Friday, January 19, 2007

Stories and Blogs: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I thought I would have completed this week's assignment a while ago; I'm only now beginning to write. The Electronic Literature Organization and the hundreds of sites, ranked based on how many other sites link to them, have already intrigued and entertained me for hours. This class is already exposing me not only to new media's impact on writing, but also to endless ways to procrastinate (thank you).

I had a hard time selecting one story that I admire and one that I don't admire from the ELO. My initial reaction to various stories often changed through my experience with the story. Notice I didn't say, "as I read the story," which is exactly what I enjoyed so much about all of these. One of the stories that I particularly admired, and found very frustrating, was "Cruising". At first I was confused because I did not quite understand how I was supposed to read the story while the words moved from right to left across the screen. I attempted to ignore the words and only listen, but that didn't work. I had been reading the story backwards, so I knew the end but missed the beginning. Irritated, I moved my mouse around a bit, slowing the words' movement and eventually getting the story to flow in the right direction. I was pleased with myself, until the words shrunk and I could no longer read them again. I felt out of control and frustrated...and I liked that. The story is short, simple, yet the experience itself added an additional level of involvement and complication. I really admire the effect that the author created with this story.

"Stud Poetry" did not move me in the same way. While I like the idea of combining poetry and poker (or at least I think the idea is interesting), I felt that the author could have done a lot more with the concept. The pair that won a hand seemed fairly random; I never felt that I could actually influence the end result of the game. This story disappointed me compared to others, such as "Inanimate Alice, Episode 1: China," because it neither seemed have the same thought behind it, nor did it make me feel as involved. I was able to zone out yet still get through a hand; other stories required more focus and attention throughout.

I feel that this post is already getting a bit long. And it's kind of late, which makes me tend to ramble, so I'll try to keep this next section more brief. Popular webspaces and webspaces in the long tail: I think what intrigues me most as I look at sites, particularly the ones that are most linked-to, is the fact that so many of these sites involve getting a user to start a blog, to publish a blog, to comment on others' blogs. Blogs. So the most popular sites help us, the general population, to create blogs which will then take over and expand the long tail. Whether or not you have something interesting or unique to share, you are encouraged to start a blog, and it's so easy that you'd be silly not to! Some of these blogs make it and quickly gain and maintain popularity, while others stay in the long tail forever; some eventually are stopped because the work it requires to maintain it no longer seems worth it.

This brings me to the unpopular, long tail site that I found, called Fray: Tell Your Stories. This site went "on hiatus" on October 22, 2005--seems like a long hiatus to me, but maybe it will start back up again sometime. I mention this site because I really like it and was surprised to see it low on the "blogging ecosystem" list (#436). Fray encourages people to tell their stories in one of 4 different categories: Criminal, Drugs, Hope, and Work. There are other sections as well, but Fray's main purpose was to get visitors to share their stories in order to take advantage of the fact that the Internet makes such sharing possible. Basically, this site is a blog that doesn't involve blogging on the part of the creator, but instead its content reflects its visitors experiences and stories and their willingness to share them. It's a very interesting site with some really cool stories. As I mentioned, I'm surprised it's not more popular; it's definitely a 'hidden gem,' which I'm thrilled that I found.

After completing this week's assignment, after looking at dozens of stories on ELO and after perusing blog after blog after blog, I am disappointed; I still have NO idea what makes a blog successful, why some blogs are much more popular than others, even though they may have similar content, or how to gain a loyal following of bloggers and site visitors. I am eager to see if any of you were more successful in your search for some answers to these issues.

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