One Week Later: Hey! Nielsen Reflections

Okay, so this is jumping the gun on the week part a little, but the television week has essentially come to a close as of today. With it comes the end of a hectic and exciting public beta launch of Hey! Nielsen, where Television, Movies, Internet Sites and Celebrities are lauded, criticized and given a rating defining their popularity. It has been a week of growing pains, “spamming,” and a whole host of issues (good and bad) rising to the surface.

First, I want to thank the crew behind Hey! Nielsen for being quick to answer queries, easy to relate to, and willing to engage their audience. The future of the site hinges on a combination of our feedback and your willingness to accept it, and I have been wholly impressed on this front, as has been reflective of the coverage here at Cultural Learnings.

Cultural Learnings’ Hey! Nielsen Coverage

That being said, I want to address some of the issues that have popped up. And no, this isn’t me complaining about the lack of love for Cultural Learnings’ own entry: I’d like to thank everyone who has voted or commented, I really appreciate it. However, Rich over at Copywrite Ink. has written a very insightful piece about the problems the site is currently facing, and I want to refer to and expand on his argument:

“It took less than a day for fans to see what Hey! Nielsen really is — a social network that asks “users” (a word that is well past its prime) to pile into the school gymnasium and have a shouting match. Those with the biggest lungs win. And those with the most outrageous comments get the most attention.”

The distinction I want to make here is that what Rich says here is an accurate description of the way Hey! Nielsen is currently operating…but this is not how it has been designed. I think that the problems Hey! Nielsen is currently facing are due to the fundamental difference between how they imagined the system being used and how it is actually being used.

The difference between opinions, comments and ratings within the system has never been well explained, and is not a distinction that is able to be easily translated to fanbases eager to express their support for their show of choice.

  • Opinions are like message board topics: you post one, and then people comment and a discussion takes place.
  • Comments are how you extend the discussion found within opinions.
  • Ratings are how you offer your view of an opinion, or of the show, without entering into one of the discussions.

The result is not misuse of the system, but rather use of the system that goes against the expectations of its creation. What we’ve seen from all types of users, not just the Jericho and Supernatural fans accused of spamming, is people posting an opinion where the site expects them to post a comment or a rating. The result is a fair number of near identical opinions. When, in reality, the site was designed to have diverse opinions and near identical comments and ratings.

To refer to the cliched, if I could, “if you build it they will come” is one of those metaphors that is really more dangerous in the non-“ghostly baseball field film” environment. In reality, building something where people are invited to exercise their free will is entirely uncontrollable: you can build it, but people might just come in a way that you didn’t expect. You can build a ball diamond, but punk teens might come and rip it apart as opposed to translucent shortstops.

I don’t know if the people at Hey! Nielsen expected this or not, but I know that I personally did my best to reach out to the fan communities being hit with the most criticism to attempt to help get the idea back on track. But, at the same time, I don’t think it is behaviour to be admonished: they’re acting as people would logically act given this opportunity.

One distinction I want to make that I think is important: for fans of various TV shows, I don’t think this should be a race for #1. Personally, I’m far more convinced by one detailed opinion with a lot of supportive comments than I am by 15 opinions, and I fear that the “competitiveness” or “gaming” (As Rich aptly puts it) of the system is only driving fans further away from the whole point: getting more people to watch the show. But, again, I can’t really blame people for simply following the logical path the site puts forward.

Because, while Rich has a certain level of pessimism about the medium in its current form (And justifiably so), I tend to look somewhat more positively on its mission statement. I don’t think it will ever live up to its claim to attempt to “properly” measure fan support outside of the normal Nielsen system, but much like the Nielsen Ratings themselves (which are fine when analyzing trends, if not specific series) I think it can be beneficial in gauging general fan support levels.

When a show like Pushing Daisies, which is going to have trouble building an audience outside of its internet/critical buzz, starts to falter, fans might go to Hey! Nielsen to start spreading the word about the series. And while I doubt that this will change everything, it will be one more thing that a network can look to when gaging how widespread and dedicated the show’s fanbase is.

For now, I think I tend to see that little “Beta” up in the corner and cut them a little slack. But Rich’s stance has a lot of value, especially when he makes a suggestion like this one which add an interesting twist on this issue:

Personally, I think Hey! Nielsen would have been better off setting the topics up, linking in media critic and blogger reviews to those subjects (with the reviews subject to review), weaving in some of its BlogPulse trending technologies, and asking people to vote and comment on that. It would have gamed it a bit, but not nearly as much as it is being gamed now.

I think that this is how they’d like the system to work, except without the need to institute a hierarchy between bloggers and non-bloggers. Personally, I’d be more than willing to be involved in such a system, but part of me has been writing essays on Marxism in Firefly and thinks that a more rigid class structure might defeat the purpose of this being “the people’s view.”

I say reflections above because I really don’t think that there’s an answer out there for Hey! Nielsen right now. I think that it should be interesting to see how the site manages during lulls in the television season and how the site is able to adjust during the summer Movies season as well. Until then, I think that it is up to users and Hey! Nielsen to work together to try to achieve a structured and organized format that best serves fans and potential fans alike.


Filed under Television

4 responses to “One Week Later: Hey! Nielsen Reflections

  1. Good one Myles,

    Let me touch on this…

    “I think that the problems Hey! Nielsen is currently facing are due to the fundamental difference between how they imagined the system being used and how it is actually being used.”

    … okay, I agree. But they would have to have their heads buried in the sand to not know how Digg works. I wish I could have helped them, when.

  2. Oh shoot … I missed one part … no pessimism here; just positive criticism. Heck, I told them partly how to fix it!

    All my best,

  3. I think that Digg is actually a fairly misleading example because many of the problems Hey! Nielsen is dealing with exist on Digg…but are hidden to people who don’t venture beyond the front page or the popular areas. There’s all sorts of repetition, all sorts of stories that just float by, but they have a distinct way of deciding which opinions are popular.

    With Hey! Nielsen, there is not yet a way for opinions to really rise above others except for the arbritrary “featured” section. And the competition element, what is supposed to set the site apart, is actually the cause of much of the animosity and “rating wars” taking place.

    But I think a lot of this is short term reactionary behaviour, as opposed to a forecast for long-term usage. Give it a few weeks, and hopefully we’ll see a balance in the force.

    Edit: Heh, I’d say that you’re a teensy bit pessimistic, Rich, at least in the ability for the current form to sort itself out. Which is really what I was referring to, I would never claim that anyone is writing the site off entirely.

  4. i think they are facing the problem because they dont know how to use the technology.

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