Non-Actionable Feedback

Actionable feedback prompts the recipient to take an action outside the framework of the conversation, but most feedback appearing to be actionable is in fact non-actionable. Let’s look at some examples and analyze why they do not warrant any action by the recipient.

1. “This is a really great article, but I think it could use some more examples!”

The problem with this one is “I think.” Everyone has an opinion. Replace “I think” with “I know” and you have something actionable. The action is to add more examples to the article, but the writer is unlikely to do this unless the feedback is more forceful.

2. “I really enjoy your photography.”

Completely worthless. I am getting to the point where I just press the delete button on comments like this. Obviously, any praise besides “keep it up” is basically non-actionable, but at least give me specific feedback rather than wasting my time. “I enjoy your photographs of (flowers | sunsets | raindrops | people) because of their (color | perspective | uniqueness | emotions)” is better.

3. “Tweet This is a good plugin, but I’d like to see integration with Tumblr.”

Again, this one applies to the commenter only so it is basically worthless. Replace “I’d like to see” with “it should have” or “I will not use it until it has” and you will have something actionable.

4. “I hope you get well soon!”

This also does nothing because hoping is ineffective and does not provoke action. “You should take a zinc supplement” would be better.

5. “Have you considered changing your religion?”

While the may look majorly actionable, in fact it only prompts a yes or no response with no action. Feedback like “Your religion sucks because *some reason*” would be more likely to provoke an action.

6. “Could you take less for this item?”

This could also be answered with a no or simply ignored. It would be better to offer a specific amount, because then you are showing initiative.

7. “You are a moron!”

This kind of feedback is useless. If it’s true, it’s a statement of fact, which is never actionable. If it’s false, it’s a lie, which is also non-actionable.

8. “There is no point in arguing with someone like you.”

People who write this type of comment have superiority complexes and are trying to prove their time is more valuable than yours. But their very response proves that they are not above you. Completely non-actionable.

9. “What’s your phone number and a good time to call you?”

This is an edge case, but it’s actually non-actionable because the recipient stays in the frame of the conversation without taking action (i.e. calling you) outside the conversation. The recipient is liable to respond with his phone number but not answer your call. An actionable message would in fact be “My phone number is XXX-XXX-XXXX―please call me at 9pm.” This way, you put the burden of action on the recipient rather than yourself.

10. “If you don’t log in within 72 hours, your account will be deleted!”

If the user is concerned about his account being deleted, he will certainly log in anyway, and if he isn’t, he may as well not even receive this message, because he won’t visit your site again. Completely non-actionable.

While you may think providing actionable feedback is best, there are many times when you are talking to someone unpleasant and want to end the conversation. In this case, it’s better to provide non-actionable feedback. If the recipient keeps responding to your non-actionable feedback, you will sense his desperation. Desperate people are never good friends or business contacts, so you should cut them out of your life.

Here is a hypothetical conversation with a desperate person:

Blue: How would you like to establish an affiliate partnership between our websites?
Red: Your blog has potential, but I’m really not interested in linking to it.

Realistically, the conversation should end here, but Blue is desperate and continues despite the obvious futility.

Blue: Are you sure? How about if I link to you only and you pay me?
Red: Like I said on my contact page, I don’t accept solicitations nor affiliate with websites that get no traffic.

Blue is becoming very anxious―the more he is rejected the more he pushes forward. He thinks he’s persevering, but in fact he’s just being a needy nuisance.

Blue: But you should see my traffic logs! My site gets over 100 visitors this month!
Red: I do offer consulting to increase your traffic. 100 visitors per month is nothing.

Red has made a serious mistake―he should have terminated the conversation right here. Blue has continuously provided desperate, non-actionable feedback, so this would have been a perfect time to stop replying.

Blue: How much do you charge?
Red: $100 an hour, $100 minimum.
Blue: That’s ridiculous! $100 for some measly consulting work that should only take you twenty minutes? What kind of consultant are you anyway? A scam artist, that’s what!
Red: I can assure you that my clients would say otherwise. Many of them are very successful and place a high value on my services.

Blue has gained the upper hand, and Red has succumbed to an energy vampire. Red is now on the defensive.

Blue: I don’t care what you are, I’m reporting you to *some agency* for trying to defraud me.
Red: I’m sure we can work this out without the authorities.
Blue: I’ll tell you what. If you help me to market *new worthless service*, I’ll overlook this and allow you to continue your business.
Red: Okay…

This is the price for taking non-actionable feedback seriously. Blue is a desperate, passive-aggressive wimp who can only resort to begging and threats. Red is a person who lets wimps take advantage of him. Both are losers, but both could become winners by harnessing the power of non-actionable feedback.

