archives greymatter top

powazek productions
{ personal log }

people not products

"I'm not a magazine or a newpaper, or any other kind of product. I don't have a target demographic. I don't have an audience to attract or appeal to. I don't make anything financially from this site, and I never expected to. Just like thousands of other people across the web, I am a personal content provider, because I love it, and because I can't not write, I can't not be involved, I can't not tell stories, can't not experiment and tinker with the medium."
meg @



We live in a product-based culture. Everything is a product, or an advertisement for a product, or a review of a product. Product product product.

But people are not products. And personal sites are not products – they're representations of self, digital self-portraits in text format. This is a beautiful, rare, intimate thing. And it's an easy thing to forget.

I've done a lot of thinking both publicly and privately about the idea of personal spaces in this public medium. Part of the issue, I think, is that the web is still so new, our expectations have yet to reset from product to person.

Just because you see this site on your monitor in your home doesn't mean it belongs to you. This is a piece of me that I'm sharing with you. It's a gift. You can take it or leave it, just don't disrespect it. If you do, there will be no more gifts.

The most profound experiences I've had on the web have been those sites that feel intimate – like I'm treading on sacred ground. I walked away feeling grateful for the experience – grateful for the chance to get to know a stranger and hear their stories.

But that was the old web – the one that was all about immense personal homepages and carefully crafted experiences. That was the web that birthed the {fray}. And, in a way, that web has disappeared, replaced with an endless supply of informational appliances and bland dreck.

Left in its place is the weblog nation – legions of people pouring their hearts into daily stories, links, and ideas. This is a much more native format for the web, so we're seeing it take root all over. And I, for one, am glad. Anything that gets people to use and develop their voices is fine by me.

But there is something that seems less personal about the weblog format. Maybe it's because the reader doesn't have to work very hard for anything: it's all right there, newest at the top. That's a far cry from the old style homepage experience, where you were sometimes forced to explore and experiment with an interface.

So maybe it's because personal sites have adopted a less intimate, more businesslike format that we can sometimes mistake them for product instead of person. Or maybe the problem lies deeper, somewhere between our expectations and our own self-image. I'm not sure.

All I know is that if we could somehow reengineer our culture to be people-based instead of product-based, we'd all be better off.

{ 3:04pm }



» I don't want to just post a "me, too", but I gotta tell you that this really resonates for me. is the site that makes *me* feel grateful to have stumbled across his little corner of the web.

I guess I disagree about weblogs being inherently easier on the reader. The format (newest entry on top) is easy to grasp, but there's always a learning curve with any weblog. Who is this person, what's he referring to, what's being left unsaid -- all these things take time to discover. Sometimes it may actually take (gasp!) reading the archives.

I know that I don't really write for new audiences, and I guess my blog may suffer for it. If you click over to my site now, would you 'get it'? Does anyone?

One question that's important to me is: "Do I have an obligation to my readers, and if so what is the nature of that obligation?" Is it to be clear? Funny? Informative, timely, chatty, sexy, gossipy? I'm still walking the line, trying to figure it all out.

In the end, I do believe I have *some* obligation, although it's obviously not as great as, say, the need to pay rent or eat or have a normal offline life. The fact that other people read my site, and leave comments, and email me, is meaningful to me. It's more valuable to me than if I just wrote all this in Word and saved it to my harddrive. That interactivity, that sense of community is what drives me to keep my weblog. It's not any one person, or any *demographic*, but it's real. At least, it's real to me.

Bill Jennings  { 4.23.01 @ 3:54pm }

» I know that I don't really write for new audiences, and I guess my blog may suffer for it. If you click over to my site now, would you 'get it'?

Well, the way I see it, is that's not what web logs are for. They're for the person writing it, and for no one else. If you like what a person writes and regularly read the weblog, that's cool. But if I got no readers, or if I got 1000 a day, it wouldn't matter - I'd still publish, because it's what I want to do.

I suppose Dereks note at the bottom of this here submit form sums it up - it's his site and he will do as he sees fit.

In my humble opinion, it doesn't matter if no one gets your site Bill - as long as you get it, and you get satisfaction from it, that's the main thing.

Tom Cosgrave  { 4.23.01 @ 4:33pm }

» "They're for the person writing it, and for no one else."

I don't quite agree. A personal site is, by nature, a call that invites a response. If it doesn't matter whether anyone sees it, a paper journal is an easier and better format.

The gift analogy that Derek cites above is an apt one: the site is a gift to the reader. Whether the reader accepts, rejects, delights in or disrespects it is entirely out of the hands of the writer. But the readers in a civil community recognize the gift and respect it.

