Helium has introduced an exciting change to the Steward Program — Stewards are now Channel Managers. Why the change? What’s in a name? We think a lot!

Channel Manager is a better reflection of what the volunteer program is all about. A Channel Manager is many things… a leader, a helper, an expert in their subject area, a writer and more.

Their mission is to provide and encourage the highest-quality information for readers, through outreach and interaction with capable writers and subject matter experts who share a passion for the success of each channel on Helium.

Channel Managers add their experience and professional perspective to Helium’s large writing community. They help make Helium the go-to place for high-quality information on every subject — whether it’s classic cars, crafts or cat breeds. They are here to help members in need and offer encouragement and critiques about their writing.

They are given special tools and roles on the site, have their bios featured on their channel page and get a badge to tout their expertise. They can suggest new titles, rate and grade articles, and recruit new writers.

Helium expects every Channel Manager to have competence in their specific subject area, to be a leader and to be able to communicate with other members of the Helium writing community in a professional and courteous manner.

Channel Managers make Helium a great place to learn and write. They are a hard working crew and Helium wouldn’t be the amazing writing community that it is without them. Meet them now!

Paul Lines is considered a senior Helium member no matter how you slice it. Hailing from England, he’s helped with the Steward program, advised on community and content issues, and he’s the epitome of how a member on Helium can use the website to achieve writing greatness. His participation on Helium.com goes back to when the site first started.

Paul has allowed us to post this letter to our team, which recounts his success on the site in the last three years.

When I look back over the three years spent with Helium I need to say that it has been one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life. The friendship of the staff and other writers is something that I feel is really special. There is so much that I have gained from this experience and so much still to enjoy and learn.

Reflecting on this three year journey I realise than the site and I have come so far, and yet both have retained their original values and objectives. For me the journey has been filled with a number of milestones.

On site:

◊    Articles – now approaching 1500 with my target this year being to increase that to find the time to increase that to at least 4,000
◊    Marketplace – sold a number of articles and am looking to increase this to at least one a month in 2009
◊    Contests – won a number lost a few
◊    Writers help – gained a lot from others and hopefully given a lot of help and guidance as well
◊    Earnings – total is now approaching $5,000 – let’s see if I can break through an annual amount of $5,000 this year
◊    National Press Club (NPC) membership – not bad for a UK writer and another Helium first
◊    Work referenced – Recently a student writer on the site asked if he could use one of my articles as a reference for his thesis, providing a link to the article. I agreed to this as free of charge (which I hope is within the rules).

Support for others:

Unfortunately I have not been able to help on the site as much as I would have liked due to work commitments, but I have always tried to where I can. I have communicated with dozens of writers and offered help and guidance.

The same is true of the time I spend on the community boards but I do keep watch on the posts that appear here and, where I feel I have something of value to contribute, particularly in regards to unfair criticism of Helium or other writers, I will take the time to make a considered response.

I sometimes think that there are three main issues that some writers tend to forget. The first is that Helium or any other site for that matter is not a free ride to earnings. In terms of effort it I consider it to be a dual task. Helium puts in the effort in providing the site and all its tools, as well as seeking to expand the opportunities for its writer. However, the writer as a supplier has to equal that effort in terms of content, quality and effort. Unless the writer puts in the effort neither the quality of their work nor their earnings will improve. If there is lack of success it is the writer who needs to look inwards at his or her own efforts.

Secondly, there is a need to remember the global appeal of writing. There is a wide range of readership levels which Helium appeals to and one has to direct articles to appeal to all of these levels. None is better or worse than another is and we, as writers have to accept that this range or readership exists and not blame quality factors for the positions we see our articles rest at within titles.

Thirdly, I think that often, especially when criticising others, there are writers who forget that we are all at different stages of the writing journey. There are writers who are more advanced than me, and those who have yet to reach my level of experience and knowledge. My take on this is that I applaud those who are at a more developed stage and reach out the hand of help to those who are behind me on the writing development steps.

Showcase

Perhaps the least known, but to me at least, one of the most important an inspirational aspects of Helium is its potential as a showcase. Less than a year after joining Helium I secured full time work as a freelance technical writer. Last year these opportunities alone provided me with an income that was well in excess of $75,000 at current exchange rates. This year so far I have already produced over 100,000 words for these sources in January, and February is looking set to continue on a similar vein.

