Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Review on Helium: The New Blogger?

First, let me get something out of the way: When I was talking with SaurKid yesterday, I asked if he'd heard the latest "discovery" of Jesus' tomb. "Sure," SaurKid replied blithely. "They find one every year around Easter."

The lastest "discovery" is more full of holes than a lump of swiss cheese. I can't possibly debunk it as effectively as Bible scholar Ben Witherington III, a Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, who has worked with co-hoaxer Simcha Jacobovici. So I recommend a trip to Witherington's blog here.

Helium: The New Blogger?

I have been flirting with Helium for weeks, now. As I had time, I downloaded various of my best articles. Recently I found out that Emma was dabbling in it, too. Emma asked yesterday if I was decreasing my writing due to an increase in writing at Helium. The answer is no. Following are some of my observations concerning Helium. I have concluded that it is fun, but (so far) it's a poor substitute for blogging.

Helium is interesting and it has some features that Blogger should consider acquiring. For instance, I like the fact that it give you ideas if you're struggling with writer's block.

Also, Helium "pays" for articles, although their pay is mighty small indeed. I've submitted almost 100 articles, and I've made only $2.30 in two weeks. Now, that isn't to say that it may eventually pay off at a future date, but Helium is very cagey and doesn't divulge its formula. For all we know, we may make $25 in two months or two years.

Helium does something that Blogger doesn't do: It has a rating system that compares similar articles and asks for readers to vote for the best. It can be very exciting when you see that your article is suddenly #1 (although it rarely remains in one place for very long).

But the problem is that you are not always comparing apples to oranges. For instance, an article on flag burning may contain both positive and negative views. The winner will be determined by the bias of the reader, and not by content and writing style alone. Or, an article titled "Is Global Warming Advantageous" may be completely moot for some people, as not all people (or scientists) believe in global warming and the title of the article indicates that the judgement has already been made.

And Helium is really not a substitute for Blogger, because blogs allow for interraction with the reader, which I enjoy. Also, you can never tell what's fresh material. An article could have been written 2 years ago or 2 days ago. So, information can be woefully out of date and there's no way to tell unless you're familiar with the content.

Additionally, Helium restricts the writer a little too much. For instance, I couldn't post my article on former Clearwater Mayor Gabe Cazares because it was "too specific" and (of course) I couldn't find a current topic about him or an even broader topical category, such as "Floridian Mayors" or even "Mayors" in general. Seemingly, there is no rhyme or reason: One judge may allow a title that another might find to be "too specific", and instead of suggesting an alternate title, they reject the entire article outright and it's up to the author to decide how to retitle it.

You usually are required to post on a topic that has already been written about, or your new topic has to be something that others can potentially write about. This leaves no option for true creativity.

And Helium has no use for HTML, so there's no possibility of embedding links or emphasizing text with bold or italics.

Helium also doesn't allow much editing of an article, and when an article is changed, it has to be reviewed by others (randomly selected). If they feel it doesn't need to be changed, it won't be. However, if your original article contains a serious mistake, that can be a major problem. For instance, what if you originally asserted "John Smith is undoubtedly a child molestor and a danger to the community," when what you intended to say is "John Smith is undoubtedly NOT a child molestor and NOT a danger to the community." Will a randomly chosen "editor" understand why you made the subsequent changes that you did? Will he rule in your favor, or will John Smith remain a child molestor? Helium needs a spot where the author can explain the reasons behind the changes.

Additionally, there's really no room for personal ruminations, which I like to indulge in. My little deviations from standard writing, such as Panhandling Perfected are not easily pigeonholed.

Finally, unlike Blogger, the average reader cannot flag questionable content on Helium. I've seen articles that are full of terrible words I'd never want my son to see, and I'm unable to flag them (unless I want to take the time and trouble to send an email to their help desk).

So, is Helium worth contributing to at all? That remains to be seen. They claim to be "...on a quest to build the best user-created reference resource there is." If that's true, it would be very exciting to be a part of that. But if an author contributes too much and Helium turns out to be just another flash in the pan, it would be discouraging indeed. If Helium takes note of some of the problems that I've listed and does their best to address it, there is still an excellent chance that they will continue to attract quality articles by quality authors which will result in a quality product.

P.S. WARNING: Emma just posted that she's discovered that Helium claims copyright of whatever materials you submit, so I had to write to them and tell them to remove all my articles as they're already copyrighted.


Matt said...

I get paid to write anyway. I think I'll stick w/ Blogger b/c I enjoy the social aspect of it too. Some youngins flock to my space but they're the illiterate ones anyway....

Emma Sometimes said...

I hope you know I was completely joking. I've actually been with Helium since the end of December but not as active (think three whole articles). I just don't have the blog material, just stuff about business schemes, poorly written god blogs, coffee themes, baby pictures and lots and lots of whining.

I'm one for the interaction in blogging, but not 125 comments of bickering. Yikes. I avoid those blogs (e.g. politics and religion)

If I can be opinionated and make money doing it, a penny saved means you are going to need a whole lot of coin rollers.

I have the same feeling about being the submitter and not having complete control over your article. Even trying to remove something once it's written is not in your control.

I didn't know they could reject an article. That's news to me. Some of the articles *should* have been rejected for style and content alone. You know what I mean.

Lastly, you do get revenue from inviting other writers, an aspect you might not have taken advantage of? It does help in the $$ department. I wonder what they would think if you posted this review over there? Good stuff. :o)

Hans said...

What is the upside to Helium? Exposure to a wider audience?

Emma Sometimes said...

PS. I've done some more research today on Helium, and I have written about it. I don't think you will want to continue using their website but read for yourself over at my place.

(I'm actually pretty mad I didn't catch this sooner)

The Lazy Iguana said...

I thought helium was this stuff created when a star fuses two hydrogen atoms.

Anonymous said...

i think it is a little irresponsible to pass peoples articles off as "knowledge" when undoubtedly not many of these articles cite facts or sources. that would in my opinion not be knowledge but rather "opinions". and if they are using the good articles that float to the top after their rating system where are these articles ending up? under a famous authors name, being passed off as their work by some over zealous editor.

Senor Caiman said...


I gave a speech today and I ensured my audience that I was comparing apples to apples, I just didn't tell them it was Granny Smith's to red Delicious.

green said...

saur: thanks for recommending Ben Witherington's blog. Very informative....

Emma Sometimes said...

hehe, hey we have another chapter in the Helium TOS. The President and CEO commented on my blog and it looks positive, so the jury is still out....

Thanks for letting him know about my post. I am happy they are working with their lawyers on changing the TOS. In short order, they intend on providing clearer definitions to what they can and cannot do with our articles.