I’ve been a Bitmob user long enough to let Shoe and the rest of the staff know that I love their site well enough to stick around with it for at least another 6 months.  Sometimes I express this love for the site and community by commenting, sometimes by stalking Shoe home, but today it’s time I show the site some tough love.  Everyone likes lists, unless they are critical of them, so hopefully this will soften the blow.  Don’t take these criticisms too close to heart, as this is just one opinion in a community of many.  Nevertheless, I hope my voice doesn’t go unheard and that we do see these issues addressed in time.

Accessible, customizable, and loyal: the panda.

1. User profiles that follow the RateYourMusic.com model.

I’ve had a long love affair with RYM.com since I joined in 2004, and I’ve found every similar profile page lackluster since.  Take a look at my page and than take a look at another user page.  There is enough room for customization but it’s all withheld in a shared template that makes navigating quick and comfortable.  At the top, there is the user avatar(s) and basic user information (name, location, age).  Immediately following this are two large customizable blocks dedicated to favorite artists and personal notes the user might want to tell others.  This is important because it gives the user an immediate way to tell the visitor about their personality and likes/dislikes.  In a user centered site, I want to know immediately if I agree with this user’s taste before I commit to digging through his articles/reviews.  Having lists, a game database, and user compatibility system seems outside the resources (and perhaps intention) of Bitmob so ignore all that for now.  The final thing worth noting about the user page is the bottom section dedicated to keeping track of posts that other users have favorited from this user and posts that this user has favorited by others.  It’s both a great motivator for the community and a pure way to let users be in control of recommending articles without turning Bitmob into the Digg homepage, as we all know the site is driven by its dedicated editors and interns.

2.  Move non-original content off main feed.

I take offense when I see Brian Shirk, Suriel Vazquez, or any of the other very talented, passionate Bitmob users post a great article that enters and leaves the Mini-Mobfeed like a flash in a pan, while editor-chosen news bites, recycled articles/posts (from other sites), and podcast updates fill up the front page.  I come to Bitmob, as I imagine others do, for great features that are written from unique perspectives that you don’t often get on bigger sites that are dedicated to recycling PR releases, previews (that read like PR releases), and reviews (that, more often than not, read like PR releases with additional comments on likes/dislikes).

Getting rid of them entirely isn’t the only solution nor the one I would suggest.  News bites are convenient, recycled posts often merit it, and, well, podcast updates have to be put somewhere.  The fundamental problem is that these lesser additions to Bitmob are squashing the larger attraction of quality user submitted articles.  This problem could be alleviated by having news bites and other non-article editorial posts being placed in the sidebar.  It could be like a twitter feed you click on to get more info and editor opinions.  I’m not a web design genius, but I do know that I wish to see only exclusive content on the front page that gives the community an identity.  News bites, I’m sad to admit, cheapens the site and makes it feel like any other gaming blog, especially when these posts are coming from outside the userbase.  This all leads me into my next point.

3. Set higher standards for what makes the front page.

Clearly this is going to reflect my taste more than any objective truth about the site, but indulge me for a moment.  There is another thing that turns me off about the main page, the heart and soul of Bitmob: there are too many new posters highlighted that don’t merit it.  Now, Bitmob is a community meant to nurture aspiring game writers and highlight unique views and opinions, but I find too often that unoriginal, poorly written posts that clearly read like a first draft are posted on the front page because they are by new users.  Let’s not be glib: Shoe and Linn select these passable posts because they want to support new users and expand the community.  Ignoring hopefuls and focusing only on established users is not the way to expand a website, financially or socially.  There are a lot of poorly written but interesting posts and excellently written but unoriginal posts that I’m glad that make it on the front page, but I think Bitmob has leaned on the extreme of highlighting a new writer every other day, whether it deserves it or not, for too long.  This kind of mentality seems counter-productive to what the site is about: quality, original content on games from non-journalists.  If you highlight non-quality, non-original content it might motivate the one user who may (or may not) return, but it won’t attract outsiders like highlighting another thoughtful post or epic review from an established user might.  Bitmob will only survive if attracts many more readers than the amount of writers it has posting.  Too often I find myself wandering to the mini-Mobfeed sidebar to be pleasantly surprised by something that didn’t make the front page.  In an ideal world, this sort of surprise is what I should feel every time I load up the homepage.

