Ellen Million (ellenmillion) wrote,
Ellen Million

Today, on the chopping block: Fantastic Portfolios

I built (okay, paid to have built!) Fantastic Portfolios because I really, really wanted a site like it. It's a place to get honest, thorough critique, from a panel of judges who are professional about the process, who don't know who you are (within reason), in a setting where critique is pretty much the sole purpose. It can be really hard to critique others in a public forum where you know each other, and you know that what you're saying is colored by who you both are. I've seen friendships lost over honest critiques, and sometimes it's hard to say 'this part needs work' to a friend.

More, I want goals. A benchmark to strive for, that will feel rewarding, and be honored, and to know it's not just arbitrary nor based on a single person, nor easy.

Fantastic Portfolios really offers that. The site is a wonder, and it's got some seriously awesome features that aren't really used.

Some of them, I'm glad aren't used: we have had, since we launched in 2007, ZERO complaints on comments and critiques. Zero. I went in and tested the system a few times to make sure it was working, and no one has ever complained about a critique.

They have cried, don't get me wrong. Our brand of tough love is not for the weak of spirit and unwilling to learn. I have seen and received wails of hurt and witnessed despondency and vows to never do art again. Some of them walked away, deleted their portfolios and never came back. But that's not the majority of the response - whether they fail or not (and to be fair, most do fail. See above about not being easy!), and what's more encouraging yet, those people who do react this way come back more than not. A few months down the road - even as much as a year - they go back to that advice and say, hey, there's some validity there, and they tackle the problems that were pointed out and improve. There is nothing as delightful as watching the fourth submission of a portfolio pass, and recognize that it deserves it.

We're hard, but we're fair, and I've made a big point with the critics that they find something nice to say, and point out strengths. We're here to help and inspire, not tear down, and the critics I've selected and trained are top notch at what they do, gifted not only at knowing what's wrong, but also how to say it kindly and how to give pats when appropriate. I cannot praise them highly enough in this aspect.

So, yes. I love this project, and feel like it's working well enough at what it's doing. What it's not doing... is much. We've got the ability to take and make tours at the site, which is a groovy feature... but no one will make them! I think the last one was made in 2008, and we've had nearly 300 pieces of gorgeous artwork added since then! Pictures languish without comments. It takes a month or three to get a piece through the queue. Maybe three people have subscribed as a paying member since our initial drive.

Again, I'm willing to accept my role in not pushing this as much as I should. I sometimes expect to set up projects and let them just drive themselves. Sometimes that works (Sketch Fest), but mostly, that leads to fizzle, and I should be grateful this project has remained as strong as it has: work still gets critiqued, and WELL, and people are still submitting (and sometimes re-submitting and re-submitting) their portfolios. Image quality remains high, but the goals seem attainable.

There's a lot of potential here... and I also feel like there's a better way to set up the financial end of it, but I'm not sure what that is. Right now, I'm several hundred out from paying for what I've laid out on the site, which doesn't particularly bother me. I would really, REALLY like to see critics get paid for their work, and think they truly deserve that. Perhaps a donation option - some folks might like to thank the critics after they've received their critiques (and had time to nurse their wounds and then come back... :P) I'm not sure what the answer is here, but I have a few vague ideas. I have some pie-in-the-sky ideas of being able to tie this all in with EMG credits and let people tip $1 at a time (or maybe even less!) for helpful critiques in a way that doesn't feed Paypal a lions share of the money. I also know that I need to improve the system for getting and keeping new critics, because burnout can be a problem. Being able to tangibly reward said critics would probably help.

I'm not entirely sure what to do with this monster yet, but it's not in line for immediate axing. It takes little of my time to maintain at status quo; a few nags usually get the critics to work, and I have help on the coding end of things here. I like being one of the critic team, usually, and have no objections to the nearly insignificant amounts of time the management currently takes. While I'd like to see it rise to the next level, I haven't decided if it's worth the time it would take to get it there. I am content to let it live for now, and consider it for more attention in the future.

I would also, honestly, be content to see someone else take up the reins of this project. Maybe what it needs is someone else with fresh vision to drive it further? I dunno - that's something I haven't really offered as an option with some of these projects, but I'm not completely adverse to the idea...
Tags: chopping block, fantastic portfolios

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