Happy Wednesday. In this edition of Ask Andy, I answer a reader’s questions about some behind-the-scenes things—like the floating heart icon and other things you may see on your screen right now, and how I choose what to watch or review—but first, an announcement about a behind-the-scenes to front-of-scenes thing: comments are back!
Here’s the backstory: Comments were powered by OpenWeb for a few years. I was drawn to their mission and the tools they’ve built to help make online conversation more civil, but their system was severely slowing down pages. Meanwhile, in June, Google adjusted its algorithm to account for something called Core Web Vitals. To give you an example, using a Google tool called PageSpeed Insights, my review of Top Chef Portland scored in the 90s, sometimes as high as 97. With the comments in place, the scores were in the 60s or 70s, sometimes a bit lower or higher. For a smaller site like mine, that can have the effect of dropping articles’ ranking in Google’s search results, and that has a cascading negative effect.
I was in communication with OpenWeb about that speed, and they said they’d identified the issue but didn’t yet have a solution, and I didn’t hear from them for months. Meanwhile, when some enterprising reporters and activists discovered that OpenWeb was being used by and profiting from some pretty awful websites. OpenWeb responded by removing those sites, though there are still reasons to be concerned.
All this has made me think about what makes the most sense, and also make me queasy about being reliant on a third-party company which is also collecting data, which is one reason I dropped Facebook comments years ago.
But I really value reality blurred’s community, so I talked to our most-frequent commenters, and looked at many different options, and tested several. What I ended up with, ironically, was the simplest possible solution: native WordPress comments. And after some boring but laborious design and tech stuff, we now have comments back! 🎉
I’m looking forward to seeing your comments! And if you need something else to read about this, check out the newly revised commenting guidelines.
Why are articles repeated on the home page? and two other great questions
Hey Andy. Been a long time reader and enjoy your work. Just a couple of questions.
1) Is there a way to disable the stuff that pops up in the lower right corner of the screen? The little purple heart, what appears to be a sharing link and the what’s next box. It really is a distraction especially for us that are using a phone with a small screen to read your website. It takes up a good portion of my lower screen.
2) I know you’ve explained it before but please tell me again why we see the same articles twice on your homepage? I would think that the newest articles would be at the top and the older ones below that in order like it is now. There’s no need to see the same article again as I scroll down the homepage in my opinion. It’s a bit redundant and confusing sometimes.
3) Just wondering how you pick which shows to watch and review? Is it based on what you like to watch or by popularity of the show? I see Survivor, Amazing Race, Masked Singer etc reviewed a lot. Yet I hardly see reviews for Plathville, Teen Mom, Gold Rush, Million Dollar Listing etc.
Sorry to be so long. Thanks for taking time to read my questions. —Brian
Thanks for all of these questions, Brian! I appreciate you asking. Here are my answers:
1. What is that heart and share icon? Can I disable it?
Unfortunately, no, that cannot be hidden or turned off. While you can always close the ad that appears across the bottom of your mobile device, the floating heart and share icon can’t be closed. They’re both part of Grow.me, a new feature from Mediavine, the company I work with for advertising. It’s there to offer useful tools for readers—right now, the ability to save, search, and share articles you find that you like across all sites that work with Mediavine, with more features coming—and also to collect information to help show you ads related to things you like. But that’s only if you create a Grow.me account, which is totally optional.
I can understand how it’s frustrating on a smaller mobile screen, and I’ve passed that feedback on to Mediavine. One reason why I work with Mediavine and love them so much is that they’re acutely aware of user experience, because that makes for better websites, and they constantly test and make changes. In fact, the current widget is smaller and less obtrusive than the original, though I understand how, on a smaller screen, it still takes up real estate.
2. Why are there duplicated stories on the home page?
In the old days, my home page was just a reverse-chronological feed of full-text stories. That’s when they were shorter and mostly just links to other people’s stories with some summary and/or commentary. As I started to write more original content, those got longer, which made such a list unwieldy. So, I changed it to a feed of headlines, summaries, and images, which is pretty typical for content-focused websites.
That list is still there, labeled as “latest stories.” However, the most-recent story isn’t always the most-important or most interesting! That’s why there’s a featured section above those latest stories: five stories I manually select, usually changing some part of it every day.
It’s an indication of what I think is the most-important or most-relevant, and allows me to surface older stories that are might suddenly be timely or useful. For example, when The Curse of Oak Island premiered last week, one of those featured stories was my interview with its stars about how the show is produced—an article many people may have never seen before. It also allows me to keep the work I’m most proud of, like my in-depth oral history of The Amazing Race season one, visible, especially for new visitors.
The relationship of those featured stories to the most-recent stories can change day to day, so sometimes you’ll see a lot of duplication there (the featured may closely match the five most-recent stories), and sometimes very little. Since I’m one person, I don’t generate a dozen stories a day, and thus that recent list can look a little stale.
The flaw in all of this is that, on mobile, you have to scroll past those five featured stories to get to the “latest stories” section.” If you look at the site on a desktop/laptop browser, you can see all of this at once, and it’s much easier to just jump your eye to most-recent stories. I don’t have a good solution for this now, but it’s something I’m thinking about.
3. How do you choose what to watch and review?
The unsatisfying answer is: It varies! There are so, so many new and old reality shows premiering every week that I cannot even come close to watching everything.
For reviews of brand-new shows, I tend to review those that just seem interesting, either because of the format or talent or sub-genre. And as you can see from my recent reality show reviews, that’s an eclectic list, though I am certainly drawn to reality competitions!
I do watch a lot of shows that I don’t write about. There are many reasons for that, too, but when I’m considering writing about something, the primary question I ask myself is: What can I add here? How will this be different than what everybody else is writing about this show?
For example, so many critics and journalists and tabloids cover every aspect of The Real Housewives that there’s nothing that hasn’t been said, so I write about it rarely. Whether it’s cast news or something that happened on an episode, I’ll only write about it I really think I’m adding something to what’s already out there, whether that’s new information or a different perspective.
Other times, I just don’t have a clear angle. I’m watching Project Runway this season, and there’s a lot going on, but I just don’t have a sense of what my focus would be. And I don’t just want to summarize what’s on screen; that’s not of much value to the world.
That brings me to some of the shows you mention, like Gold Rush, Teen Mom, and Million Dollar Listing. They can be entertaining episode to episode, but I don’t really have anything to say about the ones I watch, or the ones I don’t. That’s in part because they’re just delivering the same thing every episode. I once watched every episode of Chopped, but nearly never wrote about it, because there wasn’t anything of note. That consistency is part of what makes those shows endure.
I do always welcome suggestions, however, so whether it’s a new show or something happening on an old favorite, please let me know what you’re watching and what you recommend. I’m working right now on two reviews that were both prompted by reader suggestions, so I really do appreciate recommendations, especially with so many new and returning shows out there.