I’m participating in a week-long ProBlogger Challenge, hosted by Darren Rowse. Assignment no. 2 was to answer a question frequently posed by readers. For instance, if you write about photography, what question about photography do you get asked? This was a stumper. Most of my readers don’t ask questions, probably because my blog is a mishmash of topics. Then, DUH. The question most asked? What is your blog about? Down through old posts I went, and, to my amazement, discovered a thread:
Thinking about writing a book?
Forget publishing the old fashioned way. Writers, especially late bloomers, improve their chances of being picked up by a publisher if they already have an audience who loves them and will buy their books. Technical term for this pre-packaged audience: a “platform.”
In 2010, I set out to build a platform. I started one blog, then another, then another, joined Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumbler. This dive into social media gained me new friends and sympathizers, but not exactly a platform. It has, however, been educational.
For one thing, I learned that with so many of us writing for free, it’s gotten more difficult to make money writing.
Maybe more important, it dawned on me (and on most of us) that:
Anyone who spends time online is an Internet ant. We bring datafood to a moon-sized ant queen, aka Internet information systems. Writers, who spend a lot of time researching and composing online, are particularly valuable contributors.
Every site we visit is tracked. Every click is counted. Our keywords are logged and linked and graphed by algorithms so complex they are beyond the understanding of ordinary folks like me.
Our information is linked to gargantuan databases. In return, we get access to rivers of instant connection to websites, libraries, communications almost anywhere in the world.
The algorithms also:
- filter what we read
- send pop-up ads to our pages
- direct information to the federal government, which tries to figure out if we are terrorists
- sell or leak our phone numbers and e-mails to advertisers
- sometimes direct our information into the hands of hackers who try to steal money, collect our tax refunds, our identity, or worse.
Unless you’re a tech expert who can hide activities and create private ways to glean online information, the options are (1) to be Internet ants, or (2) shut everything down and go back to living the way I grew up, with three channels on T.V. and a dial-up landline.
That’s the tradeoff. Internet access in exchange for our personal information.
If we choose to go online, there are things we need to know:
- Do our electronic screens offer the truth or what we want to hear?
- How do we manage the inevitable technical difficulties that arise when we’re dependent on machines we don’t really understand?
- How do we put our two cents into the world in a way that’s most useful?
- How do we protect ourselves from online evil-doers?
- How do we connect with others like us, who aren’t necessarily aiming to be the next Sergei Brin, but just want to know something, or offer information?
If you’re plagued by questions like these, welcome! Even if you’re not, welcome!
My aim is to answer these questions, as well as write about what seems important and feature others who offer tips on writing, editing and how to balance our service to the Internet with commensurate rewards.
And maybe build a platform along the way.
I’m open to questions and suggestions for research topics. Fire away!