Posted on 2024-04-13

Read Time: 6 minutes | 1270 words

Crowd before a Prophetess by George Romney

Content, Creation, Community, and Fear

In looking to to rekindle my passion for online work, I keep thinking about the practical nature of creative work in a modern context. At the moment, I have a nearly null readership. It is not completely null, but it is vanishingly small. This is not a surprise. I have been wholly inconsistent in posting, and the focus of the site has fluctuated wildly as I have struggled to make sense of where I want to go next.

The question I must ask, then, is, “By what metric am I measuring this site? What does success mean to me?”

Setting a Metric

Setting the metric is a challenge. What do I care about here? Am I looking to monetize in some way? Do I want to see my readership increase? Do I want to funnel users to my more creative outlets at Scrivener’s Jest? If I see an increase in newsletter subscriptions there is that a metric of success?

I do have an answer to most of these questions. I think an increase in engagement would be nice. It’s fun to see the numbers go up, but I am not really interested in determining success based on sustaining a market interest in my work. I doubt mainstream success is in the cards for me, and I am okay with that.

Fear of Censure and the rise of the Internal Censor

The other question that looms over artists, writers, and really anyone contributing online content is, “How will this content be received outside of the communities I am creating it for?” The actual content with regard to this question isn’t important. There is a core reality that in an online space, it is very easy for something written for one audience to end up in front of another audience often with negative results (harassment campaigns and so on). It does not matter what what your viewpoint is, someone is going to be unhappy with what you say. Weaponizing that disapproval is painfully easy especially if you’re not using an alt .

I should offer a mea culpa, here, albeit a very small one. Content delivery platforms are in a difficult spot when it comes to this. Hosting controversial content regardless of the content-type invariably results in some form of blow-back. I do think that a publisher should care about the content they help produce and publish, and that readers should make decisions about the platforms they use based on the content those platforms publish. I acknowledge this a difficult place for platforms to be in. I doubt, however, they will like my solution.

On the Sticky Subject of Free Speech

Today, free speech is, too often, a word used by individuals who advocate for the right to speak without fear of consequence or impact. As with so much of our modern discourse, they redefine terms in order to create a false dichotomy. You must advocate for their definitions of free-speech or advocate against free speech. This is by design. Dig into any of these supposed advocates deep enough, and you find a autocrat seeking to silence others.

By and large, free speech protections provide more support for those who are marginalized than those who are not. Marginalized authors and artists, artists whose work challenges or offends traditional sensibility, are the ones who suffer the most when free speech is attacked. It is also why anonymity is a key element of free speech. We see the need for anonymity, every day, through targeted attacks on creators and activists who support queer and transgender rights and a woman’s right to self-autonomy as well as creators whose work blends into areas of sex work and pornography. There is a clear need for anonymity in speech. Anonymity doesn’t free a person from consequence. It simply allows them to speak in unsafe places.

Platforms and Monopoly Control

Platforms are not the arbiters of free speech. No company can or should be. Free speech is an enshrined constitutional right not a purchasable add-on. What happens, though, when there is a defacto monopoly? What happens when a centralized cabal of oligarchs is able to shape speech by exerting financial pressure to eliminate all other forms? Say you are a credit card processor and want to limit all forms of transactions for certain types of explicit creative content working in concert with theocrats crafting laws that threaten creator’s lives and livelihoods.

The problem is, as with so many things, capitalism, or rather this modern, bastardized, version of unfettered capitalism that plagues the U.S. and elsewhere. No company should have to fund or support content it doesn’t want to support (the stated exception of specific protected classes aside). That is also a 1st amendment right. The issue, then, is the monopoly. No company should be able to exert enough control to effectively silence the people. If they can, that is a free-speech issue, but one that arises because of a lack of regulation and control. Break up the monopolies that run this country and this problem becomes much less of a problem.

I would be happy to support financial institutions that offer infrastructure for creators who are marginalized and attacked. Those institutions don’t exist. They are buried under monopolies that have no interest in giving power or control. That is a core problem and one that is not going away.

What does this have to do with this site and metrics?

I say all of this to highlight the challenge that I see with any modern creative undertaking. The first challenge is just being able to share your work and get it out there. The second is learning how to navigate a blindingly complex and ever-changing system of providers and platforms that are seeking to profit off of you and your audience in any way possible. The third challenge is growing an audience without you (or your audience) ending up as a target because of the content you’re creating and sharing.

For me, the best option I have is to continue to post outside of platforms. Hence my acceptance of no-mainstream popularity1. Doing so acknowledges that platforms are actively trying to encourage their users not to leave. That means audiences are harder to find especially in the vast glut of content that is the modern Internet. Using those platforms is not verboten per se. I’m not big on purity. Use what is out there, but don’t rely on it and don’t sign a contract with it.

And finally my own answer.

If I know that my metric is not purely a bases of counts and numbers, then what I am looking for? I mentioned it briefly last time, but my interest here is not to develop an audience of millions. It is to find an audience of a few hundred and even that seems excessive. My goal is to find people with whom my work resonates and to, eventually, learn and grow with and from them. That is how I started, way back when Tim Berners-Lee was just beginning to release HTTP upon an unsuspecting and unready world. As a young adult with a crappy piece-meal computer, I found people and communities in small BBSes and sites all over. Not everyone was great, and I wasn’t always that great myself, but what I found there was what made the Internet tangible: the people. If I can get back to that, in some small way, then this is all a success.

  1. Just that! I am sure I would be a mainstream phenomena, otherwise! What mainstream reader doesn’t want to read a 1000+ word essay on creative work and Internet culture?  ↩︎

Tags: #internet_culture  #creative_work 

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