This website can't be everything to everyone

By on Jan 5th

The Scolding © by Roblawol, used under Creative Commons license.

An odd thing has happened as the Empire has evolved: readers are REALLY invested in the websites, which is awesome. The downside of this investment is that sometimes, if they see something on one of the sites that isn't a perfect fit with their expectations, they get crabby.

Sometimes, this crabbiness translates into readers then scolding me or my editors for not adhering to what they think the we should be about. A few examples:

  • "This advertisement suggests I buy something, but your sites are about DIY and living simply" [because apparently no one is allowed to enjoy shopping if they also like DIY]
  • "This advice suggests that I should do something I don't want to do, but your sites are about supporting me in making my own decisions to do whatever I want to do" [because apparently people need to be told it's ok to ignore this advice if it's not relevant to them]
  • "This language strikes me as hurtful, and your sites have a long history of supporting my community, so you should know better and clearly you're writing this way because you hate me" [because apparently being a longtime ally only gets you first in line to get complaints from the marginalized communities you've committed yourself to for years]
  • "You shouldn't allow this writer to define themselves using this word" [because allowing author's to self-identify makes some other readers uncomfortable]
  • "This post is irrelevant to my needs — you NEVER pay attention to people like me" [because apparently every post is supposed to be catered to every single reader's unique lifestyle, finances, region, and personal situation]

Yes, I've written about this before…but it's gotten worse.

I totally get where all these concerns are coming from — ultimately, these challenges boil down to people loving the sites and feeling sad/hurt/confused when something they love doesn't line up with their expections (or in some cases, projections). It's the sweetest kind of hurt, but over the years I've felt it paint me into a corner where I'm almost always acquiescing to these kinds of complaints… and meanwhile, I feel myself growing increasingly resentful and afraid of taking risks with my writing and our content. Posts have gotten increasingly toothless and bland as they try to appeal to as many readers as possible. Articles get so heavily qualified as to be almost meaningless — "here's a thing you could maybe consider trying, unless it doesn't relate to your situation, in which you can ignore it of course, but if it's helpful then yay!, but no pressure, mmkay?"

This needs to stop.

Yes, I like to cater to readers and their concerns as much as possible, but when it starts breeding resentment and toothless content, that's not cool. I don't appreciate being told by readers (even the most loving, well-intentioned readers — and I KNOW you are!) that I don't know how to run my business or make editorial decisions. When I start wondering if I'm allowed to use the word "dykey" in the same lovingly playful way I do in my daily life (my mother AND mother-in-law are lesbians, and that's just the beginning of how immersed I am in LGBT culture), I know something has gotten out of wack.

I cherish my readers and love it when they take the time to share their feelings with me, but I need to balance these thousands of voices with my own business decisions and my desires to keep my editorial content strong, opinionated, and unfettered by fears about making bold statements. I need readers to respect that we know what we're doing, even if it's not always what they like. This doesn't mean there's not room for feedback or questions or concerns — it just means that if they're couched in something that feels like I'm being scolded, I'm no longer responding.

As I said last year:

We LOVE getting feedback from our readers about how our posts make you feel, even if I can't always promise that we'll be able to make all 250,000 of you feel good about every single post on the site. We're ok with that, and we hope you can be too.