To me this is a value of Helium that is often overlooked. It also has to borne in mind that I have achieved this without any online promotion of my work whatsoever. I personally have no idea how to promote my Helium work in the Internet environment and assume that, if I did my success could be further multiplied.

Other

2009 is set to produce yet more writing milestones for me. Firstly, I have set a programme in place to publish four novels, which again I will put the effort into to ensure that they achieve my aims for them. I do not intend for them to be “also ran’s” or “dust collectors.” Secondly, there are discussions being muted for me to become involved in the co-authorship and publication of one or more technical academic book, so it will be interesting to see how that develops.

Success?

Success to me is equated with opportunity and effort. For me Helium has provided the opportunity. You all at Helium have provided the keys to many doors of opportunity, However, all of these keys would have come to nought had I not opened the door and put the effort into turning that opportunity into success. Not everything I have tried has succeeded but more have done so than failed and that is all one can ask for in life.

Maybe I should write a book called “How to gain true value from the Helium experience.”

Please accept my apologies for the verbosity of this letter. However, it was difficult for me to provide an overview of the value of my 1097 days with Helium in a few words.

Thank you again for your much appreciated comments

Kind regards

Paul

Today’s guest blog is by Diane Quinn.  Diane has been a mentor for Helium, is currently a steward, and as of this writing has 4 stars for both writing and rating with over 100 contributed articles among other accomplishments.  If you enjoyed her post, be sure to check out her articles on Helium.  If you would like to be a guest blogger or would like to recommend someone, please feel free to contact me via my “contact writer” link on my bio.


As a new Helium member I already know that you love to write.  However, perhaps it has been a very long time since you fell asleep during an English grammar class. Before I found Helium most of my writing centered around emails which didn’t require a lot of organized thought; and certainly not much editing besides a quick spell check.

Self-editing is challenging because it is difficult to remove yourself from the emotional attachment you have formed to your writing.  The sooner you can evaluate your writing from a purely technical standpoint, the quicker your articles will rise in the ratings.

Following are some self-editing tips that helped me as a new Helium member. I hope that they will help you too.

  • Quickly evaluate your weaknesses.  What mistakes do you keep repeating?
  • Find good resources explaining the basic rules of grammar and punctuation.
  • Choose your words carefully.  Pick dynamic verbs and interesting adjectives.
  • Avoid overly long sentences.  They can work just as well as a sleeping pill.
  • Organize your thoughts and present them in a logical order.
  • Understand what it means to write a topic sentence.
  • Vary sentence structure.  Overuse of “See Spot run.” will only impress a 2nd grader.
  • Avoid repetition of words.  Use the ‘find’ tool in your Word program.
  • Important: read your article out loud prior to submission for awkward sentences and clumsy words. If you find yourself stumbling, do a rewrite.

You don’t have to memorize the rules, but you do need to know that they exist and which ones are your weaknesses.   Books on self-editing are legion and easily obtained, as are websites devoted to self-editing.  Here are a few great internet resources to add to your ‘bookmark.’

  1. http://oregonstate.edu/dept/eli/buswrite/capitalization.html
  2. http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/marks/marks.htm
  3. http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar/gcomma.html

Today I found another great board post that I wanted to repost.  This one is done by Lerrina Collins and is response to a very popular thread on the boards so far.  I had not heard Lerrina on the boards at all, and she had an interesting take on rating coming from a viewpoint of being very discouraged just a couple of weeks ago.

If you enjoy her thoughts, please take a look at some of her articles.  Thanks again Lerrina for letting me repost this.

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to make a ‘pro’ comment on rating. A couple of weeks ago I was a very frustrated Helium member, having lost my only star and unable to figure out why. As a result I contacted the ‘help’ desk and posted a few comments on the forum hoping to stir the pot and get some answers.

The help desk responded – kindly. And, while they gave me the ‘general’ information we all hear and read about, they made one point which is the basis for this post. They said most of the comments in the Forum are negative, written by disgruntled raters who are unhappy with the system.

While I personally believe the rating system has its issues (obviously I’ve had a few hairpulling moments), I also appreciate the sheer volume of Helium users and the obvious effort which has gone into making the system as user friendly yet fair as possible.

Since those posts I have obviously upped my rating stars. And, it has come from following a few simple principles – basically what has been posted in this thread.

