Tuesday, February 4, 2014

After Dark, February 4, 2014

There is no place like the internet...
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Last month, as the year began for CharPo, there were a series of reality checks and balances.

For instance, I learned a valuable lesson on Facebook. We have 450 or so fans for our Facebook page, but I was told that our "reach" was about 8-12 per item we posted. This indicated that Facebook was now throttling our visibility down to about 2-3%. But, we were told, we could boost this with $$. So I decided to try that out just to see. I chose two posts, paid the minimum $5 each and - yup - suddenly 1400-1700 were seeing the posts we paid for and commenting and liking them (and the page). I think we snagged another four fans (who would join the legions who never saw what we posted). We also got a small boost to our traffic on this very site. however, if you consider we post a minimum 10 articles a week (in summer up to 30) that $5 minimum per post is a huge number for a company that makes precisely no revenue. I discussed this on Facebook among my friends and Sue Edworthy, one of the great sages of the PR world, reminded me that Facebook is a business. 

And there's the rub.

But other business models have failed (see: newspapers).

This will sound arch-naïve but when I began fiddling with the internet - with a private website and with the creation of the Encyclopedia of Canadian Theatre - the internet was a world of altruists and, to some degree, still is. There a monstrous army of volunteers who provide a monstrous amount of content either from the goodness of their hearts or as a form of wishful thinking: someday this will make money, maybe.

And it is making money. Facebook, for instance, by simply exploiting the content created by a billion people, does it. (As seen by the example above and the fact that those ads on your own page are directed at YOUYOUYOU! and by the fact they are accumulating and selling a humongous amount of information about YOUYOUYOU!) One suspects that Twitter will soon find a like model of money-making. Online business - like Amazon - makes money. 

But other business models have failed (see: newspapers). The internet has become essential for disseminating information but everyone seems to be making money except the creators of that information. Moreover, lawmakers are assuring that this situation will only get worse. Laws in Canada, the US and the UK, are permitting both a rise of censorship and - in a narrative inspired by chain newspapers - fewer and fewer companies controlling the infrastructure. Internet commentators in the US are mourning the death of a free internet. 

There comes a moment when altruists start to wonder what the point of all the work is. Shouldn't we be out saving the whales instead, or something? 

The fact is this: the performing arts and writing about and for them is my life's work. Go from one performing arts website to another and you will see people who simply gave themselves to the arts and who have no choice. Even here at CharPo where we adore and are grateful to every writer who has ever put a word on this site, we are thanked - by them - again and again. 

The reason?

Because the vibrancy of art itself is life-giving. When you are exposed to it for the first time it's like trying crack - a lifetime addiction is born. Sadly, the world is full of dealers who sell us the junk never for a moment concerned for our (mental) health. (How do you like that for a tortured metaphor.) The dealers are called Facebook and Google (the hosts of this very site) and all the other internet hustlers who draw you in with a free deal and then say, "Now you pay."

Again...it's hard to get angry about people who know how to run a business. It's especially hard to get angry when CharPo has just passed the 1 million pageview mark (it took a while to calculate that number because we had to wade through the platoons of Russian, Ukrainian and Chinese hackers polluting the site with false pageviews). 

A million pageviews is not nothing. It is a legacy. It is something I'm proud of and especially proud of because it's all about performing arts. 

I was recently asked if we had plans to expand. That's always a possibility.

If we're allowed to.

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