Saturday, October 12, 2013

cross-posted from goodreads reviews of the hydra by bernard evslin

on september 20th, when the goodreads world again began to explode, i was preoccupied by stress and health issues. it was also my father's birthday, so whenever that comes round, i think about how much i miss him. i have been burned out for a while, and not posting on goodreads very much. but i missed reading the reviews, and the writing and so i started scrolling through the newsfeed, and the infamous thread in the goodreads feedback group with increasing dismay. what is the goodreads world coming to? i got pulled into the sadness, the chagrin and the disgust that littered my feed. where does censorship begin? where does it stop? and why did something something wonderful have to be destroyed? is this "progress"?

i came here, along with a bunch of other book refugees who lost their internet home when myspace groups began to collapse. i looked at goodreads as a book-lover's haven, a place where you could talk about the books you loved, that united you with others, or where you could argue that you didn't much care for "X" -- and "X" included a variety of things: a particular book, a particular author, a particular genre -- really anything at all. or you could read or write more off-topic, tangential reviews which were ridiculously funny, or were instead incredibly intimate and beautiful. above all, goodreads was a tremendously creative place where people felt comfortable speaking their minds. as the book group i came with went their separate ways, i stumbled upon new book friends and books, and writers of all stripes by reading these amazingly varied reviews.

but now things are different. now people sit wondering if their many hours of hard work will be expunged from the site because what they've written is "inappropriate" to somebody somewhere, and they've filed it on a shelf that goodreads might question as questionable for some reason that has not been clear to everyone. google changed their TOS recently. i couldn't sign in anywhere without being hit over the head with it -- it was everywhere, and clear as day. when these recent goodreads TOS changes were made, they were hidden, and as we've seen by the letters shared with disappointed reviewers, apologies were made by goodreads for jumping the gun on this campaign but they didn't stop. the whole thing seems to have been terribly mishandled and it makes me sick to my stomach. i don't want to have to double-check if my reviews are *still there* from day-to-day. so far, everything i've written seems to have passed muster. or maybe they just haven't scrutinized me yet. what is the benefit to me in writing reviews if i have to cringe away from an invisible hand that might slap me down for saying things that i think are perfectly legitimate and reasonable. i don't want to have to look for a new book home again. and i'm sort of sick of people creating a service or a product and then telling me it's different now, and it's not for that anymore, and let's do the minimal viable bullshit thing, or have some random someone determine we are "inappropriate". there are things i never liked about goodreads, but the good always outweighed the bad -- until now.

but if you're going to do the bullshit thing, at least make it clear to everybody what the rules of the game are -- tell me clearly in ToS changes that are emailed, and posted in ways that can't be avoided on the site. don't tell us in a feedback group that isn't required in goodreads membership.

i expect that this tangential review will be deleted. if it does, it will be the first time i have ever had my hand slapped here even though i am usually an active user and have filed over two hundred reviews on this site that up to this point have never been pulled. i wrote it because i like the vibrant community that used to thrive here, because i would like a return to that kind of environment, and i don't like censorship, even if i am not (yet) its target. if i have to find a new community, i will. i have done it before and have learned that though functionality might differ, it's the people and the ideas that matter.

Creative Commons License
This work by Maureen de Sousa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

** the following has been reposted by permission of manny rayner **

In the shower just now, I suddenly had a Eureka moment. The aspect of this current censorship war that's been upsetting us most is the feeling of powerlessless. Goodreads can arbitrarily change the rules, and they hardly even bother to respond when we complain. But we are not powerless. There are twenty million of us, and only a few dozen of them. We just need to get a little more organized, and we can easily resist.

So here's one concrete way to do it, based on the legend of Hercules. You will recall that Hercules had a difficult time against the Lernean Hydra; every time he cut off one of its heads, ten more grew back. We can do the same thing if we adopt the following plan:

1. Back up all your reviews, so that you have a copy of everything you have posted.

2. If you think that one of your reviews has been unreasonably deleted by Goodreads, repost it with an image of the Hydra at the top.

3. If you see someone else posting a Hydra review, make a copy of it and post it yourself.

We can improve this basic scheme with a little thought; for example, it would be better to have a place where we keep HTML marked-up source of reviews, so that they can immediately be reposted with the same formatting, and we need a plan for duplicating deleted shelves. But we can sort that out later. Without getting too bogged down in the details, I'm sure you see what will happen. The net result of Goodreads unreasonably deleting a review will be that it immediately comes back in many different places.

People who know their Greek mythology will be aware that Hercules did in fact defeat the Hydra, and Goodreads can use the same method if they dare; they can close down the account of anyone who participates in the scheme. That will work, but I am not sure that anything less drastic will be effective. I think Goodreads will be reluctant to escalate to this level. A large proportion of the most active reviewers are now part of the protest movement, and they would be losing much of the content that makes the site valuable. Even more to the point, the media have already started to get interested (maybe you saw the article in the Washington Post). They would love the story, and it would create a mountain of bad publicity for Goodreads and Amazon.

I'd say the odds are heavily in our favor. Why don't we try it? I promise now to respond to any Hydra calls.

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