Furthermore, the gift that the site owner creates is first a gift to himself.

" long as you get it, and you get satisfaction from it, that's the main thing."

I definitely agree. It's the 'getting it' that's contagious. When you create something that engages yourself, you inevitably create something that will engage another.

christopher naze  { 4.23.01 @ 5:16pm }

» And, fwiw, the gift analogy is not mine. Noah is the one who put that idea in my head. (I looked for something on his site to link to on that word, but couldn't find anything right.) So thanks, Noah!

dmp  { 4.23.01 @ 5:24pm }

» oooh I agree on the gift thing. I see the whole internet as a gift really. I've been awestruck by how much info and how many lives I can immerse myself in just by logging on. I take each site I see as an honour bestowed upon me. I get to just sit in the middle of the night if I want and access it. that's the beauty of the net.

hmm for weblogs. I'm not sure what to think about them. at first I said I'd never do it and I liked the journal aspect of the web better, but then I got into it. I figure not everyone can make a successful one, but I guess it does depend on what you get from it. if you like your posts and like your site, then that's what matters.

I've been told to quit many times by one friend simply because my hit count had dropped. I considered and then realised it would be like stripping all I worked for, what I enjoyed doing in my sparetime just because maybe it was a bad week. maybe I'd get more commentary the next week or the next. so, no, I wouldn't quit if no one 'got' my site....and it's alot better than writing in a journal book. I type faster than I can print :)

Amber  { 4.23.01 @ 7:27pm }

» I had an experience similar to Amber's. My father died last fall, and for a while, that was all I was writing about. It made me feel better, and I'm glad I did it. My father's death was sudden, and much of that time is a blur to me now. It's important to me to have a record (a testament?) to what I was feeling.

My husband, after reading a particularly depressing entry, said, "People are not going to want to read you anymore if this is all you write about." All I could do was stare, and then gently reply, "But this is my *life.*"

I try not to lose sight of the fact that people *choose* to read what I write. If my stuff interests them, or helps them in any way, cool. If they're bored of me, they can always hit my links page and "change the channel," so to speak.

So, onto Derek's comments about "replaced with an endless supply of informational appliances and bland dreck" as opposed to "immense personal homepages and carefully crafted experiences."

Um. :: shuffling feet ::

I get the "gist" of what you're saying. But at the same time, if I were using, say, "blogspot," I might be upset. While blogspot/livejournal/whatever users aren't necessarily sweating over their HTML, who's to say that they're not putting a lot of work into their *words?* Fine, getting the words up there is much easier, so you get a lot of "here's what my dog did today" -- but there's poetry out there, too, and that's important.

Is it the cookie-cutter style that you object to, that *visually,* pages are looking much like each other lately?

roe  { 4.23.01 @ 8:23pm }

» Paraphrase from "Say Anything":

"My web site? I've thought about this quite a bit sir, and I would have to say -- considering what's waiting out there for me, I don't want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything on my web site. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed or buy anything sold or processed or repair anything sold, bought or processed on my site. I don't want to do that. My father's in the army. He wants me to join, but I can't work for that corporation, so what I've been doing lately is kick-boxing, which is a new far as site longevity, I don't really know. I can't figure it all out tonight, sir, so I'm just gonna write and show it to my friends."
--- Lloyd Dobler

roe  { 4.23.01 @ 8:36pm }

» Roe - That Say Anything hack was brilliant. Bravo.

As for my "informational appliances and bland dreck" comment, I fear I was unclear. I meant that the web, as a whole, has been overrun with that kinda stuff. Yahoo. CNN. Yawn.

But in the personal space, the weblog has replaced the grandiose homepage, and I think that's neither good or bad - it's just where we're at right now. One facet of this change is that personal sites seem less personal because of the format. In the end, I was just musing on the intimate nature of the personal site and wondering why some people miss that intimacy.

But I never meant to slam anyone's personal endeavors. I think that anyone making a personal site is doing something important! Is this making more sense?

dmp  { 4.23.01 @ 8:53pm }

» i've had various sites on the web for several years, but i finally bought my own top level domain to publish my web journal almost two years ago.

i used it to spit out venom, to exhale poison, to write out my anger to the one person i couldn't talk to. i knew he was reading. i checked my stats. later on, more people were reading. i made friends. i didn't just use the site for catharsis.

but after about a year of it, i just couldn't anymore. i used that lovely site, the site i worked so hard on, for something ugly and nasty and harsh. so several months ago i gave it up. i tried a weblog, but it didn't work. i found it too difficult to carry a narrative arc, to tell the stories through short little bursts.

