The Struggle Within a Site

[Originally written for a high school class]

The Struggle Within a Site

3/26/2007

Kenneth Burchfiel

It was, in retrospect, the perfect night for such an endeavor: hot enough that the two of us chose to stay inside, and uneventful enough that our conversation about video games and ping pong soon turned to deeper matters. It was, additionally, late enough in the evening that fatigue distorted our perceptions of what was likely and what was a distant chance.

Had it not been for some dreamy thinking on my part, August 22, 2006 would have been an uneventful day. I was at a friend’s house in eastern Maryland, and quite satisfied with the trip so far. Tired out after a long day of rather nonsensical events, my friend and I turned our attention to the computer. Browsing the Internet, a conversation between us emerged. It wasn’t the type of discussion I was used to in late summer, nor was it the type that I would soon forget, engaged in other matters. Our conversation, that night, was about starting a web site.

At the time, I had a fateful amount of skill with the Internet. I knew enough to picture what was possible, and too little to understand what wasn’t. Armed with what I thought was expertise, I suggested that we found a site for “blooks,” books published sequentially in electronic form. The concept of the blook, back then, was new enough that none had acted on my idea just yet.

Consulting further, and searching around online, we decided upon a plan for our new site. Registered users would post chapters of their blooks on specific pages of the site. Other users would be free to critique the works, and authors could advertise their projects at will. Arranged in a message board format, the web page would allow authors to connect with readers in unconventional and efficient ways. Both of us were somewhat excited that nobody had followed through on such an idea before.

There was, of course, the issue of funding. Our cheapest option was to invest 70 dollars; with it, we could purchase a domain name and a year of hosting. I suggested that we place advertisements on the pages; with luck, enough users would flock to the site that the endeavor would earn us money overall. Satisfied that we had everything figured out, the two of us bought the domain and set up a rough layout of the site. “Blooklot.com,” a dream just hours ago, was suddenly reality.

Style-wise, the site was bland. Both of us had the notion of revising the layout once users started pouring in; certainly, writers and users could see past the look of the site and value its merits instead. I repeated this point over and over to myself; my logic, flawed as it was, dissuaded me from making any adjustments to the layout.

I left for home a few days later, entertaining myself on the ride back with thoughts on what the site could become. Blooklot.com, still in its infancy, had grown a small, albeit respectable following. Messages began sprouting up, and the member list increased each day. It wasn’t long before I envisioned the site becoming a booming success; indeed, those thoughts had entered my head as soon as Blooklot was conceived.

The progress of the site was enough to warrant some excited conversations with my parents. They were curiously interested in the web page, but predicted its fate well enough to avoid encouraging me further. I gave the link to a few other friends, asking them to take a look. Few wished to discuss it further, as if they knew something about its chances of success that I had not yet grasped. As happy as I was with the early days of the site, I understood that there was an extremely important step that the page needed to reach: Blooklot.com needed someone dedicated and committed to writing to sign up. Their input would inspire other users to register and share their content, helping the site grow in the process.

Goodness, how I thought that day came.

He registered with the name “Eckhard Marthen;” for all I knew, that was his actual name as well. Checking the site one day, I was excited to see that he had begun posting a few chapters of his book on the site.

Weeks passed, and he continued to publish material on Blooklot. In replying to his posts, I excitedly informed him of the number of “hits” his blook had received; the number was in the thousands within months. I never cared much for reading what he had written; the quality was quite good, but I was more interested in the site’s development than his fantasy tale.

By now, I was quite sure that something could come of the site. Blooklot.com had only earned my friend and me pocket change from advertisements, but Eckhard could change all that. His arrival quelled my fears that the site was progressing too slowly. Thanks to him, Blooklot was destined for success.

It was an odd sort of partnership. Eckhard, excited to increase his book’s audience, continued submitting content each week. I found comfort in watching his page increase in popularity; the numbers, meaningless as they were, represented progress. The site was going somewhere, no matter how theoretical that “somewhere” actually was.

That journey, fueled by numbers and my own self-reassurance, was more than I could have asked for. Notions and perceptions aside, I understood that thousands of start-up sites failed within days. Months after conception, mine still had an audience and a purpose. Nevertheless, I grew anxious that there would not be another Eckhard Marthen. None had matched his initiative; he was the only member so far to post content of such length and such depth. His entries continued to increase, but the site, as a whole, was stagnant.

Soon, however, my fears were quelled. Four months after the site’s conception, a spike in registration occurred. More users signed up in December than in August, September, October and November combined. I interpreted the increase as a sign that the site’s popularity was catching on; visions of the site blossoming into an Internet phenomenon returned. The news was exciting enough to warrant a call to my friend in Maryland, though he did not share my enthusiasm. Was I the only person here who saw the future? Was I the only one to understand what this site would become?

Ironically, I was the only one who did not.

Within months, a more realistic cause behind the frequent registrations became obvious. Multiple users were signing up each day, yes, but not to post stories, critique work, or talk about writing in general. Instead, they were posting advertisements and capitalizing on the thousands of hits Eckhard’s blook had received.

Blooklot.com, once host only to literary works, soon became a center for advertisements about ring tones and prescription drugs. I did my best to delete them, but they appeared at too fast a rate. In time, sickening ads appeared for the 18+ audience. Those, too spread too fast for me to ban the users who posted them.

Eckhard Marthen’s posts, strangely enough, continued. I considered it necessary to praise his works out of thanks; he had persevered for longer than I ever would have thought. By now, however, my outlook towards the site was too cynical to expect him to stay on Blooklot for long. Soon enough, his entries came to a stop.

By now, 256 members have signed up; nearly all have registered for the sole purpose of posting advertisements. The site has become a quagmire, visited only by those who wish to market various products. Most of the advertisements are too indecent to describe. As for my own advertising ventures, the ads I placed on the site have only earned my friend and me 11 cents.

Hard to say, exactly, just when I developed a realist attitude about the site. It would be romantic in itself to think I would have a sudden revelation about the failed outcome of Blooklot; such enlightenment came slowly and subtly. No third party existed to tell me that I had failed; that judgment was mine alone.

It was not my first venture on the Internet; I would hope that the fall of Blooklot does not discourage me from making it my last. Nor has the end of Blooklot.com made me a realist for the rest of my life. Had the loss of seventy dollars been enough to give me a cynical outlook on everything, I should have become a realist long ago.

It is small compensation at best, but the site will not stay in my mind for long. Come late August, the year of hosting will expire, cleaning up the ashes of what was once a grand idea. Should I ever decide to invest those seventy dollars again, I will do so with a much clearer head.

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