Thus I am writing to encourage others who may feel frustrated with the system to keep plugging away. Watch your rating scores and pay attention to what increases or decreases your stars. I believe this is the most effective way to find what ‘works’ for you and fits into Helium’s mold.

For me this has been:

  1. Rating a few every day. This is the one change I made which appears to have made the biggest difference.
  2. Ask yourself if the article’s writer IMMEDIATELY gets into the subject. In other words, without knowing the title, would you be able to discern the article’s subject within the first paragraph (two at the max)?
  3. Look for paragraphs which are of a reasonable length (3 – 5 sentences, usually) and sentences which are clear and easy to read.
  4. Grammar and punctuation are also important. Misspelling and sentence structure count. However, while some grammar teachers go bananas over these things, it doesn’t appear they are as important as I would tend to expect.
  5. Interesting reading seems to be another point which, while important, isn’t key.

I’ve noticed some talking about using skips. While I’ve tried to use them infrequently, I can’t really tell any difference in my rating score – one way or the other.

I hope this helps others out there who, like me, are struggling to do a good job rating. I also wanted to be sure and say something positive after having been vocal in my negative response. We all like to hear some praise once in awhile!

Lerrina

Today’s guest blog is by Kat Apf who came highly recommended to me for creative writing topics, which is good since she is the steward for the channel.  If you would like to read more by Kat check out her articles on Helium.

Most people who write poetry and short stories want feedback. And there are lots of places on Helium where you can get exactly what you’re looking for. There are many talented creative writers on Helium who are more than willing to give your work a read and give you their thoughts.

If you’re a poet, the Poetry Coffee House is probably where you are going to want to hang around when you aren’t writing. This is good place to post poems and get thoughts/feedback. To be fair, remember to read other people’s work and comment after you post a thread with your own work in it.

Here’s a link-

http://www.helium.com/smf/index.php?board=35.0

If your write short stories there’s an active forum for critiques. Again, many talented writers are there to give you critiques and comments on your work. And there as well, don’t just post your own work, comment on other people’s work, too!

Here’s a link-

http://www.helium.com/smf/index.php?board=225.0

There are many people to learn from who write on Helium. The creative writers are a very welcoming group, too.  Drop by and introduce yourself. You’ll get a warm welcome!

As I approach $2,000 in total, lifetime earnings on Helium, I started to think a little about what that really means in terms of the amount of time I’ve put in to the writing here.

The results are interesting, to say the least.

I have about 400 articles published here so far. I’m a pretty fast writer, and I write mostly on things I know a lot about (medical articles, for example). I did my “research” for this writing in medical school. heh.

Consequently, I can dictate an article in about 30 minutes. That includes editing time. I figure I’ve spent about 200 hours actually writing, editing, and publishing my work.

$2,000 divided by 200 hours is $10 per hour. Not so great, especially considering that I live in an expensive part of the country (San Diego), and the local kid at Starbucks who pushes the button on the espresso machine makes about as much.

Of course, this isn’t my primary job, so I could argue that ANY income is better than nothing.

But the reality of my earnings is actually more complicated, and more hopeful. The earnings for my existing portfolio HAVE NOT STOPPED. Quite the contrary, I continue to earn on those previous hours spent writing. I’m on pace to earn well over $110 this month – for work I did months ago.

So let’s say I just stopped writing today. No more new articles. (Yes, it’s a silly notion, but let’s just pretend) I would continue to earn on those articles as long as Helium exists. In six months, I’d have another $600, or a total of $2,600. That’s $13/hour. Better.

Now skip forward a year. I’ll have about $3,200 in total earnings. Without spending a single minute writing another word. (Okay, I do have to rate some each month, but really, that doesn’t take too much time, and you can do it while watching a football game or something like that.) $3,200 for 200 hours work is $16/hour. Hum… that’s more than a resident physician makes.

Now, let’s take a large hypothetical leap and go forward 5 years. Yes, that’s a virtual eternity in internet time, and who knows where Helium will be then – or where the earnings for my portfolio will be. But follow along. Five years is 60 months. 60 x $100 is $6,000. Add $6,000 to the $2,000 I’ve already made, and you have a total of $8,000. That’s $40/hour.

Yes, that’s $40/hour on work I did years ago, and it took years to cash in. But imagine that I didn’t stop writing. Imagine that I keep writing during those five years. A bigger body of work means that my monthly pennies would likely increase. Instead of $100/month, I could be making $200/month in a couple years, or more. And all I have to do is do something I love anyhow – write.

