Is there any body out there?
The web is not a prose medium. I am pretty confident of this, as a generator of prose content. I’ve been putting text pages on the web for about 6 months — and people will come to the site for a variety of reasons — mostly because they know me from some other place — which is a social draw. But they don’t come to my site for the prose, which feels increasingly awkward, because I created the site for my prose — not for me.
In that six months time — I’ve put 76 posts up. The ones that have gotten the most attention have been the ones that have pictures, that have links to sites with video, and one that was a comic list (which counts for me as “specialty” as opposed to text or prose.) One exception to this was a report on a peculiar and popular web phenomenon, with links to long comment lists about that phenomenon — again I’m going to call that special interest. This is matched by what I see in terms of successful blogs — which are mostly news and technology — which is not really what I mean by writing — it is news, but not news that stays news. (In Pound’s famous formulation.)
None of my prose pages have gotten any significant number of hits whatsoever – please don’t use this as an excuse to spam me with social media bullshit — I know how to generate invalid traffic — if I just wanted traffic that’s what I would do. And I’m familiar with the arguments about legitimate and illegitimate manipulation of social media. What I’m looking for is readers. As a Stumble Upon reviewer I can generate 100 hits for my pages pretty quickly by selecting the correct categories to write for — but that has resulted in almost no comments or additional thumbs up, so as far as I can tell people are just blowing by — and judging from the number of people who access the links on the pages I have that have links, I think that is a pretty good bet.
Now my blog as a whole has gotten about 16 thumbs-up (a way of passing a page along on StumbleUpon)– most of these are people who I have communicated with and who read my other blog on the social media site itself. So again — those are my friends, I love them, but they are coming here, for the most part, because of a personal connection to me — not for the prose. It is fair to assume this, because I have gotten almost no attention from the other social media sites where I do not have a social presence.
What if I just suck? I’m going to take a guess that isn’t the problem, because I don’t, and also because there are a couple of sites I have come across that have gotten a lot of attention that were just unoriginal pictures or video which surely suck as much, as pictures or video, as I suck, if I suck, at prose — I am going to accept out of the box that, as prose, my prose is as good as any number of sites on StumbleUpon which have 10 or more “thumbs up” but which are hosting photography or video — I’m sure that as I generate more attention in the bricks and mortar world with my writing, that I am going to draw more individuals to the site. My thought is that what your “typical” web surfer is looking for is a picture or video snippet.
And while I know that I could learn to generate content that was perfect for this medium — I’m not at all interested in doing that. I’m a writer and I am interested in writing. The web, as a medium, is nothing more to me than a really neat typewriter that hotlinks to a big freaky encyclopedia. I think, at least for now, that I am not interested in learning any more about it than that — ie: I don’t really want to do video, or learn how to type-set my poems on pictures of kittens, or create databases, or web aps or games or all the other — admittedly really cool but just not my type of stuff. Kind of like I’m not interested in haunting 15 other social media sites — I like StumbleUpon for what it is. I think most of the other social media sites suck.
So my guess is, for now, that people do not come to the web to find original prose to read. One thought about that is that prose and poetry are slow digesting phenomena. One of my favorite writers out right now is Roberto Calasso — he is brilliant, a great writer. He runs a publishing house, he is deeply connected in the publishing world. All of his books at the UW are currently sitting on the shelves. He is not “generating hits” — there is no question that he is an important writer. I have no doubt that in 100 years his books (the specific physical books sitting on the shelves) will each have been read many times. But when I search for him on the web there is not that much there. A few reviews, a few articles. Even in the scholarly journals there is just a handful of articles. He has been publishing in English since 1993 (I actually remember purchasing his first book in Hardback.)
My question is — is the web, as a medium, simply inappropriate for what Calasso is doing (and what I am interested in doing.) Is the web not a writer’s medium? The web has only existed since 1991 — but despite all of the public money that has gone into filling up archives with e-books — how much of book culture has really migrated here? And how much ever will?
I am really attempting to open a conversation — this is just an initial speculation based on an admittedly tremendously narrow data set — mostly based on myself as a reader (I read avidly and I read almost no new prose on the web — unless it is something written by a friend of mine, or a passing fancy, or something that I couldn’t find in the library.) Maybe there is a burgeoning tribe of web-based readers out there that I have just never encountered — if so, dear reader, point me to them in your comments…
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