Blog Secret Santa's problems from last year and this year's fixes

Last year’s Blog Secret Santa was fun, for the most part. The platform was totally hacked together in the fewest hours possible, using as much code from CS Workflow as possible. People could sign up with their Twitter accounts, at a certain time they would get matched with someone to write for, they could add their gift post, and it was delivered at Christmas.

The platform worked well, even if it didn’t look very nice. We foresaw most of the problems that came up, but decided to fix as they came up. Everything we came across last year has a fix for it this year. This post goes into some detail about each of these problems and resulting fixes.

Niche content strategy theme

A few people wanted to join, but didn’t fit in the content strategy theme. One of the bigger changes this year is that we’re supporting multiple groups so people can join topics that suit their blogs and interests.

At the moment registering new groups is manual. Someone contacts us saying they want to start a new group. We check them out and see if we think they’re elf material, then setup the group and invite them to elf it. We’re not expecting a large amount of groups this year so haven’t bothered building out a group onboarding process.

Almost everything is taken care of, all elves have to do is drum up interest in joining their group. It doesn’t have to be a large group, just more than 3 will mean random matches can be drawn.

People pulling out

Less than a handful of people pulled out after they were matched. Fortunately we had a few people on an unofficial waiting list that could replace them. This was a manual process though.

Now elves can easily remove a player or replace them with someone on the waiting list. We’ll also add more communication with other affected people. The biggest problem is that if someone pulls out then the person writing for them has to tailor their gift for a new person.

No real waiting list

As I mentioned before we had an unofficial waiting list. Now people who register after the match cut off go on the waiting list. Elves can see the waiting list. If someone pulls out the elves can replace them with someone from the waiting list. Elves only have access to the group they are elfing for.

What we need to improve how people on the waiting list are communicated to. If we made no changes, people on the waiting list wouldn’t know they aren’t playing and have to wait for someone to drop out.

People without blogs

We were open to all last year, but one of the biggest disappointments people had was when they were given someone to write for who didn’t have a blog. They didn’t want to put in effort writing when that effort wasn’t going to make it to the internet.

This year we’ve made it mandatory for everyone to add a blog URL to their profile. Obviously, people can add URLs that aren’t their blog, but naming the field ‘blog’ will hopefully stop that happening.

If you don’t have a blog, but want to start one and join Blog Secret Santa, there are many many ways to do it. Your secret santa gift post could be your first post!

The giftless

Last year 5 people out of 50 were supposed to give gifts and didn’t. We knew some people wouldn’t end up giving, but had no idea what the number would look like. We had a worst case in our minds of 50%, so 5 wasn’t too bad. We were happy.

Max spent some time in the new year whipping up some posts about Blog Secret Santa to give to people that missed out. Everyone had a gift by the time we closed submissions at the end of January.

We don’t have a concrete solution for this year. Our idea at the moment is to let writers know when the person they wrote for didn’t give a gift. The writer will have the choice to give it to them anyway or to have it added to the group’s gift pile to be handed out to the giftless. I don’t think anyone who didn’t give gifts went on to publish their gift posts. So you may want to take that into consideration if you face yourself with that choice.

Unpublished gifts

The biggest problem last year was that people didn’t publish the gifts they were given. This really disappointed the gift givers, who all put time into their posts. They didn’t get the satisfaction of seeing their post on the 2013 blogroll, even though it didn’t credit them. Mainly these unpublished givers were left thinking “my content isn’t good enough for you?” and had their experiences ruined.

What we’re doing about it is to return unpublished posts back the giver at a certain cutoff point. That will probably be the end January. The writer can then publish it themselves and get featured on the group’s blogroll.

We’ve returned some unpublished posts to their writers. If your gift wasn’t published and you want it back then get in touch.

We’ll also make it easier to add the published URL to your gift so it can feature on the blogroll. This will make it easier, but I don’t think this was an issue that stopped gifts getting published.

Gifts after Christmas

A happier problem we solved last year was that someone people missed the deadline to submit their gifts. When gifts were handed out at Christmas, everyone who hadn’t submitted a gift was emailed to let them know someone had missed out on a gift because of them.

Most people then wrote posts and we had to add a way for them to submit their gifts late. This worked well and most people were happy. We’ll continue the same thing this year.

No way to communicate

True to Secret Santa tradition, matches were anonymous. There were times when people wanted to communicate with the people they were matched with. They may have wanted to find out more about the person they were writing for. Sometimes there were apologies for pulling out. Last year, these messages were ferried by Santa.

We also planning on adding anonymous communication between people and their giver and receiver. This will also be used to send messages to the group elf. The aim is to keep things anonymous and fun, as well as keeping things private like personal email addresses.

There will be a way to report abusive messages, because unfortunately combining the Internet and anonymity makes some people dicks.