To make it even better, I’m able to republish my work on other sites. I’ve done this with some of my writing, and I earn about 50% more on those sites. WITH THE SAME WRITING (okay, I tweak them a little).

It’s also important to understand that your writing here must be “evergreen”. For this to work, you must have material that does not go out of date. Most of my writing will be as relevant in 5 years as it is today. If you write about Super Bowl predictions and current politics, you are going to have to produce a constant stream of new material to hold steady. If you write articles that never fade in popularity, your earnings can go on as outlined above.

So what does all this mean? It means you have to be PATIENT to achieve success here. You aren’t going to “get rich quick”. But you can create a steady stream of income… one that pays and pays and pays for months in to the future.

Recently there was a post entitled Rating Rant that gained some traction on the community boards.  During the discussion there was an excellent alternative point of view to the issue at hand.  A very old member and well respected of the community, in the sense that he’s been around for quite awhile with Helium, offered a slightly different take on the discussions.

I asked Paul and was given permission to repost his answer on the boards.

Paul Lines has been a long time member of Helium and has contributed well over 1,000 articles.  One interesting thing you might not know about Paul is that he is apparently directly responsible for the following bit of our user agreement:

In the event of your death, your Account and the right to continue to receive earnings for the services and content you provided to Helium may be transferred to your heirs in accordance with this Agreement and applicable law; provided, however, in order to continue to receive earnings from your Helium contributions your heir(s) must remain active on the site and agree to be subject to this Agreement. The transfer to your heir(s) of the Account and the right to continue to receive earnings from your content is conditional upon your heir(s) providing Helium with legal proof of death, in its discretion, and your bequest of your Account within six months of your death. Failure to provide such proof in a form as agreed to by Helium will render any such transfer null and void.

It’s sort of an infamous story inside Helium.  I was not here for this, so I can only summarize what was told to me.  Basically, Paul early on saw the long term earnings potential for Helium – that by contributing many well-written articles, he could generate a large passive income that will slowly build over time.  The problem is – what happens in the event of his passing?  He opened communication with our own CEO Mark Ranalli and thus the preceding clause was born.

So if you ever thought to thank someone for this, Paul is the man.  I now post his view on rating.  If you enjoy it, be sure to check out the rest of his articles – although set aside some time as there are quite a few!:

You may lift your head from its lowly position. Even some of the people with five rating stars stuggle to get above the 80% mark. Personally, like you, I rate according to my own perception of quality and content and I fail to see how anyone can do any different.

The major problem I believe is with the style of the writing to be compared. For example, the article could be descriptive, narative, a personal experience or a technical piece that is highly researched, all pertaining to the same subject. The difficulty here I guess is that you are trying to appeal to a wide range of readerhip segments, each of which have valid opinions and views. Some will respond better to narative and first person articles whilst other will prefer descriptive and technical and they will rate accordingly.

Sometimes I think it is these differentials that lead to concerns over the rating system. I think that all writers on Helium have to accept that the catholic nature of this site does lead to situations where reading and rating of others articles as well as the rating of our own can appear to have deficiencies. It is this situation, more than anything else that leads to the situation where “a person who teaches your children how to write at university levels ends up 1% above the one-star rating quality cut-off.”

What would help perhaps is an analysis of the individual rating percentages. To give an example of this based upon what I consider to be my own person preferences (which others may not agree with) I would suspect that my rating percentages might appear as follows: –

Business      94
Relationships 92
Politics      78
Pets          71
Health        58

I hasten to add that this is not based upon any factual information. However it can be seen from this that, if averaged out this would only give me a quality rating of around 79%. Maybe this is something that might be considered for the future, which could perhaps lead to an improvement of the quality of ratings.

I think the other thing that is important is to look at the situation now that Helium have introduced 30 day rating. I have found since this introduction that my 30 day rating quality percentage is consistantly higher than the 90 day, which can be confusing. However it could also indicate that our rating percentages will fluctuate and the 90 day score is a mean average of this.

Paul

I’ve decided to start an experiment here on the blog.  Periodically – which I hope to be at least twice a month, but as frequent as content is supplied – I will be featuring user contributions.  Mainly from the boards, but original works are fine.  Basically they are viewpoints from “the other side” because, as I mention on the suggestion thread:

I’ve found that we – i.e. Helium employees – can talk until we’re blue in the face, however if a member – especially a respected, well-known or infamous one – writes a well thought out, instructive and useful reply it’s infinitely more useful.

