Weblit Platforms: Pandamian vs. Fluffy-Seme
I recently had a pretty nasty website crash, and I'm only just tech-literate enough to know how to install drupal and wordpress under my own domain name. The end result was that I learned much more about databases than I ever wanted to (which, really, is actually not all that much). As a result of all the technical drama though, I seriously considered migrating my books to one of the developing weblit platforms.
I have accounts at both Pandamian and Fluffy-Seme, both in beta. I poke around occasionally and see what they've come up with, but this was the first time I've seriously considered using them "for real." For anyone looking for a free, no expertise required platform to publish weblit that's more tailored to the genre than Wordpress, Blogger or the like, here's a lowdown on the strengths and weaknesses of each.
The two platforms have different approaches. Pandamian's is "Dead-simple publishing," and Fluffy-Seme's is "Get more feedback on your writing."
Look and Organization
- Simple, intuitive menus. You can write, revise, or delete a chapter or a page. Items in menu tabs always seem like they belong.
- Clean user interface. Simple black, grey and white with instinctively colored buttons (green, blue, and red).
- Chapters have a book page feel and can be expanded for full-screen reading. (http://theddro.pandamian.com/readiness-1/)
- Pandamian only has "chapters," with no options for scenes within chapters, which is something of a downside if you're doing a serial. It also doesn't currently support alternate naming, so you're stuck with something like "Chapter 1: Chapter 1 Pt. 1" and "Chapter 2: Chapter 1 Pt. 2."
- If you have multiple works they are all in a convenient list, and you can go straight to writing, editing, or deleting without having to enter each individual book.
- Menus tabs never seem to quite hold the items I would expect, and menus sometimes disappear, which means you have to hit "back" to find them again.
- I personally find the non-standard fonts in the administration menus quite distracting. The "fluffy" background image is also distracting.
- The reading interface has changed since I got my account. Currently the format looks like this: Far left column is a thumbnail of the book cover with a chapter listing (that is small enough that you have to scroll through it even though there is enough room on the page); Center column holds a block with the title and author and a button to follow the story; Far right column holds the story itself. The setup feels unbalanced to me. (http://www.fluffyseme.com/story/index/51)
- Fluffy seme automatically breaks ### into scene breaks, and inserts code for its innovative feedback system (see more below).
- Multiple works are listed in a row of thumbnails at the top of your account page. Of course, if you haven't loaded a book cover, all that appears is "100x150 Cover", giving you no clue which one is which. Then you have to click on each one to get to any options for that story.
- Allows you to rename your first chapter, in case you have a prologue or foreword.
Pretty standard feedback set up. In the right-hand column there is a set of three buttons that stay at the top of the screen for easy access as yous scroll. Hit the speech bubble icon and a simple form appears where you can give contact information and your comment. Pandamian has Akismet integration for spam protection. As you view each book you can see recent comments and respond to them.
- This is where Fluffy-Seme is highly innovative. At each scene break are five buttons where readers can give instant, don't-have-to-think-about-it feedback: Liked This Part (green), Hated This Part (red), No Reaction (white), Skipped It (blue), Skimmed It (blue). Fluffy-Seme's premise is being able to get feedback for your writing without begging for it. I haven't actually been able to see this in action (you need a book cover to be included in the public catalogue, and I'm lazy).
- This data is then implemented in an analytics page, which gives you overall ratings by chapter in a color-coded line graph.
- "Engagement Trends" gives you a line graph of skips and skims by chapter.
- "Breakdown" allows you to break it down by scenes within chapters.
- Downside is that only registered users can give written comments. This may be because it's in beta, but I have a personal bias against ever having to register in order to comment.
Social Networking and Statistics
- Supports automatic updates to Twitter and Facebook
- In the right-hand column along with the "expand to fullscreen" and "comment" icons, there is a heart icon for "share" that currently integrates Twitter and Tumblr. Limited options, but they may be expanded later.
- Google Analytics Integration
- "Traffic" gives visitor statistics.
- "Social buzz" shows outbound and inbound visitors from Stumbleupon and Twitter.
- "Promote" offers an in-house promotion where you offer readers points for bringing in other readers. It also offers a list of suggestions for other places to promote (Webfiction guide, Goodreads, Stumbleupon, etc).
Writing and Publishing Tools
- Currently supports exporting to four formats, PDF, plaintext, EPUB, and MOBI for both whole books and individual chapters. The PDFs look great. The plaintext converts chapters into individual files and puts them all in a zip file. It doesn't handle line breaks well, and looks like it still needs some work. EPUB and MOBI both look great.
- Authors can choose whether to allow readers to download PDFs of chapters or the whole book.
- Supports a community of beta readers. In your account page you can say whether you're willing to be a beta reader, and what genres you will look at, and what genres you will not.
- Under "Analytics" offers composition tools such as word complexity, sentence length, crutch words, crutch frequency, and suggested revisions, several of which offer color-coded graphs.
Pandamian offers a basic WYSIWYG editor that has given me no problems with copying special formating. The HTML editor has worked beautifully.
The first thing you see when you want to write a chapter is an HTML conversion page that suggests that if you are copying from a word processor to allow them to do an HTML conversion for you. In my experience it hasn't worked very well (lines running together, quotes missing, random characters). Plus you have to go and put in all the bolds and italics manually. After that is a VERY basic WYSIWYG editor where you still need to work some HTML.
What does it all mean? I guess it depends on what you want. Both projects are in beta, and will be changing and updating and improving. If I had to choose one to publish online exclusively with right now, I would choose Pandamian because of how clean and simple it is, and everything just works. But Fluffy-Seme is quite tempting with its innovative feedback model. I'd love to see Pandamian with that feedback model, or Fluffy-Seme with Pandamian's workflow magic. Maybe they can have a baby together.