The other day, I heard about this site called 4theWords. I will not link to it. Not because I think it’s purposely dishonest, and it probably isn’t technically harmful. But it is such an impressive bit of FUBAR that I don’t want to be associated beyond this one time that I will (sort of) publicly state my opinion.
It looks like such a good idea. The phrase they use is something like “a gym for writers” and it is basically 750 Words with more features. There is supposed to be a forum, like NaNoWriMo has, badges like 750 Words has (only more and possibly cooler), levels like HabitRPG, and two kinds of gamer-type currency. Like Duolingo has. So cribbing ideas from elsewhere like picking up eggs, sugar, and condensed milk and making flan.
Anything related to flan must be good, right? Wrong. 4theWords is not a delicious flan.
It’s an abysmally buggy site that not only has absolutely no business even discussing money changing hands, it also has no business being listed on the NaNoWriMo web site among legitimate writing resources like Evernote and Scrivener. This is old news (like five months old) but it’s still up on NaNoWriMo’s Sponsor Offers page. My respect for NNWM tanked years ago, but it does not help when they toot a horn for stuff like Zoetic Press and this bullcrap.
…an “honour” that a company can apparently buy with $6000 donated to NaNoWriMo. I think I just died a little. This makes it look even more likely that whoever is in charge doesn’t vet the sponsor offers at all. Yay bribes.
Anyway. I wasn’t aware of all of this until I decided to try it out. First warning sign is that even to sign up for the 30-day free trial, you have to set up a recurring payment with Paypal. It doesn’t look illegal or anything, it’s just not always good business practise. Simply because people don’t like it, and it stops them from ever being customers. It’s even worse when you realise that this site is STILL IN OPEN BETA. Oh, and they also missed basically every deadline they ever set. Old jokes about Peter Molyneux start to come to mind.
But the kicker was when I went ahead with the Paypal thing, and lo, I was kicked back to the sign-in page… and upon trying to log in, I found myself at the same page asking me to set up a recurring Paypal payment. Every Single Time that I tried logging in. I gave up. It wasn’t worth it.
From what I gleaned from people who actually managed to log in (many after having the same problem I did, and all of their comments 3-5 months old), the interface is both unappealing and unusuable. The forums don’t work like forums are supposed to work. And worst of all: Core Features, the gamification stuff like fake currency and levelling, literally don’t work at all. The general attitude in the thread that announced the site’s existence to WriMos was disappointment, irritation, suspicion, and even anger.
But since it is such a good idea, a lot of people were kind of cynically hopeful for the stable version. Personally? I don’t care if it does happen. I want nothing to do with any software engineer who ever thought that SHIFT-S was a good Save Shortcut Key in a WORD PROCESSOR.