I also included some rules for this as well that may be subject to change as the experiment continues (or become irrelevant if it fails):

  1. Don’t self promote – i.e. don’t nominate yourself.
  2. Post must not violate the user agreement – obviously.
  3. Post should not be self-promotional, rude, or poorly defended – passion about a topic is fine as long as they back it up with rational points to defend their conclusion/position.
  4. Useful is better – i.e. a post that answers a commonly asked question and/or concern in a helpful and instructive manner.
  5. Name brand does not matter – although I’d personally love to see some Erich Rosenberger M.D. or Tenebris simply because their replies tend to amuse me the most, anyone is game (even the newest member) as long as the above criteria are met.

If you want to submit something, please either use the thread (if it’s a board post) by reposting the direct link or by using my “contact writer” link on my bio for original works (at the risk of my inbox being flooded 🙂 ).

Our initial guinea pig, er, contributor is Robin Tidwell.  I have to admit that I don’t know Robin that well, unfortunately, but I was really impressed with her thread that she started about rating.  She has given me her permission to repost it here. Although I did take the liberty of adding some formatting that is not available on the boards, it is copied verbatim with limited commercial interruption:

There are a lot of questions/comments about rating and acquiring stars – how, when, where, what, etc.  I decided to throw my opinions into the mix, in a new post, that hopefully will shed some light on this topic.  Some of it will, no doubt, be repetitive.

The purpose of rating is to allow the best articles to rise to the top.  We all want our articles to be #1, but unfortunately some Heliumites are not able to do this; it may be lack of knowledge, or lack of education, or unfamiliarity with the English language.  This is a fact of life.  Not everyone can be #1 all the time, and some will never have a #1 article; we are not in kindergarten anymore, everyone does not “win”.

If you want your articles to rise to the top, or move upward at all, someone has to rate them; if your articles are not rated, they will not move.  If YOU do not rate articles, no one else’s will move – in other words, if no one rates, articles remain stagnant, which is why EVERYone must rate.  This is a requirement in order to earn.  This is the reason.  And here is how to do it:

  1. Make a committment to rate X pairs of articles each day.  I do 10, for example, then usually 10 more in my channel.  For those in my channel, I make the effort to send a message to the writers, if warranted.  Sometimes in my “general” rating I do so as well, if there is one which particularly stands out.  Rating 10 pairs each day takes me about 15 minutes, tops.
  2. Know what you’re looking for:
    1. Does the article address the title?  Rephrase the title as a question, and see if the article answers that question.  If only one article in the pair does so, then that article should be rated higher.  Move on to the next pair.
    2. Are spelling and grammar and punctuation and word usage correct?  If so, rate that article higher.  Move on to the next pair.
    3. Which article grabs your attention?  Rate that one higher.
  3. Same, slightly more, more, by far: articles are seldom the “same” and shouldn’t be rated as such.
    1. Sometimes a leapfrog will appear to be very, very similar, but usually you can find the change(s).  Often it just involves a corrected spelling or word usage or change in punctuation; if so, this would be an example of “slightly more”.  If it’s completely reworked, or has additions or has been reformatted, it could be “more” or “by far”.
    2. Sometimes one article, after passing the above tests, will be better “by far” – this seems to be rare; most ratings should be “slightly” or even “more”.  It appears that two articles slated for rating as a pair are usually pretty close in quality.
    3. Sometimes, however, both articles are really bad or even really good.  This is where it comes down to a judgment call based on preference.

A good piece of writing must address the question/title, be technically correct, and grab/hold the reader’s attention.  Period. There is no mystery in rating, simply pretend you are an editor.  The catch, however, is that YOU must know those technical aspects of writing.  If you often confuse “there, their, and they’re”, your rating percentage will suffer; if you simply ignore incorrect spelling, your rating percentage will also drop.  These things will affect your rankings and writing percentage as well.  You will never be presented with one of your own articles to rate, so it doesn’t matter if you rate good articles down to “improve” your own ranking.  Your purpose here is to write because you love to write – and to receive recognition and perhaps earn a few dollars.  And I would imagine that you would like to also improve your chosen craft – which is the purpose of rating.

If you enjoyed Robin’s work be sure to check out her articles or visit her site.  Thanks again Robin.