Archive

Archive for June, 2018

On the Bay Review: so far ahead of our time.

June 23, 2018 Leave a comment

Most who know me know I’m not always much for nostalgia, but lately I’ve been wondering just what would have happened if I had been able to technically solve a problem back in 2001 given what I know now, and what technologies are available now.   As an author, a poet, and an advocate of independent publishing, I do sometimes wonder if the Bay Review, an online journal I started with a friend of mine back in 2000, was simply too far ahead of its time.

From the Wayback Machine

bayreview_wayback

In early 2000 I was just starting to get into web development.  I had achieved my dream of becoming a programmer with PropertyFirst.com, an online commercial real estate platform that would eventually become LoopNet and be my professional home for close to 17 years.   I was also writing a lot and wanted to see what we could do to publish people like myself online.   At the time, independent publishing didn’t exist outside of large companies who would charge thousands of dollars to create print books, and there was little to no online publication available to independent authors.  The idea of publishing content online was in its infancy.

So a friend of mine and I put up a website called the Bay Review.   It was intended to gather submissions from various people via email, and then we’d put them into HTML format and publish them on the site every month.    It took off much more than we would have expected, and ultimately we had to shut it down after six months for a variety of reasons that seem easily solvable today, close to 17 years later.

First, the success.   Within 5 months we were getting submissions at a rate of close to 20 a day.   This was back when Google and Paid Search and SEM and SEO weren’t even a thing.  This happened with Yahoo! Search and word of mouth and viral goodness.   By April of 2001 we were getting more than 400 submissions a month and it became impossible to keep up.   I was converting submissions to HTML by hand because the technology to automatically convert Word documents to HTML did not yet exist in a way that would survive its use.  Basically, any attempt to automate Office 2000 died spectacularly on first execution.   This was the biggest first failure, and when it was apparent keeping up with our success was going to be a full time job, we had no recourse other than to shut it down so we could stay at our real full time jobs.

And that was because of the 2nd problem;  we had no clean way to monetize.  A paid subscription might have been worthwhile but seemed unlikely, as this was the early days of starting to get everything for free, and although we had 400+ submissions, our reader traffic was not yet that high, and would not support enough memberships to make it worth our while.   We had the same sorts of conversations about monetization strategies you see now in the marketplace, including the possibility of introducing micropayments, or charging readers pennies for pages read as they went through the website.   Sadly, though, we had no time to build such a solution under the onslaught we found ourselves.

And the trolls!   Or so we would call them now.   My friend and I instituted a family friendly standard, meaning no adult content.   I had to hand screen or read 400 submissions on top of the conversion, and when we accidentally let a f-bomb through, the message boards lit up with complaints about other works that had been rejected.  Instead of an understanding of the difficulty we faced and the effort we put in, we were called out for failure.

It was an impossible situation to maintain, and we closed down.

With all that, I regret many times that we did not have the technology then to do what systems do now, whether its automatic document conversion or automated content screening.   We might be sitting here today as one of the pioneers of online publishing.

Long live the Bay Review.

Advertisements
Categories: Writing