind when thinking about a focus on quantity rather than quality. Then I got to the bottom and saw that Philippa had already hit the nail on the head in her post below. As good as Trip Advisor is in its own way, Simonseeks offers a different kind of benefit to travel enthusiasts, and should stay true to that. Relaxing quality standards would result in an overcrowded and somewhat messy website, with fine articles simply becoming lost amongst the others. There's a difficult balance to be achieved, but for me - it's quality all the way!

I agree with the two comments below.
As a writer, I am a complete novice who expects to be rejected, but appreciate feedback so I can improve.
As a reader I would like to see more warts and all comments, not everywhere is perfect and I would like to know what not to do/where to go as well as postive recommendations.

As an enthusiast I find that the current editing system is fine: it can be a little frustrating that some free-flowing guides that are more narrative-based can be strongarmed into a basic 'What to do', 'Where to go', 'Where to stay' structure but on the couple of occasions that guides I've submitted have been sent back the rewrites have been small and helpful for readers.

If people can't write understandable guides then it's not worth them being on the site. People won't want to sift through unreadable prose on the off-chance that they find a killer tip about a destination.

Quality!! If it becomes unedited, doesn't it run the risk of becoming trip advisor? Half the problem travellers face is the overwhelming choice of what's on offer. The great thing about finding a good travel writer, who writes a good quality and honest article, is that you build a trust in that person, and feel like you're getting a good recommendation.
Sometimes its wonderful to read a beautifully written travel article, but if the article is matter of fact, and yet reveals a gem of a place, or warns of a travel shocker - then its worth accepting onto the site, isn't it?
I don't want to read 20 articles about one city, but I love to read 2 great articles, thoughtfully written with good advice.