Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Buzz Comix, Part II

I've been digging deeper into the voting top list sites, and I don't like what I see. I don't like sites where taking everything at face value means feeling like a sucker once you uncover the leverage unfolding all around you.

Two days ago, I spoke about how a site like Buzz Comix is gamed, via vote trading, and incentives from participating comics to their readers. We might call that "vote buying" if we wanted to put a coarse name on it, but it's out in the open, the incentives are puny and while they doubtless distort the voting, you'd have to be a chump not to spot them.

I didn't talk about bots and various forms of computerized vote packing because it's a complicated subject. So complicated that I sought expert guidance. After talking to some people with knowledge on these things, I feel a few conclusions are likely to be true:

- We are in a Catch-22 when it comes to relying on Buzz to intercept fake voters.  We can't see what they are doing, and they can't really disclose it, so it comes down to trust;

- Because the site presents itself as one thing (a ballot box) and is another (a ballot box that is tilted in favor of some participants), I can't declare them trustworthy enough to pass my first point. The failure to disclose the advantages executed by some players is the problem -- unless they prefer to ban those actions, if they can.

At this point, the whole voting site concept comes crashing down. 

I mentioned two days ago that popularity on Buzz does not line up at all with popularity by reliable measures. I did not examine the incentives to participate on Buzz, so I did some research. The numbers below are approximate weekly traffic from Buzz and Top Web Comics to the comics named. The comics named are the Buzz Top Ten:

Phoenix Requiem
5550: topwebcomics.com
850: buzzcomix.net

1050: buzzcomix.net

Fey Winds n/a

2500: topwebcomics.com
950: buzzcomix.net

1800: topwebcomics.com
650: buzzcomix.net

Earthsong n/a

Goblins n/a

Project ROL n/a

Joe Loves Crappy Movies
550: buzzcomix.net

The Gods of Arr-Kelaan
634: buzzcomix.net
333: topwebcomics.com

In no case is a comic making a living off its traffic from these sites. Phoenix Requiem has a lot of votes, but they have a lot more traffic from other sources.

I want to repeat that in no way am I suggesting any comic has done something wrong. Everything I discussed is legal, but not at all obvious if you are visiting Buzz and taking the site at its word.

What I wonder, though, is whether participation is worth it. Hustling this many votes requires a steady, quality comic output and decent incentives. (I mentioned one comic in the top ten has quit incentives, saying they take up too much time. The other nine offer them, as, I'm sure, do others.)

I offer a theory. The biggest, highest traffic webcomics are mostly inter-linked with each other and lukewarm at best to newcomers. Voting sites may offer a place where a comic can at least appear to be a member of the big leagues. A perch in the top ten may provide name recognition and brand-building that are difficult to obtain elsewhere

Or maybe over-enthusiastic fans are pumping robot votes through the system.

Far-fetched? I don't know. I would have said a fake voting site was far-fetched, and I would have been wrong.