I love Wattpad, because Wattpad turned me into a writer. I’d always claimed to want to be a writer, and had always been writing bits and pieces here and there, but I’d never published anything or even really finished a project. Writing had become something I did at work in my capacity as a copywriter, while my dreams of being a novelist flapped about in the winds of nostalgia.
A couple of years after publishing on Wattpad I had a novel called A Day of Faces, 116,000 reads, a Watty 2016 award and a lot more confidence. In April I’m talking about my experience as part of the Publishing Day School at Writers’ Centre Norwich. Wattpad even ended up on the International Literature Showcase last year.
But it ain’t perfect. In fact, there are gaping holes. It aspires to be YouTube for words, yet is failing to even replicate that platform’s basic features.I love Wattpad, so hopefully this insight will prove useful to the engineers over there…
1. Implement proper analytics
For a platform which is all about publishing user content, it’s crazy that Wattpad’s analytics are so primitive. There’s no way to view data from further back than the most recent 30 days. This makes it impossible to assess how your book’s readership has grown and fluctuated over time. I’d love to know how A Day of Faces grew to have 116,000 reads but it’s impossible to go back far enough. I can’t even see what happened last month.
Even worse is that you can’t even export the raw data, perhaps in CSV form, to perform your own analysis. A bare bones dashboard but with the ability to wrangle the information manually is fine – but no, all those numbers are kept behind lock and key somewhere on Wattpad’s servers.
And, god, I hope the data is stored somewhere. If Wattpad has been jettisoning user book data for the last 5+ years it’d be a travesty. Given how it ought to be relatively trivial to implement a date range interface, the lack thereof does make me worry.
You’ve then got more minor but nevertheless perplexing situations, such as the geo data which is displayed as a pretty map but with no accompanying list-based breakdown, forcing you to mouse over the entire world to figure out how your readership breaks down.
Knowing how your books are being read isn’t just about making yourself feel good (or bad). It’s the cornerstone of how independent online creators build their own platform. It’s the combination of skill and data which has let YouTube grow superstars, and given them the keys to their own success. Wattpad is actively holding back its writers and itself but not giving us access to this information.
2. Filtered notifications
Wattpad’s notifications are a complete mess. For one, they’re inconsistent, sometimes failing to include notifications for things such as comments on one of my chapters. The larger problem is the opposite end of the spectrum: information overload.
There is a single notifications stream. Whether you’re a Wattpad writer, a reader or a bit of both, everything goes into that one feed. Therefore if other writers update their books, I get a notification. If someone votes for, comments on or adds my book to a list, I get a notification.
Given that A Day of Faces is a 60-chapter book, if someone is reading through it over the course of a week, I’ll be getting a frequent, regular update for each chapter as they vote for it (this happens a lot, which is, of course, lovely). When your book is fairly low-key, such as The Mechanical Crown which I’ve only been writing for a few months, it’s fine. But if your book takes off and you’ve got 200+ people reading it per day, the notifications feed winds up being practically useless as it turns into an endless stream of voting updates.
A few things could be done to fix this:
- Enable writers to single-click filter the entire notifications feed based on their own work, or everything. When I’m using Wattpad as a writer, to respond to my readers and see what’s happening with my books, I don’t want notifications for other stuff showing up. The reverse is also true – it’s impossible for me to stay informed about what writers I follow are up to, because those notifications disappear beneath a sea of updates about my own stuff.
- Further than that, filtering should be available for types of notification. Votes, comments, library/list adds should all be filterable, letting us turn each type on/off. Along similar lines, summaries would be useful – a single number telling me how many votes A Day of Faces has received in the last day/week/etc would be far more useful than the chapter-by-chapter notification.
- For writers with multiple books, what we really want is to be able to drill down into each book. I want to be able to see only notification updates for The Mechanical Crown. I’ve no idea how Wattpad veterans who have several books are able to cope, as everything gets smushed together.
- Allow quick-replies to comments. Currently I have to click the comment to go to the chapter before I can send a reply, which adds a considerable amount of time when going through multiple comments.
3. Modern social interaction features
Wattpad’s forums and community features are bizarrely antiquated. Don’t get me wrong, the people there are lovely. Supportive, sharing and enthusiastic. But the software running the community is peculiar in the extreme. This is all the more true when you consider that Wattpad prides itself on its writer/reader community.