At the start of the conversation, Red should have said “I’ll look into your blog and get back to you.” With one non-actionable reply, Red could have avoided conversation for weeks, but instead, he engaged the sender in a pointless argument which ended in self-capitulation. Ridiculous, but stuff like this happens every day.

Your Blog is Not a Community

Most blogs consist of one person commenting on the world, and a whole bunch of people passing by, spending five minutes to skim several posts, and perhaps making a comment or two. These people move on to never return, and they are replaced by more people who in turn do the same.

While blogs are typically considered more communal than typical websites, they may in fact be less so. Other websites have forums which receive hundreds of posts per day from established and respected members. That is a community. Blogs have comments. If you’re lucky (like with this blog), they are threaded with email notifications. This has the potential for community building, as people may make comments, reply to other comments, and return to reply again. However, it generally does not create community. Most people still visit once and only once.

Some bloggers try adding a forum. I did this, and the sad reality is that you will get no participation. For every 100 people that visit your website, one person will make a comment. And for every 100 people who comment on your blog, one person will sign up and post on your forum. Even if you put a widget in your sidebar with the latest forum topics, you’ll still get little to no participation. The forum is basically a separate website, one that will receive no benefit from the fame of your blog. Unless your blog is so popular that you’ve turned off comments, forums are a waste of time. You must chose: forums or comments. One or the other. Not both. On a popular blog, you may be better off disabling comments and creating a forum requiring registration. It cuts out the noise.

Bloggers used to require registration to comment, but fortunately no one does this anymore. It is so stupid and pointless now that spam filtering is so good. There are only three purposes for registration: to track people for marketing, to allow for user profiles that other members can read, and to track comments. WordPress allows none of these. BuddyPress does, and there are plugins, but no one is using those. Registration doesn’t create a feeling of community. It creates a feeling of annoyance.

RSS feeds get people to come back for more, but most people who use RSS feeds are lurkers. You won’t get a comment from them. You may get thousands of pageviews over a period of months, but you won’t get comments and you won’t get community participants.

Responding to comments helps build community, but don’t respond to everything. Simple comments like “your work is great” do not deserve a thank you. That is boring and unneeded. I no longer reply to such comments. My time is better spent writing new blog posts.

Most comments will be people looking for help, and they will be in response to problem-solving posts that didn’t solve their problems. A third of the comments on this blog have been on my Tweet This plugin (most are archived), and they have not been thank-yous so much as requests for help. These are not people wanting to participate in a blog community: these are people who want their problems solved so they can move on with their lives. No community content there.

WordPress MU does not build communities. Many people try and many people fail. All the blogs are separate—all the blog posts are stored in separate database tables. There’s no way to even aggregate them effectively without creating a mirror of them in a unified table, and this is complicated to set up. It is also unwieldy and wasteful. There is no linking blogs together in WordPress MU. They are islands. When you host a WordPress MU site, you are not a community leader. You are a web host.

As a blogger, you are a publisher, not a community leader. Don’t think of your blog as a round-table. Think of it as a newspaper. Yes you may feature letters to the editor, but remember who is in control and who leads the discussion. If you aren’t producing new blog posts every week, whatever “community” you have (which is really just visitors) will disappear immediately. It did when I left this blog for six months. It will for you too. No big deal. It can be quickly rebuilt. Communities take a long time to build, and if you alienate your loyal readers your site goes down the tubes. Blogs aren’t communities, so if you alienate some people (and you will), new people will replace them. Don’t expect anyone to write your posts for you or come up with ideas for you. It’s all on YOU. YOU must do it all YOURSELF. No one will help you. When you accept that you have no community to back you, you accept complete responsibility for the success of your blog. That is power.

I’m a Gawker Artist!

2008-07-20 Update: They upgraded the site and broke the old URLs! Here’s my new Gawker Artists page.

I have a page on Gawker Artists now. The photo that got me in is The Rebel, one of my favorite portraits, taken for my now-concluded black and white film class. This means the image will appear occasionally on Lifehacker and other exhibitors. Quite cool. Sarah will be proud, if she checks here. She’s representing an entire movement of non-conformity.

The Rebel: a girl smoking in front of a no-smoking sign

I came up with a great summary of my photographic mission for the page:

I’m an experimental photographer who’s been working in the digital medium for four years. I strive to capture nature in inspiring and unusual ways; while I take pretty pictures, they should always make you think. The same effort goes into my portraits and still life; I photograph whatever I like, and am known for forcing people to pose in crazy ways, or for spending hours setting up arrangements of marbles or ketchup bottles. I’m a believer in contributing to the photography community, so I write a lot of behind-the-scenes details and add tips for my fellow photographers to my website.

If you’re a photographer, isn’t that what your mission should be? To make people think. Anyone can do that. Anyone can do what I do. But does that mean you do? For many of you, no. But I’ll do it for you.

