I'm the founder of a large photography group here on deviantART. We've been using the groups system since the very first day they officially released. At the time of this writing, we have almost 3600 members. We've grown rapidly to become one of the largest and most successful photography groups around. As a founder, it's always interesting to see how your group is doing. It's a lot of fun to look at statistics, new members, submissions, and comments. Until now.
We had an excellent discussion in our group chat debating the following issues. Together, we came up with these issues and decided to raise them to the community through this news article.
A strong indicator of member activity in our group has always been the participation rate in our polls. When we had around 600 members, the participation rate in our polls after about one week was at around 40% - a very high number. But where are we today? We created a normal poll about one week ago. Keep in mind, we now have almost 3600 members. Our participation rate this time around? Just under 3%. 3 PERCENT! Unbelievable. I couldn't believe my eyes.
So what does this information tell us? Active participation within the group has reached an all-time low, even though we have constantly been innovating with new projects, ideas, themes, and contests. Only 3% of our members bothered to participate in the poll. What is the cause for this terrible drop in participation? Read on for my theory.
Let's take a deeper look at the groups system. What happens when someone joins a group? And, most importantly, WHY does one join a group? I'm beginning to see a trend. The number one reason for joining a group is to get artwork noticed. The number two reason is to see other great artwork. Here is where the problem comes in: People submit artwork to groups carelessly and in great amounts. People join unreasonable amounts of groups.
I have seen images that have been submitted to over 40 groups, if not more! This, quite frankly, is unbelievable. Before the groups system, the way to get your work noticed was through watchers, journal features, and most importantly, the QUALITY of the art. However, it has now come to a point where the popularity of a work of art is defined by the number of groups it has been submitted to! Artists that DON'T submit to an unbelievable amount of groups SUFFER because they can't get their artwork to shine simply through quality. If you don't submit submit submit, you have NO chance to get your art really out there.
In short, people are USING, SPAMMING, and EXPLOITING the groups system to get their artwork noticed. And if they don't do so, they are at a HUGE disadvantage.
So what about groups like us? Groups that don't just want millions of submissions, but rather member participation in projects, contests, chats, and more? We are about community, and frankly, our community feeling has died ever since the abuse started. It feels like people simply join our group to have another check-box to hit when it comes to submitting a deviation. Why don't people see our polls and blogs when they used to in the past? Because deviants join too many groups. If someone is in 200 groups, they can't keep track of all their deviantWATCH messages any more. There's simply no way. Their inboxes get floodes with blogs, polls, and thousands of deviations. So, how can a group possibly get important information seen? This brings me to the next issue.
Groups must abuse in order to not be abused. The only way to get a reasonable amount of people to see polls and blogs is to post a LOT of both. It has come to the point where groups create multiple blogs and polls to deliver the SAME message to members. How else can they get noticed in inboxes of people that are in 200 groups? Right. They can't. There is simply NO way.
So now, we're at a point where users spam groups to get noticed, and groups spam users to get noticed. Wonderful.
In order to battle these issues, we must get all 3 parties involved. Namely, these are deviants, groups, and deviantART.
Do not exploit and use the groups system to get your artwork noticed. Group administrators spend an UNBELIEVABLE amount of time improving the group, responding to the community, and sorting through your thousands of submissions. Please respect this. Take the time to reconsider which groups you're in. Please do not blindly submit photos to groups when uploading a deviation without even paying attention to the submission guidelines.
You are an important part in helping solve this problem. We must make this issue known. As groups, we have the power to reach thousands of deviants and get this message seen. Show this to your communities, chime in on the discussion, raise awareness. We can't do this without the help of our community. For our own protection, we need to get this message seen.
This is where things get difficult. The groups system is a brilliant idea that needs adjustment. DeviantART, in order to help our community, you must make some unpopular decisions. Deviants will NOT like the coming ideas.
1. Limit the amount of groups deviants can join
Currently, there is no limit. The first step would be to limit user joining to a reasonable level. My suggestion would be somewhere between 10-20 groups. There is simply no time to keep track of any more groups than this. Anyone that claims to be actively participating in 20 groups is abusing the groups system. There NEEDS to be a limit to counter these problems. Humans need to be governed.
2. Set a global limit to group submissions
The only way to prevent users from exploiting the groups system to get artwork seen is to set a reasonable limit. Do works of art REALLY need to be submitted to 50 groups in order to get reasonable exposure? Before the group system, there was a natural selection process to decide which works get seen and which don't: QUALITY. This has changed. Even awful works (even though almost all submissions deserve some merit) can be seen by thousands, as long as they are submitted to thousands of groups. Deviants NEED some sort of limit. The playing field needs to be leveled.
3. Make group management easier on the user's end
As a group veteran, I tried to find out which groups I am in the other day. To my surprise, it was incredibly clunky to see which groups I am a member of! I need to first have the group widget installed in my profile, and then need to click on the icons to see the groups. Why isn't there a big My Groups button in the profile or the navigation? Why can't there be an organized list of groups, complete with icons, short info, and some statistics? We have something like this for the people we watch, why not for groups we are in? Why is it so cumbersome to find out which group one is a member of?
These steps, or at least some variation of them, NEED to be taken by all 3 parties in order for us to bring back our communities. I realize that the decisions that I suggested will be unpopular ones. Please, feel free to chime in with your ideas in the comments. Whether or not my suggestions are the right ones, something clearly needs to be done. The only way to solve these problems is to get them known. Therefore, I ask you to help the cause by faving this article, making blogs, journals, polls, and deviations to get this out there. Only together can we battle the abuse of the groups system. And deviantART is, after all, a community of strong-willed artists, is it not?
- David Vogt