Click the ‘Community’ tab and you’re presented with a range of oblique options. Turns out that ‘Clubs’ actually means ‘forums’, while the other options are all varying types of Wattpad promotional landing page, more about selling the platform than providing actual community features.
Entering the Clubs area reveals a forum setup that is sub-usenet, sub-phpbb and just about anything else. There’s a ‘newest discussions’ feed of six stubs, which is amusingly truncated for a community of Wattpad’s 45 million+ size, even if not all those people are active posters. Dive into one of the sub-forums, for example the ‘science fiction’ club, and you find a bare bones list of the 15 most recently active topics (actually, the top 5 are just pinned stickies which remain at the top of EVERY PAGE). To see more requires clicking the ‘All discussions’ button to see a slightly bigger list which is still endlessly paginated.
Here’s the thing: there’s no search facility. Or, if there is, and I find it hard to believe that there isn’t, then it’s exceedingly well hidden. There’s an option to subscribe to specific threads, but the list of subscribed threads only appears when you’re inside a thread – you can’t access it from the main index.
The whole setup is strange and seems to ignore 20 years of internet forum development and insight. Not to be that guy, but I’ve run online communities for the best part of 15 years and I find Wattpad’s approach inexplicable. It ignores the direction of travel of online interactions in the last decade (ie, the shift towards social networks) but also fails to effectively implement a more traditional forum setup.
Bottom line is that I’d love to be more embedded into the Wattpad club community but the interface has consistently held me back.
4. Fix the writer-reader connection
Keeping in touch with your readers, or following your favourite writers, is strangely difficult. This should be Wattpad’s greatest strength but features for fostering proper reader-writer connections are lacking and vague.
You can write profile updates and optionally ‘notify’ followers of such. This makes the update appear in their newsfeed and sends an email notifications, but given the volume of activity on the platform this very easily gets subsumed. Even if I want to know what a writer is up to, neither of these methods seem to do a good job. I have to explicitly trawl through all my email notifications, or remember to go check my newsfeed on the website, while the mobile apps do a poor job of surfacing that kind of information.
Wattpad need to study what the likes of Patreon and Kickstarter are doing to connect creators and fans, as well as observing how Twitter and Facebook et al manage to curate a huge amount of information into something useful.
This is by far the trickiest thing to fix, which is why I haven’t put forward any concrete solutions. It’s something which has to filter through every aspect of the Wattpad experience for it to work.
5. Universal, reader-friendly ad revenue sharing
Wattpad only recently started experimenting with revenue sharing, with it currently only available to a select few writers. The application process is currently rather vague. That they haven’t yet sorted out a mature revenue system in 2017 is pretty amazing, given their prominence as a creator platform.
It’s great that they’ve had success and helped writers find audiences without money needing to be part of the equation, but it should absolutely be there as an option – otherwise writers will always at some point be forced to pursue publication elsewhere, perhaps through traditional means, or go down the route of Patreon-style patronage. The former is as hard as it’s ever been, and seems to somewhat defeat the point of Wattpad’s ability to offer an alternate route, while it’s very difficult to convert Wattpad readers into Patrons.
A greater concern, though, is how the current revenue system is implemented. While reading the Wattpad Block Party, run by Kelly Anne Blount, I encountered an advert. They appear between chapters, such that they interrupt your natural reading experience. Worse than that, this was a fecking video advert. Even more heinous – and I still can’t quite believe this – is that it forced me to watch the video before I could continue.
The system as implemented is so reader-unfriendly that I’d be deeply reticent to activate it on my books. Pre-roll YouTube ads are one thing, but interrupting a reader’s experience so overtly is about as big a NO as I can imagine. A book is something to sink into, to be lost inside. While Wattpad’s serial literature nature changes this somewhat, forcing readers to stop and watch an entirely unrelated video advert for 30 seconds before continuing is unacceptable.
Adverts should be subtle, relevant and entirely skippable. Show them, perhaps, when a reader begins their reading session having taken a break. Anything but a forced video watch.
Wattpad – if you’re reading this (hi, Tim! Hi, Gav!), please take the above in the manner intended: I want Wattpad to remain the most exciting literature platform this side of the 20th century. The readers on Wattpad are broadening their tastes and maturing. The writers are becoming more skilled and diverse all the time. The service itself needs to keep pace, otherwise I fear there will be a loss of momentum followed by decline.
Right, time to get back to writing my next chapter.