In my spare time over the past few days, I’ve been working on the tech side of the site, instead of posting new material (sorry to my viewers). Some advances:

• My Twitter updates are at the bottom of the first post on each page (Twitter tools, with modifications).
• The ads are inline with posts; see the top-right of the first post on any page, and the link ads after the 2nd and 7th posts. That was tough to figure out. Code like “<?php $postnum = 0; if (have_posts()) : while (have_posts()) : $postnum = $postnum; the_post(); ?>” and “<?php $a = 2; $b = 7; . . . ” went into my WordPress template’s index.php file.
• I switched to Google Custom Search for my search engine (in the side-bar). There are extra ads when you search, which I make money on like the normal ads.
• I made the links below the banner nice, and cleaned up the sidebar, moving stuff to an Index page. The cousin and the father have been demoted to there.
• All thumbnail links use Highslide now, so if you have JavaScript enabled, click one and it will pop up right on the page. You can even flip through photos with the arrow keys. This is a big improvement from a plain link to a JPEG file, and was suggested by the author of Post-Thumb revisited, the plugin I’m using to implement and manage it.
• I added a Contact page, with my info and an inline contact form (SCF2 Contact Form).
• I switched over to WP Super Cache, from WP-Cache. After some battling, I thought I had it so every page, except search, the shopping cart, add to cart, and random gallery, was cached and gzipped, from the second visitor every 24 hours onward. I was very proud of it. It worked for a couple hours, but now only some pages are zipped while other, more important ones get nothing, and I have no idea why. I give up, I’ve spend enough time on this. If it’s not good enough for Steve Pavlina, then it’s not good enough for me. I gzipped the larger CSS and JavaScript files while at it (prototype.js is cut from 125KB to 22KB), and that sticks, fortunately.
Comment previewing is gone. I was revising the preview text, and then the text disappeared and I couldn’t get it to work at all, even writing the settings into the database myself. This isn’t an advance; I just gave up. Maybe it’s outdated, I don’t know, but that’s enough dealing with it. If your comment messes up, post a corrective comment, and I’ll fix it and delete the second one for you.
• Added “overflow: hidden” CSS class to the header (with the six random photos). So if you’re browsing in a window smaller than 1024×768, there is no ugly wrapping to the next line.
• I finally hacked WP-Print to put the URI markers after the hypertext instead of before. So now I can print out wonderful articles like How to Brand Your Prints and they can be read logically. If you print (“Printable View” link below any post), do it in Internet Explorer 7. Firefox is no good at formatting in print. Plus, I was sick of the line breaks in my awfully long affiliate links, so I changed the code so there are no line breaks for URIs, and Firefox deals with this by making all the text really small, while Internet Explorer forces a line break (nice).
• People have been signing up for despite my lack of advertising. I’ll work on the layout and features in July. I can’t get virtual subdomains like I want without upgrading to a virtual private server, which I won’t yet pay for, so you just get a name like instead of (which I know you’d prefer). Sorry for that. If you start blogging for some reason, I added plugins you can activate to multicast to Facebook, LiveJournal, Twitter, and Xanga, like I do (see links in my footer). You’ll have to hand over your passwords, but they’re safe with me.

It’s good to know when to give up, as I did with a couple of the issues above. I enjoy taking, editing, and writing about my photos more than this stuff, but somehow I get engrossed in tweaking layouts and settings, which is never the most important thing. It was good this time, for the gallery features mainly, but I’ve had my fix, so I can switch back to the important stuff (publishing photos and writing to inspire others).

I also reached a milestone lately; I’m not in the hole anymore. I’ve made $19 from contextual advertising and $2 from print sales, while I only have $16 invested for hosting (till August when I’ll have to pay almost $10 a month). I’m never going away, even if I have to pay $50 a month and lose money. My art and writing must be accessible to the world, forever.

Comment Threading

I added comment threading, similar to deviantART. deviantART lets comments nest infinitely and after each ten levels, you must click a link to view the deeper levels. Mine stops at four levels though, so the page indent doesn’t become too great. But at the fourth level, you can continue posting replies like normal (they’ll just stay on the same level), and it will still be easy to keep track of the conversation, as other commenters will be on different threads. Try it out on this entry. Click “Comments” in the bottom-right, and then on my comment, click *REPLY TO THIS*.

I don’t know how to get comment previewing to work with the plugin, so it’s gone for now. 2008-01-10 Update: It’s back!

Also, each entry has a printable version, which you can view by clicking “Printable Version” at the bottom. Above this, there is a ShareThis button, so you can share my articles with friends and strangers alike, by email or through Facebook, digg,, et cetera. Finally, there is a dynamically generated list of three similar entries at the end of each entry, and a “random page” link in the sidebar. Both of these features will become useful as I add content.