Sunday, March 08, 2009

Wet Canvas changes its User Agreement

A wall of ophioscorodon
11" x 8" coloured pencils on Rising paper

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Wet Canvas appears to have a new User Agreement - which is really odd since I didn't receive any notification of this when logging on recently - which has always previously happened when changes have been made to the User Agreement. It creates a record that a user is aware of the new agreement and has signed up to it.

Neither did I receive anything via email as has always happened previously when the WC User Agreement has been changed. In fact I subsequently discovered that I'd turned off the emails from Admin! Then I remembered that this was because I was so fed up with the constant marketing notifications from F&W (the owners of the site) about media which I had absolutely no interest in.

Changes in the user agreement

I visited the site for the first time in ages recently and first noticed a link on the front page under "Latest Site News/Announcements" which just goes to this thread Concerning the new terms of use - which starts rather baldly and completely fails to reference any previous communications. Like the original announcement of changes to the User Agreement.

Then I noticed that the very next day that it was announced in A Letter of Introduction (which is the only announcement at the top of each forum) that Matthew Swift the Lead Administrator who'd started the thread was very suddenly no longer with Wet Canvas. Curiouser and curiouser!

I finally found this thread Have you read the new User Agreement? (in the WC! Site Discussions Forum - a forum which is studiously ignored by most WC members). It highlights some of the concerns which have been expressed my members and the responses from WC staff and moderators.

It runs for 226 posts and 16 pages. I wonder how many WC members have read this?

For what it's worth WC backtracked and made changes to their changes - but I still don't like some of the things it says and I think there's very definite scope for improvement. At the end of the day, WC will find out whether or not they've done the right thing when members decide whether or not to vote with their feet.

Overall it struck me, yet again, that all forum owners need to be vigilant about the concerns of their members. Otherwise, just like Facebook, there is considerable scope to find out how badly managed change has the potential to create a PR disaster.

Some recommendations about changes to Forum User Agreements

This is an open note to the owners of Forums. If you want to change the the User Agreement here are some things you might want to consider:
  • put somebody in charge of the exercise who knows how to handle communications in a web 2.0 world. All your users will comment on your handling of changes to a User Agreement if you get it wrong or fail to communicate effectively! Those comments will follow you around for at least the next six month every time somebody googles the name of your site - so there's lots of incentives to handle the communications effectively.
  • signal what you intend to do before you do it. Unless absolutely essential that changes are made immediately, make sure people have an opportunity to comment before any change appears to be a fait accompli. You never know - they may identify some implications you had not thought of and it potentially avoids to need to backtrack on the changes made.
  • explain your intentions in plain English. That then allows people the scope to check out the legalese as to whether that's the way they interpret what it says - or whether they think is says something else. Which might then require another trip to the lawyers and and another set of fees for making changes to an agreement you'd already signed off.
  • always invest in a lawyer who knows how to write a user agreement in plain English. This is perfectly possible - if you like I can highlight sites which achieve the best practice standard ie user agreements in plain English.
  • suggest you are going to allow third parties access to personal details at your peril. Doesn't really require any further comment does it?
  • suggest that you are going to allow third parties to access images posted on the site and reuse them elsewhere at your peril (Wet Canvas and Imagekind both assumed this was OK with members without checking it out with subscribed members first). If you're dealing with copyright and reuse for commercial intent (ie marketing the site with a view to enhancing the the profits of the owners of the site) then in my opinion this something which should be NOT be covered by a user agreement or should be a section of the agreement which is clear and which people can opt out of.
  • separate out essential notifications about the user agreement and site admin from your marketing notifications - that way people like me can stay informed.
What I've now done is subscribe to the WC! Site Discussions Forum which means I can now have a weekly digest of any new posts about site admin matters. Others are who are very casual users of WC and/or members always bypass the home page might like to do likewise.


Felicity Grace said...

I'm not a fan of WC even though I joined - I found it such a mess visually and a pain to use. The real reason for the comment is to say how absolutely wonderful your drawing is!! Really stunning!

Making A Mark said...

I have to say I very much agree with your comment about the visual mess. If they want to update something why not update the software and the look? It's not changed in nearly 10 years and is very out-dated. Plus I'm really fed up of seeing articles on the home pages of the different channels which are 4, 5, or 6 years old - talk about out-dated!

Thanks very much for your comment on the drawing. I was swopping drawings around yesterday and this one surfaced which I hadn't seen for quite a bit. It was first posted on WC quite some time ago so seemed very appropriate to todays's post!

Michelle said...

I agree with Felicity. I joined WC too but quickly lost interest when I couldn't navigate my away around the site very well...I'd rather blog! :)

visioneerwindows said...

I've been a member of WC for several years, but since you posted a short time back about reasons for being there, and differences in being an artist and a hobbyist, I've come to realize that there reaches a point in which there is little to gain from such a place other than this sort of 'sense of community' of others who tend to like one's works more seriously than one's grandmother [to use an oft done phrase]... this User Agreement change only adds to this view, and for which I must thank you for remarking on these matters and as such brought to my attention the need to reprioritize things if am to be more successful as the artist I am, rather than the hobbyist some might consider me as...

Stacy said...

Katherine, thank you for bringing the changes to the Wet Canvas user agreement to our attention. I have not visited the site in some months and had missed the announcement. I am happy to now be up to speed.

Although I feel WC has addressed most of the concerns, there is still one thing I find disturbing. Any text or images which were posted under old agreements will be subject to new agreements because of the members inability to delete. I added a post to the thread with my concern.

Making A Mark said...

Stacy - I went to read your comment in the WC thread. Nice comment! Very well put.

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