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Cuil, WritersCafe, and Advocacy

July 29, 2008

First, I’d like to apologize for not being here much recently. It’s been an exciting couple of weeks. I’m in the process of moving (hopefully I’ll be all settled in at the new place by the middle of next week). Also, I managed to get stress fractures in my ankle by stepping off of a curb. Surprisingly, my mostly bed-ridden status has not inspired any writing. Luckily for you, though, there are a few things out there that HAVE inspired some writing.

Cuil:

I saw an article about this a few days ago, I figured what the heck, why not try it out. I must say, I kind of like it. When you search for an item with Cuil, you don’t get a boring vertical list of websites. Instead, your page fills with little blurbs, which you can ask Cuil to arrange in two or three columns. Three columns works better for my computer. I really like this approach, as I can glance at a lot of search results without needing to scroll down endlessly.

Also, for a lot of search terms, Cuil provides a box for “categories”. If I search for the musical group The Dresden Dolls, for example, I’m offered the choice of looking at “Dark Cabaret Musicians”, “Dresden Dolls Songs”, and “2000s Music Groups”, among others. Each of these choices, with a simple mouse-over, slides up to provide a list of possible choices for the clicking. That’s one of my favorite things about Cuil, the ability to get a lot of information without scrolling or clicking. On just one screen, I have available to me information that it might take 10 minutes to piece together on other search engines.

Another nice thing, at least with the Dresden Dolls, is the strategic choice of links to display on the front page. Instead of being offered the Dresden Dolls main website, a couple of fan sites, and a blog post about one of their concerts, I’m offered relevant links, mostly from within the Dolls’ own website. I can look at lyrics, a bio, news, videos, blog posts by the band, etc. I am also directed to places where I can buy the album FROM THE BAND, instead of being offered a link to Amazon. I really like this.

There are some things that I would miss if I switched from Google to Cuil, though. Cuil doesn’t do math and conversions for me, something that is rather important for an English major who struggles with even basic math. It doesn’t offer a photo search, nor does it allow me to search through blogs, books, scholarly work, or Youtube at the click of a button. Most importantly, it doesn’t link to everything else in my life (Google Pictures from Picasa, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, etc) the way that Google does.

I think I’ll continue to give Cuil a chance, as it, simply put, just feels nice to use it. It is more aesthetically pleasing than Google, and I think it is following the trend set by the design of Macs (and Vista, though most people aren’t willing to admit this) of having intuitive, softer, kinder (?) design.

On to what else is going on in my life: WritersCafe.

If you write any kind of fiction, poetry, essays, etc, and want feedback, I would suggest trying out WritersCafe. I did so on the suggestion of my dear friend Mike, and I must say that I’m pleased. WritersCafe is a place to post writing and receive comments and ratings. You can also join writing groups and enter (or create) contests. The community on WritersCafe is very active and very helpful. There are things, however, that I don’t like about the site, particularly since I was a long-time member of the now-defunct Concentricus, and will likely hold every other writing site up in comparison to Concentricus.

Some of my issues with WritersCafe are as follows:

1) Use of pictures as icons for (and within) writing. I feel like it’s a lot of work to add these pictures, and actually I don’t like seeing them in other’s work. However, you look like an uncommitted dunce if each of your pieces of writing doesn’t have an avatar.

2) The rating system. A 1-100 scale is way too broad, for starters. On Concentricus, we had a 10 point scale, and I never felt the need for more than that. Also, the rating system doesn’t really seem to MEAN anything. Especially as everyone has a score in the mid-90s.

3) Speaking of which: The self-love fest has got to stop. Everyone spends all day saying nice things about everyone else, and no one can ever improve in such a fashion. Granted, I’m slowly finding people who will actually make suggestions about my writing (and for once I am taking those suggestions), but the great majority of users seem to feel like saying anything negative about a poem will result in a major backlash. Thus far it hasn’t for me, so take heart.

4) Finding new work to read is, in some ways, difficult. You can click on any number of options (new writing, new writers, un-rated work, active users, online users, etc) and probably find new work, but I really like Concentricus’s “Things I Haven’t Read” function. You would think that as WritersCafe is much bigger and more complicated, you could have a “Things I Haven’t Read” that was centered around the types of writing that you have previously stated that you like, and included some things from writers that you have read and liked. Yeah. I think that would be awesome.

5) There’s no overall forum. One of the best things about Concentricus was that even if you didn’t feel like writing or reading, you could talk about either (or a hundred other things) with people in the forums. WritersCafe has forums for groups, though I don’t think they’re used much. I would love to see an overall forum.

Of course, none of these things have kept me from practically living on WritersCafe, and shrieking with excitement every time that I get a new review. If you’re looking for a place to write and build community, try it out.

Advocacy

The last thing that I’ve been doing recently is take stock of my advocacy and volunteering status. The issue that I choose to champion, for various reasons, is sexual abuse, particularly sexual abuse of children. Recently, I feel like I haven’t been doing much to help other people in this area. I’m working on fixing that, and I’ll make a longer post soon about this. One of the things that I have done is add a couple of banners on my sidebars for those who make have been sexually abused or for those who might want to volunteer to help women and men who have been raped and abused. Take a look, and tell me what you think about the change.

And with that, I’m out.

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