Those of you who know me also know that I don't really frequent Goodreads. It's not that I don't like the place—I think it's a wonderful tool for authors and fans alike! It's more that in the sea of priorities I've had to make, I reluctantly place Goodreads lower on my list of "things to get done every day", next to tweeting, the occasional facebook update, emails, social requirements such as making sure my family is fed and friends know I'm still alive, and my self-imposed goal of 20 pages per day. That doesn't mean that Goodreads isn't an important factor in a great many peoples' everyday world. By all accounts, it is exactly the opposite, providing a genre- and author- and taste-based format (pick your poison!) where people can come together to dish about their favorite books, authors, genres, subjects, tropes, and more. Goodreads is what Amazon forums wishes it could be when it's all grown up and taking a daily dose of steroids—with all the good and bad that entails. It's as much a marketing tool for authors as it is a hang-our for readers, and for many, it's a kind of second home.
I may not use it to its full potential myself, but that doesn't mean I don't recognize the value of a platform where authors and readers can be heard.
Goodreads creates lists—Listopia, they call it. Users can vote on books added to this list, marking their favorites, earning points, bumping them higher on those lists as more and more readers vote for their favorite reads. It's a fun way to both market and learn about new books in your favorite genres, and as most things online, is highly reliant on a kind of honor system. The community in Goodreads runs a wild array—you'll find all kinds!—but they take their lists very seriously. People work hard to get the word out, both for themselves and their favorite authors, and those lists become a bookmark for that effort.
It's a brilliant platform moderated by people designated "librarians". According to Goodreads, librarians are: Goodreads Librarians are people who are dedicated to improving Goodreads' data. Librarians can edit book and author information, as well as combine separate editions of books to help aggregate reviews and ratings. In order to become a librarian on Goodreads you must have at least 50 books in your profile, and then just apply.
There are also "super librarians", who differ in that they have further moderation capabilities:
- Delete an edition of a book with more than 5 adds
- Delete an e-reader with more than some number of adds
- Edit a quote with over 500 adds
- Merge two quotes with over 5 adds that aren't Levenshtein similar
- Merge two quizzes
- Hide a quiz with more than 50 "takes"
- Edit the sub-genres of a genre
- Delete a place with more than 3 books
Librarians are, in theory, respectable people who help contribute and maintain the vast, tangled, sprawling chaos that is a massive community of people all eager to add their voice, details, and time to Goodreads in a sometimes less-than-orderly fashion. They are staff and volunteers and—we hope—professional.
The Issue at Hand
There is a Listopia for Steampunk books. And why not? As a genre, it has more than just taken off—it's exploded onto the mainstream, a fact that continues to baffle, bemuse, and downright frustrate certain members of society across the board. As of this writing (July 10th, 2012), a great many of the books originally included in this list have been restored. However, as recently as July 8th, 2012, a single librarian went through the entire list and hacked off more than half the books, leaving only 38 in its wake. She left no reason for it, nor any commentary. She simply deleted them, leaving behind a small slew of books that quickly climbed into the vacant top slots.
A bug report was quickly submitted, and if you've the time, it would be better if you read it in its almost entirety rather than rely on the very brief sum-up I am about to deliver. That way, you can gauge for yourself the issues surrounding the offending librarian.
- A Steampunk Listopia was made of favorite Steampunk books.
- Goodreads users voted for their favorites.
- Evelyn Kriete, a fairly well-known Steampunk promoter and enthusiast who is even mentioned in the Steampunk wiki article*, culled the list without reason or excuse.
- The book that she is closely associated with (she co-mods a group who has had this book, written by a personal associate of hers, on their "currently reading" shelf for over a year) suddenly jumped to the top of the newly-culled list.
- The same book developed a mysterious number of votes from users who had not voted on any other or extremely few books prior.
- ...Mass hysteria.
- Karina writes a blog post.
Why This is a Problem
Two reasons, and I'll touch on both briefly.
Firstly, this isn't just about a steampunk thing gone awry. Goodreads is a format based upon the honor system, an equal opportunity forum and tool for users across the globe of genres and books and interests. To have anyone, especially a librarian, choose to game the system is such a slap in the face to all of the hardworking men and women who strive every day to produce, create, organize and moderate the book industry, from authors to readers to forum administrators. And it's not just within this one situation. Kate Haggard, a YA reader and writer, Tweets back to me, "Certain authors [have been] doing this in YA for a while, except for reviews rather than lists. Whatever happened to ethics?"
Yes, indeed. What ever did happen to ethics?