“Pre-Order at 7-Eleven” is essential to any gaming website’s top bar.

4.  Categorically divide the top bar.

If I want to read a review, I hate digging through all the other news posts, features, and such to get to one.  I’d find Bitmob much more accessible if I could quickly hit a button on top that sections off reviews to their own feed along with news, editorials, features, and such.  Bitmob askews the gaming website format when it doesn’t need to.  What makes Bitmob unique is that..well,you already know it and I’ve already written it 3 times in this article.  Point being, like any other gaming website, if I want reviews I should click reviews and if I want features I should be able to click features.  No one wants to dig through a giant feed to get to the content they want.

5. Encourage Bitmob contributors to improve

Just because you hired a couple interns and found a comfortable amount of quality, prolific users, don’t stop looking for help within the community.  While there are a number of Bitmob users that post slapdash opinion pieces or knee-jerk reviews, the majority of Bitmob users are a dedicated bunch of gamers and writers that want to improve at writing and want to improve in their knowledge of games.  A lot of the site’s appeal is that Dan Shoe and company hold a place in our hearts among gaming’s elite journalists and contributors.  This is a vague suggestion so let me break things down into practical ideas:

Dan “Shoe” Hsu: ex-EGM editor, current Bitmob co-manager, and eternal eye-patched bad ass.

  • Encourage users to edit each others work: As someone who has written for a paper for the past two years, I can attest to the benefits of having someone edit your articles.  Most of us are creative thinkers that get so absorbed in our writing that we overlook the logical framework and problems with grammar our articles might have.  Since we aren’t as stoic a community as a school paper, we can make more in-depth suggestions along the lines of “elaborate on this idea” that could make all our work better for us to post and others to read.  Organizing something like this could be tricky, but I and others want nothing more than to improve at video game writing, and having other dedicated users and Bitmob staff helping out can be influential in this process.   I think, for the time being, this can be as simple as someone (maybe myself?) posting a minimal post reiterating this idea and encouraging the comment box to be used by users to offer and ask for help for their next article.  So, Bitmob staff, think out a method to connect Bitmob users to agreements of helping out each other’s work.  In an ideal Bitmob, this would be a main feature of the site and users would be rated and rewarded by how they help others.
  • Bitmob staff need to give us the same tuff luff we give to the site.  Bitmob staff need to focus less on the next exclusive Bioware interview and focus on leaving helpful comments to Bitmob users.  Dan Shoe was a long time editor for EGM, and I imagine he gave critical remarks and held certain articles back from his colleagues because he felt it’d help them out and the publication out in the long run.  Now, the issue isn’t as black & white as the way I presented it because a lot of Bitmob users don’t want criticism, can’t handle criticism, or will take offense to criticism.  To some of us, Bitmob is just a way of keeping a blog with the promise of at least 40+ hits to 1,000s.  If this idea is to be realized, Bitmob will have poll users personally on if they want critical remarks or not.  In general, I think most of us do.  There should be a sense of trepidation before I hit the post button; I should be nervous if I don’t think my article is as good as it should be, and I should take it easy once Master Shoe comes in and tells me why.  Of course, the logistics are complicated (how much time does Bitmob staff have, how do you keep criticism private if the users requests) but I think this would help the site and community greatly.  Bitmob, at its best, should function as a platform for gaming journalism’s brightest–consistent enough to be on Game Informers list of writers to watch along with the rest of the internet.  CliffyB once ran (not sure if he still does) a blog where he encouraged users to submit their mods/indie games, which he would dissect and offer heavy criticism on.  It made for a memorable communication with between hopeful game developers and one of their icons, and it gave them the information they needed to improve what they love doing.  

Don’t get me wrong.  I think Bitmob is a great site but I think it can be that much better with all of our input and effort.