Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cyber-Darwinism

You've perhaps heard this statistic before, that there is a new blog created every two seconds. This is what has kept me from the blogosphere for some time now. What's the point of adding my voice to the mix? However, as we progress into an increasingly technologically advanced society one might as well ask this question in the same sense as one would ask what is the point of having children, when there are so many being born every second? At least an overabundance of blogs won't lead to any kind of Soylent Green dystopia.

I'm not sure there's any point in trying to justify yet another blog in the world. I'm just here to see what happens. I've been trying a lot of these kinds of experiments lately, tooling around with the superabundance of apps and options the internet has thrust upon us to see what value I can find in them. What I've been learning from the experience is how Darwinian the internet is. I read a quote from that great Ivory Tower windbag Harold Bloom some time back in which he pondered how anyone is expected to be able to find anything meaningful in the massive sea of information that is the internet. The answer, I've found, is very simple: Survival of the Fittest. Anyone who is reading this is no doubt aware of the extent to which the internet has become a massive show-and-tell for the world, and if the old adage that 90% of everything is crap is true, then more than a fair share of the world's 90% has found its way to the internet in the form of inane blogs, inept art galleries and bad artists/musicians/filmmakers posting their work to youtube (and elsewhere) hoping to be discovered. But again, as all of us know from those links that friends send to us, from those stories we come across on news sites and even, occasionally, just by stumbling across it on our own, that there are things floating out here in cyberspace that are magnificent, beautiful, brilliant, and, more pertinent to my discussion, incredibly useful and practical.

That last bit is what I've been toying around with lately. For a long time I was resistant to all these new cyber-trends, but then a friend badgered me into joining Facebook. I had scoffed social networking for a long time, then suddenly found myself in a place where I could find all the friends I have scattered all over the world in a single location, reconnect with old friends I hadn't spoken to in years, and get to know people in places my future was taking me, as was the case when I got to know several members of the incoming class in the English Grad Program at the University of South Florida through Facebook months before I got to meet them in person. I discovered an extremely valuable tool in Facebook that inspired me to try the same thing with Myspace. All I got on Myspace were dozens of fake friend invites trying to sell me phone services, porn subscriptions and albums for indie bands. People wonder why Myspace has been failing in the wake of Facebook. They think it's because Facebook is the latest trend and that it will eventually be eclipsed by whatever comes next (Twitter?). I think Myspace is failing because of Darwinism. Facebook is a superior site, and no, I don't think it's a question of opinion. It's easier to use, less prone to SPAM, and because of those advantages and others, it has also gained superior numbers, which are crucial to the survival of a social networking site. Facebook will remain dominant not until a new fad comes along, but until a superior social networking site comes along.

Now I'm going to put this into practice. As a fiction writer, I've also been experimenting with some of the myriad resources available online for aspiring writers. There are two sites in particular that I have experimented with lately, Duotrope.com and Authonomy.com, two other examples of Darwinism. Duotrope is a database for literary magazines that lets you register an account for free, then use the site to search out lit mags on a number of criteria such as genre, payscale and whether or not they allow simultaneous submissions. You can then use the site to keep track of your submissions, when you sent it, when it got rejected (or accepted), what kind of rejection it was, and so on. I don't know how I ever lived without it. It is an absolutely priceless resource for writers trying to get their work published (and infinitely superior to The Writer's Market, which is to duotrope what river rocks and a scrub brush are to a washer and dryer) that I highly recommend to all writers. In fact, the very first submission I did through Duotrope wound up being the first story I ever got published. Probably a coincidence, but it's hard to argue with results.

Authonomy.com is a literary social networking site, started by HarperCollins, where you can upload and share a book you're working on (there's no genre restrictions, but the site mostly contains novels) for a mass workshop where anyone can comment and people, if they like your book, can add it to their favorites. As people back your work it climbs in the rankings, and the top five books every month land on the editor's desk at HarperCollins. Sounds like a great idea right? I wish I could say it was. But the law of diminishing returns means that to get anything out of the site you have to dedicate hours of effort into reading and commenting on people's work, people who are highly unlikely to return the favor (or, as I learned the hard way, lambast you for offering constructive criticism rather than blowing sunshine up their ass, which is what most people on the site are looking for). The result is that those who make it to the top are not the ones who have written the best book but the ones who are the most weasel-like in their methods, promising to back your book in return for backing theirs, then dropping their backing an hour later (thus dropping you in the rankings) while you've helped propel them to the top. Pretty much every single book that makes it to the editor's desk gets rejected. The site itself is rather Darwinian, yes, but I don't think it's a very good model of Darwinism or a very good website (though the date stamp from your upload is a superb alternative to poor man's copyright) and one that I think will ultimately fail in the fight to survive on the internet.

What I am doing here is how the internet works. I'm helping a valuable website (www.duotrope.com) survive by encouraging others to go there and (hopefully) helping to bring down another that is of almost no value at all (authonomy.com). Now I have started a blog. It is one of tens of millions on the internet right now. Whether or not it survives depends on whether or not I find it valuable and whether or not others find it valuable as well. We'll just have to see what happens.

1 comment:

  1. Dude. I will totally back your blog if you back mine.

    But seriously, good maiden voyage into the world of writing and the internet. (Has the medium reached a point where we can use the term "internet literature?" Will we ever? Sounds like a good follow-up blog...)

    I expect good things here.

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