Now all that said, this brings me to my second issue. As a heretofore upstanding member of the Steampunk community, I can't understand what possessed Ms. Kriete to behave this way. Steampunk as a whole—at least in my area of the country—is widely known not only for its crafters and producers and musicians and style, but also for its deeply courteous nature. Perhaps because we model ourselves on the strict mannerisms of the Victorian era, perhaps it's simply that producers who flock together as a whole tend to be a courteous lot, but I have never in my handful of years really wallowing in this culture seen such blatant rules-breaking and system-gaming as I saw here.
This upsets me. Of course, who am I? I am only a somewhat recent member of the community, an author of a single steampunk book, a new face to the panels and the conferences and conventions they are being given at. I have no lengthy or famous credits to my name—certainly nothing in the same vicinity as a mention on the Steampunk Wiki page, contributions to one of the greatest Steampunk resources out there, associations with some of the most awesome steampunk names in the community, and I am not, as far as I'm aware, a Goodreads librarian.
Ms. Kriete is all these things, and more. A creative person, a decision-maker, a trend-setter.
For these reasons, I wrack my brain and cannot for the life of me figure out what she could have hoped to gain by gaming a system that had, as far as I knew, been based on an honor system that as a steampunker and fellow book-contributer she should feel honor-bound to uphold. It offends me that she didn't. What's worse is that while ranting on my Twitter about this unfortunate event, I was approached quietly by a small, concerned group of people who warned me that Ms. Kriete is sort of a big deal on the east coast an that I should watch my words very carefully, lest I feel some kind of terrible backlash. To the comments on her success, I congratulate Ms. Kriete and wish her nothing but the continuation of such success—assuming, of course, that such success may be maintained without further attempts to game the system.
To the rest, I would like to state that as adults and public figures, it is up to each one of us to stand for our mistakes, to apologize when necessary, and to forgive when we can.
I would like to humbly and gently remind Ms. Kriete that as a member of this community, as a vocal organizer and contributor, she has a responsibility to behave in a way that continues to shed positive light on herself, her work, our community, and our standing. There is no positive outcome to gaming a system, and certainly there is nothing in the unspoken rules of the steampunk community that suggests such an act is tolerable.
Were we truly in the Victorian age, I might bring out the "punk" in steampunk and loudly suggest, "Madam, fetch your second! Swords at dawn!" After all, it has been known to happen, time to time, and there must be some call to action to defend the honor of the community. I am hoping, however, that such a tongue-in-cheek call-out will not be required. That Ms. Kriete will understand the gravity of the slander cast upon not just us as a community, but upon authors and the Goodreads librarians as a whole, and that this entire business may—in time, and with some effort—be laid to rest.
There is no profit here. Only loss.
A later edit... Having had some time to consider, I would like to take the opportunity to extend a hand of optimistic hope out to Ms. Kriete. Perhaps she didn't know what exactly she was gumming around with, since she's so rarely on Goodreads as her profile shows. (Like me!) Perhaps her intent wasn't to offend at all, or even to game the system as it unfortunately appears. I'm willing to accept that accidents happen, that the appearance isn't all it seems to be, that there could be some other explanation for what that appearance paints this a tawdry tale of.
To that end, I am hoping that Ms. Kriete—who is, I believe, such a public figure that I highly doubt anything I say will reach her sphere of influence—learns something from this mess, that she take into consideration appearances (we should be used to this, as authors and as Victorian emulators), and be very careful that her infinite influences in these side-by-side communities is not perceived in this way ever again. We must all be terribly cautious when we make such bold statements or sweeping moves, and either stand by what we believe in (as I maintain that I have done here), or be willing to admit a mistake (as I will be willing to do if an explanation ever comes that absolves Ms. Kriete of ill-intent).
Should matters stand as they are, however, all I can go by is what the appearances show. I hope sincerely this does not remain the case.
A Further Update: July 14th, 2012
I include this in the comments section, but for new or returning readers, I place it within the body of the blog post so that you can see the progress.
There will be a future post within a few days recapping the event and including updates to the subject. In the meantime, please feel free to check out the link Brian offers to Ms. Kriete’s explanation and draw some of your own conclusions. I shall draw mine in an op-ed piece to be posted soon. As they say, in for a penny, in for a pound.
p.s. If you choose to engage in this debacle, do please try to maintain a sense of courtesy. Part of my entire point is that we are a courteous bunch, and stooping to flames or insults will not net us anything but even more loss.
Thank you for all your attention and care!
A Final Piece: July 17th, 2012
The Steampunk Chronicle has published the opinion piece that includes all of the data s it's been collected.
* An Informational Addendum: August 11th, 2012
Just in case you are looking for Ms. Kriete's name in the Steampunk wiki, a source brought to my attention that it has been removed as of earlier today. According to the editor: "removed unreliable LiveJournal reference, removed name of promoter as the reliable source makes no specific mention of the individual - do not re-add without reliable sources."