but the creative itch came back, like it always does. this time, though, i'm writing for good, not evil. i'm not sinking my fangs into that boy who broke my heart, and the boys who haven't yet.

i got an email half an hour ago from someone saying simply "i really miss your site." i wanted to tell them that i don't. i don't miss the way it was. i don't miss the negativity i was spewing. i just miss the feeling of accomplishment every time i uploaded a 1000 word essay, and told my stories to the world.

liz  { 4.23.01 @ 11:01pm }

» The beauty of it is that there is no "perfect format" for personal space on the web; the web itself is too limitless, and the people using it too infinite, for there to ever be one approach that will best suit everyone. (Indeed, the people who make the best use of the web are usually the most restless, the least satisfied in focusing their creative expression on one single outlet for too long.)

For me, the "biolog" format is/was *more* intimate than the journal format, because of its sense of immediacy, its "pulse" - keeping a traditional online journal felt more like I was dressing up in my best clothes every few days for a posed photo, while with a biolog it felt more like selecting frames from a nonstop movie. But there was a stillness, a meditative sense of space that I still miss about the journal that I never quite felt I had in the biolog. Neither one suited me perfectly well and I haven't found the perfect blend of them yet -

- and I don't think I want to. I don't ever want there to be the one and only medium I'm perfect for, I don't want to ever say the one sequence of words or create the one work of art that will convey everything I'm about, in any medium, web or no web - because then there's nothing left to try for, it's no longer a journey. My perfect place is a blend of gothic cathedral and foot-stomping gospel choir with an add-on gallery wing, open-air studio and teddy bear gift shop with an ever-changing stained glass window on the front and a nice sturdy soapbox out back by a footpath leading to an ancient druid grove - that's what I want my perfect webspace to be, and I hope I never quite achieve it. =)

Noah  { 4.24.01 @ 1:07am }

» i've given an awful lot of thought to the personal and personality of websites recently, of the content (over/vs/instead of) design theory, and the like. I've maintained a personal web space for quite a few years, now, and a part of me really really longs for the days when we weren't barraged by commercialisim and advertisements on the web. And it was all about the people.

I love the tangible idea that someone's webpage is a personal representation of self. I love that bankers and clerks and grandparents can put pictures of their cats online. I love that the web, in all of it's confusion and whirlwind, is really simply a place for people to express themselves however they see fit.

(Here, I have to say that I /love/ the term Biolog, Noah. in my 'Post-Blogger' days, I've just not felt as comfortable using 'blog'. Heh.)

I think this format, web logging, is incredible, really. I think it allows us to really see into people, sometimes. Ease of use in it's own leaves room for people to put up thoughts and comments in an uninhibited fashion, from anywhere. I love that I'll be able to stop at the Library or family member's house and update while I'm on the other side of the country next month. I've been hand coding with everyone else for years, but I think this is awesome.

I can't say that my site will ever be finished. I've redesigned once a month since January, so I can't say I'll ever be *happy* with what I come up with, either. But I'm very, very glad that I, and pretty much everyone else, has got the chance to open up a bit of themselves for /everyone/ to see.

Companies have continually tried to dominate the web. But, I think, in essence, it'll always be a personal-driven space. Hooray for that.

anathea  { 4.24.01 @ 8:51am }

» Paul Ford of Ftrain talked about this on MeFi yesterday; I'd summarize his post if I could, except I really can't, so here's the link if you'd like to read it (and I hope you do). Creative altruism can be a very beautiful thing.

lia  { 4.24.01 @ 11:56pm }

» Derek - Oh, much clearer! :) Thank you!

– roe  { 4.25.01 @ 4:44am }


« before     { current }     after »

{ news }
» Goodbye old friend.

» Don't miss the photos and audio from Fray Cafe 2.

» Psst. Hey kid. Wanna buy some swag?

{ me.elsewhere }
  My snail tracks on the web.
» DfC profile
» New Riders profile
» Amazon wish list
» {fray} is page
» Mirror Project pics
» FilePile profile
{ new in dfc }
  Gaming the system: How moderation tools can backfire
Sometimes all the widgets backfire, encouraging the very behavior they're designed to avert. The rules have a dangerous side-effect: they create a game.
{ new in fray }
  "I wanted to spend the 4th with someone who always knew the way back home."

Counting Flags by Kevin Smokler.
{ new in sfstories }
  the slow glimmering descent
I've been watching fireworks there for years, but last night was different. And not just because it was clear.
{ new in fray org }
  fray day 6
Fray Day 6 is coming to cities all over the world on September 14, 2002. Come tell your story.
{ see also }